11 July 2020 17: 40 pm
The difficulty of finding a public toilet during the pandemic
As a student at the master’s degree in sociology, University of Guelph
Associate professor of sociology, University of Guelph
It is at the beginning of June, in Guelph, Ontario, as thousands of demonstrators marched to lend their support for the movement Black Lives Matter, following the assassination of George Floyd in the United States, and the death of Regis Korchinski-Package to Toronto.
But where then were able to relieve the protesters ? We know nothing about it.
Like many cities in canada, Guelph was only a few public toilets open during the first phase of the pandemic. Libraries, community centres and municipal buildings were closed to the public — although some re-openings have occurred at the end of June.
In Montreal, for example, some public toilets in the parks will remain closed, replaced sometimes by mobile toilets, while others are open according to the hours variable, but always limited. No logic seems to follow.
Since the infamous party spot in the Park to Trinity Bellwoods in Toronto in may up to the events of Black Lives Matter, serious challenges arise when a crowd meets in the time of a pandemic. Because these gatherings to amplify preexisting problems of public spaces in urban areas.
At the feast of Trinity Bellwoods, the majority of tickets issued were for urination or defecation in public. As researchers in public spaces at the university of Guelph, we were struck by the irony of these tickets… distributed, while the public toilets and the shops were closed!!! There was absolutely no place to meet its needs. And where it goes when that urge to go there is not really a topic of conversation very popular when one finds oneself in the public space.
Find a public toilet
Even in normal times, it is not easy to find a public toilet, and access is frequently restricted. Public health experts consider that public washrooms are no more or less contagious than any other public space closed, and recommend that we leave open. In spite of this, a number of already inadequate public toilets in many towns are, for the most part, remained inaccessible.
The public space and the public toilets are two basic common goods. Studies show that people on the move in Toronto rely on the kindness of the owners of the establishments or their employees who look the other way.
Real public spaces should be accessible to all. Those where we have not constructed toilets are not free or accessible. The lack of investment in amenities — such as toilets — reduces the value of public spaces and their ability to bring people together. Invest in sanitation facilities, especially during a public health crisis, requires that employees pay for the clean up.
We don’t realize often how the maintenance of the public toilets and the health issues that this raises, becomes a burden for the workers paid the minimum wage. The employees who find themselves in the front line of restaurants and grocery stores to receive our praise during the pandemic, but are not rewarded by salary increases, permanent or by the security of employment.
While the shops and work places are beginning to reopen, according to the stricter rules of social distancing, it will be these same low-paid workers, who will be running the business and will be responsible for their protection and that of the client, while needing to apply rules which are not familiar. It was nice to experience a little uneasiness to address the geography of our stops-pee, it remains that it is an essential public service.
Piss freely, it is to be free
The maintenance, this requires hiring municipal employees well-paid and equipped in a safe manner. It is a crucial element in order to ensure the proper functioning of the public toilets. Throughout our investigation, we found that many public restrooms in the parks of Toronto were closed at times to say the least, curious, a widely spread phenomenon. These spaces are poorly maintained and cleaned to become dilapidated and unusable, when they exist.
But rather than redouble its efforts on the maintenance, the City has decided to strengthen its patrols, enforcement of social distancing… and make sure nobody pisses in the wrong places.
Given the lack of public toilets, people who have needs frequent may avoid public meetings. And the risk of getting a ticket for urinating in public could lead to confrontations with the authorities, so that, as the movement of Black Live Matters ” demonstrates, the encounters between police officers and black people can prove to be dangerous and too often fatal. Indigenous peoples are also sensitive to this issue.
It will be necessary to rethink the public spaces in the wake of this pandemic and have a plan set which will include public toilets open and accessible to all. Let’s not forget that the lack of public toilets leads to exclusion.
The dilemma of the toilet requires an investment. Why ? Because of the public toilet free and accessible, this is not only fair, it is necessary.
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This text first appeared on the site of the franco-canadian The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.