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'Infringement of my rights': Man with MS speaks out about Stanley Park traffic changes

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Stanley Park was a place where Robert Best could enjoy the outdoors and capture the serenity through photographs.

As his multiple sclerosis progressed, driving through the park also gave Best purpose.

“My responsibilities as a person were diminishing,” explained Best. “(Driving) was something I could do that my wife couldn’t do, so that was my identity.”

Best has been living with the chronic disease for about 30 years now.

Driving through Stanley Park, finding a parking spot and getting lifted onto a wheelchair was not an easy feat, but it was one of his favourite pastimes.

In April 2020, when little was known about COVID-19, the Vancouver Park Board shut down the crown jewel to vehicle traffic as a way to prevent the spread of the virus.

“When I heard Stanley Park was closing, it was just making my world smaller and smaller,” Best said. “Basically, my life is my apartment. And when I can't get out safely, I just feel that's an infringement of my rights to get out and be part of the community.”

Even though traffic was allowed through the park in June 2020, it hasn’t gone back to the way it was before the pandemic.

With many parking spots gone to make room for a temporary bike lane on the road, driving has become challenging for Best.

“I just have to focus on not hitting any pylons and focus on staying on the road and making it safe,” he said, explaining the extra concentration he uses with hand controls to manoeuvre the vehicle. “It seems like a simple task for many. But for me, it's a big task to get through Stanley Park.”

Best is one of five people who have launched a complaint against the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Park Board with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The hearing has been underway since March 11.

“I was happy that someone had taken them to task because it was the right thing to do,” said Peter Brown, co-chair on Vancouver’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee.

Brown said no one from the park board asked the advisory committee for input before banning vehicle traffic from entering Stanley Park at the start of the pandemic.

He said if they had been consulted, they wouldn’t have supported the idea.

“We do have a basic knowledge that the park board does not have. We are the ones who live with disabilities, we know our limitations,” he said.

He said the crown jewel is more accessible now than it was in 2020, but there is still room for improvement.

Various city departments have representatives that sit on the advisory committee, but Brown said it’s been about nine months since any park board commissioner or park board staff had liaisons on the committee.

The park board did not respond to questions from CTV News about the vacancies.

Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, who was the last liaison from the park board, did not return our emails about why he is no longer on the committee.

Brown said human rights are hard to establish but easy to take away, adding that’s why the tribunal hearing is important.

“The concern remains that you got to stop slow erosion of accessible rights at the start or you’re going to see what is happening at Stanley Park happen in another park and another park. And it will be a bit by bit by bit, as they say, death by a thousand cuts,” he said.

The hearing is expected to end on Tuesday, but it could take weeks for the tribunal to come up with a decision.

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