If you recognize the name Matt Wozenilek you're either presently a downtown business owner, or you remember the name vaguely from the classroom of your youth. The former-teacher has taken up the role of crusader in his retirement, his crusade is against obstacles to mobility and his Saladin is any downtown building that was built before more humane standards in construction were demanded in the name of human rights.
Under ordinary circumstances, Wozenilek would be the head of a movement, a local hero. But if you own a downtown building that pre-dates Pearson, the sight of Wozenilek coming your way might have you ducking for cover.
Wozenilek's in the news again for bringing another downtown business to a Human Rights Tribunal mediation: Diana's Restaurant. This while he has a mediation with The Bookself and Duncan-McPhee respectively before the tribunal in March and having just wrapped up mediation with another downtown business last month. Wozenilek is probably involved in more legal action than your average attorney, and like your average lawyer, you can make an argument that he's in it for the money.
Wozenilek is demanding $6,000 in compensation for “injury to my dignity, feelings and self-respect.” Now that amount is hardly going to break the record for awards given out by the legal system, but for a small business that's a pretty hefty sum, especially when the "injury" is compounded by the insult of Wozenilek having never patroned Diana's. That's right, even though he's apparently never eaten there, and apparently never even tried, Wozenilek is taking Diana's to court for not being accessible. In other news, I'm going to sue Apple for stealing my idea for the iPad, even though they had invented it long before I had even thought of it.
But while Wozenilek's cause is just, there is a slight problem. According to Ontario law, buildings built before the implimentation of modern building codes to allow for accessibility for people with disabilities have a grandfathered exception. That includes a lot of heritage buildings, the type that makes up, oh, the vast majority of Downtown Guelph. Still, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will hear any and all complaints brought to them about any older or heritage building, which brings us to the corner of No and Where in terms of trying to sort of if people like Wozenilek have a case or not (or several cases as the situation maybe.)
So in a case of using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law, Wozenilek seems determined to sue every downtown building one at a time, even though the law says old buildings are exempt. So what's the point? Other than making a general nuisance of yourself, I guess? Well, I suppose one could argue that Wozenilek is raising awareness, trying to draw attention to the issue of accessibility, but why target old buildings downtown? Because there's no easy solution? Becuase they're trapped between a rock and a hard place: legally protected, but still culpable?
Or maybe because there's no way for these businesses to respond other than monitarally. Many of these builidings can't bring themselves up to code for archetectual reasons, the physical space jsut will not allow it. So what other recourse is there than money? Money that goes into the pocket of Mr. Wozenilek. Many have already supposed that Wozenilek has found the ultimate cash business in suing inaccessible downtown buildings, and although cynacism isn't my default setting, I can't help but wonder if this is the case.
True, it would be wonderful if the worlds was more accessible, but how does suing make it so? Is it not in the best interest of these business to be able to attract more customers? This may be one of those situations where there are no good answers, but like a lot of things in life I know the answer isn't in pointless litigation, it's not in making businesses frightened of your lawyer's long arm, and it isn't in seemingly pocketing all the reward for yourself without contributing anything substantive to make the situation better. But if you have to go through all that, at least try and be a patron at the establishment first.