Canadian Transportation Agency Issues Decision on a Preliminary Question of Whether Obesity is a Disability

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OTTAWA - December 12, 2001 - The Canadian Transportation Agency (Agency) today issued its decision on the preliminary question of whether obesity is a disability for the purposes of the accessibility provisions of the Canada Transportation Act.

The Agency concludes that, based on the submissions of the parties and the evidence heard and tested during an oral hearing, obesity, per se, is not a disability for the purposes of Part V of the Canada Transportation Act. Notwithstanding this, the Agency finds that the evidence suggests that there may be individuals in the population of persons who are obese, who in fact have a disability for the purposes of the Canada Transportation Act.

As a result, the Agency will now proceed to inquire into applications before it, filed by persons who are obese, including that filed by Linda McKay-Panos, in order to determine whether or not, in each case, they in fact have a disability for the purposes of Part V of the Canada Transportation Act. If so, the Agency will then consider the application and whether the applicant encountered an undue obstacle to his/her mobility.

In its Decision No.646-AT-A-2001, the Agency stated that "... the Agency finds that no evidence was presented which would support the /conclusion that obese persons necessarily experience participation restrictions in the context of the federal transportation network. In addition, the Agency finds that the medical evidence given in respect of the nature of obesity is such that it is not reasonable to assume that every obese person will experience activity limitations and /or participation restrictions."

This question of whether obesity is a disability for the purposes of Part V of the Canada Transportation Act was raised following the receipt of an application by Linda McKay-Panos regarding Air Canada. This Decision follows the Agency's hearing held in Calgary from September 24 to October 3, 2001.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal which among other thing, has jurisdiction over the accessibility of the federally-regulated transportation network to persons with disabilities. Its mission is to administer transportation legislation and government policies to help achieve an efficient and accessible transportation system. The Agency's procedures are governed by the rules of natural justice which ensure that all parties are dealt with in a fair and equitable way.

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For more information, please contact:

Normand Bergeron
Communications Advisor
Canadian Transportation Agency
(819) 953-8926

 


Media Backgrounder

Decision on the Preliminary Question
of Whether Obesity is a Disability

The Canadian Transportation Agency (the Agency) has examined the issue of whether or not obesity is a disability under the accessibility provisions of the Canada Transportation Act (the Act). The Act does not define the terms 'disability' or 'persons with disabilities'.

In the vast majority of cases decided by the Agency, the question of whether the applicant is a person with a disability has not been contentious. In the case of obesity, however, the issue is more complex and was new to the Agency. Also, the Agency recognized that its decision on the issue could have important repercussions on the federally-regulated transportation network. The Agency, therefore, decided to hold an oral hearing into the matter. This hearing was held in Calgary from September 24 to October 3, 2001, to gather expert evidence on the issue of obesity as a disability and have this evidence tested.

The Agency ensured that representatives from both sides of the issue had an equal opportunity to provide evidence to support their positions. In view of the fact that no advocacy organization emerged to present expert evidence to support the position that obesity is a disability, the Agency appointed Peter Engelmann to act as an amicus curiae (an independent individual), to present this evidence. This evidence was tested by Air Canada which had an opportunity to present its arguments and evidence that obesity is not a disability.

The hearing process was used in this case to ensure that both Air Canada and the proponents of the position that obesity is a disability were given an impartial venue, free of preconceived notions and biases, to gather and test all the evidence, in order to facilitate a fair decision.

The process arose from an application received from Linda McKay-Panos concerning the seats provided by Air Canada in its aircraft and the air carrier's policy of charging 1.5 fares to a person who requires two seats to accommodate his/her obesity.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal which among other things, has jurisdiction over the mobility of persons with disabilities in the federally-regulated transportation network. Its mission is to administer transportation legislation and government policies to help achieve an efficient and accessible transportation system. The Agency's procedures are governed by the rules of natural justice which ensure that all parties receive fair and equitable treatment.

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