Most of Montreal’s major summer festivals are now in the rearview mirror, and many music lovers are no doubt looking back on them with fond memories.
One couple says, however, that they were repeatedly humiliated and discriminated against at the Jazz Festival and others. They accuse organizers of brushing people with disabilities aside.
“Every night, I was humiliated,” said Liette Boisvert, who uses a motorized scooter to get around in public.
Boisvert and her partner Bill Marsh love to spend their summer nights at Montreal’s music festivals. The fact that Liette has a disability has never stopped them from enjoying free outdoor shows at the Jazz Fest, Les Francos and others.
“We love it. We go rain or shine,” she said with a smile.
They say in the past it was easy to navigate the Place des Festivals in their motorized scooters, even when it was packed.
“Before, it was perfect,” Boisvert said.
They say this year, though, was an accessibility nightmare.
“This was the first time I felt like I was an inconvenience at a festival,” said Marsh.
Liette says in the past, it was easy to get dropped off by adapted transit and roll right onto an elevated platform with dozens of spaces for people in wheelchairs.
They say this year, the zone dedicated to people with disabilities was in a different spot and much smaller. They say the old spot was replaced by a VIP area.
“Life did handicap us, but this year it was them that made us feel handicapped,” said Boisvert.
Instead of being able to access it from the outskirts, they say they had to navigate the crowd to make it to the new balcony.
“We honked our horn, we say ‘Excuse me,’ but still we had to go through about 1,500 to 2,000 people,” she recounted.
Because the new area could only welcome a handful of people, they had to reserve in advance. They say it didn’t always work. Sometimes their names weren’t on the guest list, and when they called the reservation office, it was closed for the weekend.
They also say because the area was so small, they were only allowed to stay for one act so others could rotate in.
“Can you imagine what would happen if they said to the 5,000 people that were standing there, ‘You can only watch one of these shows?” said Marsh.
There were issues with bathrooms and restaurants too. A supposedly reserved area at Nuits d’Afrique was full of able-bodied people sitting in chairs.
“We had no autonomy, no dignity, no nothing,” said Boisvert.
Disabled rights advocate Linda Gauthier says she made a formal complaint to the promoter of the Jazz and Les Francos festivals, Equipe Spectra.
“I mean, it’s pure discrimination,” Gauthier said. “I hope it’s going to be fixed for next year, but I doubt it.”
Equipe Spectra said in a statement accessibility at the Jazz Festival is a priority for them.
“This is why we are working with the Keroul organization to obtain accessibility certification. Our facilities for people with reduced mobility have been optimized this year,” said Equipe Spectra spokesperson Brigitte Beaudoin-Savoie. “The TD Stage and Rogers Stage have a dedicated area for festivalgoers with reduced mobility, available by reservation. The TD Stage area was moved this year to offer a better view of the stage.”
She said the areas can accomodate 14-16 people with reduced mobility and their companions.
“We’d like to have at least what it was before, 35 to 40 places,” said Gauthier.
Boisvert and Marsh say they will continue attending festivals, but hope things are easier next time.
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