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Plans for new tri-municipal committee promise to improve accessibility on Saanich Peninsula

North Saanich and Central Saanich to follow Sidney to look into regional accessibility committee
Sidney council started the process on Oct. 12 of creating a committee promising to improve livability, inclusivity and accessibility for persons with different abilities. (Black Press Media file photo)

Steps promising to improve the lives of differently-abled individuals in all communities of the Saanich Peninsula are underway.

Sidney council Tuesday unanimously asked staff to assess the feasibility of establishing a tri-municipal advisory committee whose mandate, as imagined by Coun. Terri O’Keeffe, would be to supply comments and recommendations designed to “improve the livability, inclusivity and accessibility for persons with disabilities” to local governments and staff. North Saanich and Central Saanich’s respective councils are due to follow Sidney this month. Staff’s response is due back in the first quarter of 2022.

O’Keeffe, who spearheaded this initiative with fellow Sidney Coun. Barbara Fallot, Coun. Heather Gartshore of North Saanich, Coun. Gordon Newton of Central Saanich, as well community advocates David Willows of Central Saanich, Charlene Froom of North Saanich and Jennifer Van Es of the SHOAL Centre, said in a background report that disabilities can affect anyone, at any time or any age.

“They can be temporary or permanent, invisible or visible, and caused by a variety of factors,” she said. “Approximately 25 per cent of the B.C. population has some sort of disability. As our population ages, this percentage is likely to increase.”

With this initiative, the three municipalities are actually ahead of the curve, as the province is preparing to make committees assessing accessibility mandatory, with the necessary legislation passing last summer

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“I would really like to see us move ahead with this and see us be slightly ahead of the curve,” said Fallot. “It’s something that we can be proud to have in our bag of how we work as a community, to be able to refer things to a committee, who can give us some input on something that comes directly from experience and knowledge, rather than trying to second-guess what we do.”

This initiative has unfolded among growing concerns about whether private developers and public authorities are paying sufficient attention to the interests of differently-abled individuals on issues such as parking as well as accessing living spaces.

While the push for this sort of regional committee will likely receive a lot of support in principle, some practical details still remain.

Sidney’s chief administrative officer Randy Humble said the governance aspects of establishing such a committee can be easily sorted out. “The bigger issues and challenges are around how we share in staffing and resources with respect to meetings,” he said. Another concern is the committee’s scope, he added. Will the committee, for example, look into individuals bylaws, he asked. “That is where we need to be able to coordinate our own resources,” he said. “All of us have different bylaws and regulations. We all follow similiar legislation, but still, if we are looking at individual bylaws, that is going to take a bit more coordination. I think there are a lot of details to be worked out, but we will make best efforts in reporting back by the suggested deadline.”

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