The Honourable Doug Downey, Attorney General of Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General
I hope you are doing well.
As shared with you through recent correspondences, I have concerns regarding cannabis dispensaries within our Ward not possessing fundamental accessibility features such as barrier-free ramps.
Ottawa, like many other municipalities, is getting more and more applications for cannabis retail store applications.
In my Ward, we currently have one at 129 York Street, one at 121 Clarence Street and one at 171 Rideau Street. Also, there are 5 applications pending. We continue to share our concerns about this type of retail shop concentration in one area of the City, but this is not the reason for my email today.
Every time we get an application for another Cannabis store, we get the same question – Will this store be accessible to all residents like every LCBO store in Ontario?
Unfortunately, the answer is, “We don’t know because it’s not a provincial requirement,”. We have two cannabis stores in our Ward, and we continue to get complaints that these stores are not accessible.
I have addressed my concerns about accessibility for these retail locations multiple times with the AGCO; However, I always get the same response. “The City has all the tools to make sure those new stores are accessible,” This statement is not accurate.
Here is why.
Let’s use the Fire & Flower Cannabis Co. (Fire & Flower) at 129 York St., Ottawa, as the case study to explain.
I use this location to summarize the applicable 2012 Ontario Building Code (OBC) provisions and to articulate why a barrier-free ramp, for example, was not required from an OBC perspective when this space was converted to its current use.
(Referenced OBC provisions have been included following the case study for ease of reference.) Fire & Flower is located within a long-existing two-storey commercial building in the ByWard Market Heritage Conservation District. The location was converted into a cannabis dispensary in March 2019, previously serving as restaurant space.
Because the building’s space is more than five years old, Part 11, the Part of the OBC governing renovations, applies. [A.188.8.131.52.(1)]
Part 11 of the OBC essentially allows for some existing conditions to be “grandfathered” from complying with OBC requirements, including barrier-free accessibility provisions that apply to new buildings.
Under Part 11, proposed work can fall under 2 defined categories, either “basic” (more superficial in nature) or “extensive” (gut renos, involving significant removals of wall and floor/ceiling assemblies) renovations. [B.184.108.40.206.(1) & B.220.127.116.11.(1)&(2)]
The 2019 renovation for Fire & Flower was considered a “basic” renovation, by which no upgrading to current OBC barrier-free accessibility requirements was required.
The OBC may require full compliance to the current barrier-free accessibility provisions under an “extensive” renovation; However, to do so, the space being renovated must:
– meet the definition of an “extensive” renovation; [B.18.104.22.168.(1)&(2)]
– have a suite area of more than 300 m2 (3200 ft2); and
– have not more than a 200 mm (8 in.) height elevation between the ground and the floor level.
In addition to the 2019 renovation for the Fire & Flower fit-up not being considered “extensive,” an assessment of the fit-up against the preceding size and elevation criteria would not necessitate full upgrading to the current barrier-free accessibility standards.
Consequently, the lack of a barrier-free ramp and other accessibility provisions is, in this case, acceptable per the OBC. Further, the OBC does not cite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act as “Applicable Law,” meaning City of Ottawa Building Code Services (BCS) cannot compel construction to conform to this legislation.
The role of BCS is to confirm the work meets the minimum requirements of the OBC. In this case, the tenant and architect chose the minimum requirement rather than to upgrade to the current barrier-free accessibility standards.
As you can see, the City does not have the tools to make sure that cannabis shops are accessible in most cases. That is why we need your help on this and fix this issue so every Ontarian can visit and shop at every cannabis store in Ontario, just like an LCBO.
Mayor Jim Watson