A porta-pottie beside Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa, placed to allow people including those who are homeless or precariously housed to access a washroom, is seen on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A porta-pottie beside Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa, placed to allow people including those who are homeless or precariously housed to access a washroom, is seen on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

COVID-19 pandemic highlights need for more public toilets, experts say

People are spending more time outside but have fewer businesses with washrooms available

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need for more public toilets in communities across Canada, particularly as softening restrictions encourage people to spend more time outside their homes, advocates and experts say.

The health crisis is drawing broader attention to an issue that has long been a barrier for racialized, trans and disabled people, as well those dealing with homelessness or poverty, the experts say.

Scarce access to washrooms was recently raised as a hurdle for essential workers, such as transit and truck drivers who could no longer rely on coffee shops and other businesses once those were ordered closed.

In the early days of Ontario’s lockdown, Toronto Mayor John Tory pleaded with shuttered businesses to allow essential workers to use their bathrooms.

But as some provinces begin to reopen their economies — and residents increasingly venture outside — the demand for restrooms will rise, even though commercial facilities will remain largely off-limits, said Lezlie Lowe, author of “No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs.”

“We don’t have this tradition of on-street, accessible, paid-for-by-municipal-governments bathroom provision. What we have in Canada is, we have Starbucks and Tim Hortons and McDonald’s and the other cafes and restaurants involved that we go into,” she said.

“We really consider those public toilets, but they’re not — they’re publicly accessible toilets, they’re effectively customer toilets.”

With those still out of commission, “people are going to have a sort of slap in the face and realize, ‘Oh my god, I was making do all this time with these publicly accessible toilets,’ and now people will hopefully start to realize how bad it is,” she said.

ALSO READ: B.C. records 21 new COVID-19 cases after three days of single-digit increases

The dearth of public toilets could also undermine the economic recovery by preventing people from staying out longer and spending more money, Lowe said.

Some Canadian cities, including Toronto and Ottawa, have installed temporary portable washrooms and handwashing stations to help offset the closure of commercial and civic spaces.

“The city continues to explore opportunities to locate additional portable toilets and handwashing stations at strategic locations across the city,” Toronto Coun. Joe Cressy wrote in announcing the new facilities earlier this month.

In Prince George, B.C., municipal officials have reopened public washrooms in a downtown plaza for the duration of the pandemic, with the facilities in operation and monitored in the mornings and evenings.

While so-called porta-potties serve an important purpose, they don’t fulfill the same range of needs as permanent facilities, which are often used for child care, administering medication and other things, said Emily Scoular, who wrote her master’s thesis at the University of British Columbia on public washrooms.

The costs of building and maintaining public toilets have typically been a deterrent for municipalities, but Scoular said the current situation shows a need to rethink how much of that responsibility has been relegated to private business.

READ MORE: B.C. work, school restart can’t be rushed, John Horgan says

“You’re asking people to be healthy, leave their homes, get exercise, participate in the public realm, and I think the city and city facilities need to kind of come and meet us on that,” she said.

“I know Toronto and Vancouver are closing streets to allow (physical) distancing, and that’s one thing that encourages people to leave their houses, but another is making sure needs are met.”

For some advocates whose calls for more public toilets vastly predate the pandemic, the attention recently given to the issue is an encouraging first step.

“Maybe this is what it takes to get some serious attention paid to public health, including toi­lets,” those behind Ottawa’s ”GottaGo!” campaign wrote in a recent op-ed published in a local community newspaper.

“A crisis can be an opportunity, so now is the time for all of us to advocate for a network of public toi­lets that include running water and soap for handwashing.”

ALSO READ: ‘Germ-killing robots’ to fight COVID-19 at this B.C. hospital

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The route of the pink parade. The Record has blackened out the name of the teen. Facebook photo.
Pink-vehicle parade to be held Sunday in support of transgender teen assaulted in Mission

Teen and family to watch parade drive single file along waterfront at 3 p.m., Jan. 17

The Anti-Racist Coalition Vancouver started a petition calling on B.C.’s education officials to make Black Shirt Day official. The inaugural event in solidarity with Black and racialized Canadians takes place on Friday, Jan. 15. (Screenshot/Change.org)
Mission School District holding first-ever Black Shirt Day in support of anti-racism on Friday

Growing calls to designate Jan. 15 a day devoted to ongoing civil rights struggle

Two people were in a vehicle that rolled over on Highway No. 1 near Lickman Road. They are now out of the vehicle. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vehicle rolls over on Highway 1 near Lickman Road in Chilliwack

Two people in SUV at time of collision in westbound lanes

Screenshot from video.
2 students arrested in assault of transgender girl at Mission middle school

Mother said daughter was targeted because of how she identifies

The Sts’ailes Community School in the winter of 2019. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Sts’ailes Community School to extend online learning until Feb. 8

The Sts’ailes First Nation remains closed to visitors

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

The Delta Hospice Society operates the Harold & Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care (pictured) and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (The Canadian Press photo)
Fraser Health to evict Delta Hospice Society, open new hospice beds next door

Health authority will serve DHS 30 days’ notice when service agreement expires Feb. 25

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Most Read