Public toilet activists work to ensure residents have a place to go

November 14, 2015

With World Toilet Day coming up fast, Ottawa’s GottaGo! campaigners say there’s no time like the present to increase the number of public toilets in the capital.

Members of the campaign have been pressing the city for almost two years to set up a network of public toilets, particularly at the new LRT stations.

“We were horrified that the LRT (will have) 10,000 people an hour going through it and it didn’t have toilets in the stations,” said GottaGo! Campaign chair Joan Kuyek, whose group was out at the corner of McNabb Park Saturday afternoon to “Make a stand by taking a seat” in support of the UN’s upcoming World Toilet Day — a day meant to raise awareness for the one billion people across the world who lack access to toilets.

“People have to go.”

Ottawa city council has been receptive to their concerns and unanimously voted for toilets at the Bayview and Hurdman LRT stations this past summer. It also voted in September to create a mobile app that would identify the nearest public washroom.

Kuyek, though, says that more needs to be done.

“We do three things in life that are absolute necessities: We eat, we drink and excrete. We just don’t pay enough attention to the issues of excretion and the accountability of people’s needs.”

Kuyek hoped that the events such as Saturday’s rally could help break the taboo about talking about the need for more public toilets in Ottawa. The subject was serious, but the tone was lighthearted, with crowd-engaging activities such as a toilet paper craft contest, wrapping partners in toilet paper and engaging in song.

Shannon Mulligan, an organizer of Saturday’s event and a Carleton University student was pleased with the turnout of a few dozen people to Saturday’s event, including Coun. Mathieu Fleury.

“What we find is that if somebody doesn’t raise it, everyone’s going to be afraid to be the first one to say, ‘Well why aren’t there toilets?’ ” she said.

“We deliberately call them toilets instead of restrooms, lavatories and washrooms because that’s what you need. You need the toilet.”

Kuyek has been shortlisted for Samara Canada’s 2015 Everyday Political Citizen, in the over-30 age category. The award recognizes individuals as “amazing examples of the many ways citizens can engage in politics — during and between elections.

Kuyek urged people to contact their councillors and create more conversation about the issue.

The UN’s World Toilet Day has been happening annually since 2001 on November 19 to raise awareness for the 2.4 billion people who don’t have adequate sanitation and the one billion people across the world who lack access to a toilet.