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CTA explores a weighty issue

CALGARY, Alta. - The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has wrapped up its hearing in Calgary to determine whether obesity should be considered a disability under the Canadian Transportation Act.The...


NO LAUGHING MATTER: Obesity is no joke, says McKay-Panos.
NO LAUGHING MATTER: Obesity is no joke, says McKay-Panos.

CALGARY, Alta. – The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has wrapped up its hearing in Calgary to determine whether obesity should be considered a disability under the Canadian Transportation Act.

The panel has yet to render a verdict and no deadline has been given, so it could be some time before it announces a decision.

The hearing arose from a 1997 complaint against Air Canada by Linda McKay-Panos, who accused the airline of treating her unfairly after charging her 1.5 times the standard fare because she required two seats.

McKay-Panos and her lawyer, Ritu Khellar, were on hand for the hearing, and Khellar accused the airline of treating her client in an unfair and embarrassing manner. She says airline officials laughed at McKay-Panos’ condition and actually offered her the worst possible seat available.

But because no special interest group came forward to argue that obesity is, in fact, a disability, it was CTA-appointed amicus curiae Peter Engelmann who took the airline to task.

In his opening remarks, Engelmann admitted, “Defining disability is not always an easy task.”

But he insists, “In our perspective, there’s really no question that obesity is a disability for the purpose of the Canadian Transportation Act.”

Gerard Chouest, however, represented the airline, and was quick to disagree with Engelmann.

“It simply does not meet any reasonable definition of what a disability is,” Chouest tells the panel.

In an effort to prove his case, Engelmann brought forward a series of witnesses, beginning with professor Jerome Bickenbach, an expert in disability studies.

Bickenbach pointed to the International Classification of Functioning (ICF) model to demonstrate that obesity is a disability.

The ICF model is widely recognized internationally, according to Bickenbach.

But while witness after witness took the stand over the course of the week to argue one side or another, the bottom line is that by considering obesity a disability under the Canadian Transportation Act, there could be a trickle down effect that would impact the trucking industry.

CTA director of communications, Michel Hebert stresses the CTA is strictly a federal agency with no jurisdiction over the provincially regulated trucking industry.

“I don’t think that the decision being made by the panel will have a direct influence on the trucking industry, but it all depends,” says Hebert. “Indirectly, it may have an impact on different sectors of Canadian industries.”

One way or another, it’s a precedent setting case that could be looked at if the issue of obesity as a disability surfaces in other provincial transportation cases.

“That’s the first time that the agency has focused on the issue of determining whether the complainant had a disability or not,” says Hebert.

“In most cases, it’s quite clear, but in this case the disability itself was not clear.”

The panel – chairman Gilles Dufault, Keith Penner and Richard Cashin – will ultimately make the decision.

“The panel members indicated at the end that they would take this matter under deliberation and try to render a decision diligently,” says Hebert.


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