March 10, 2022

Post Pandemic, Where are those Much Needed Public Washrooms in Commercial Areas & along Transit Stations?

During the past two years it has been very obvious that access to clean, comfortable, monitored public washrooms was something that has been left off the “must have” list for Vancouver. Here we are, opening up again, and hopefully able to support the commercial areas and businesses that were able to survive the closures  and pandemic restrictions.

Vancouver Viewpoint has written over and over again why we need public washrooms, and accessible clean washrooms in Covid times. It is not only a public health issue it is a human right.  During the pandemic City Council provided mobile washrooms  in the downtown eastside, and there was a plan from the Park Board to provide a few more washrooms where people need them.

Meanwhile Metro Vancouver has created two mascots to tell citizens what they can flush down the toilet and what they cannot, but no one is talking about developing what everyone needs, public washrooms convenient to commercial areas and transit hubs.

Last year I wrote about my personal experience having to negotiate the use of a bookstore’s washroom on Granville Street. Even the adjacent Starbucks was a no go. They would sell you a coffee but not let you use the washroom.

Use Metro Vancouver’s transit system, and you are on your own except for a few stations. The use of universal internet is being championed before the provision of accessible public washrooms.

It was  Paola Lorrigio in The Star who bluntly points out that the dearth of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone.

Author Lezlie Lowe who wrote “No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs” observes that there’s no Canadian tradition for on-street, accessible, paid for by municipal government bathroom provision. That’s simply left up to private businesses, and that’s no solution. In a city with a Covid pandemic and a homeless population with  many people on the street afflicted  with mental illness, assuming that struggling businesses have the acumen to provide washroom facilities to everyone  is just wrong headed.’s Elizabeth Yuko wrote about the  “Public Toilet Index” released in August 2021 by the U.K. bathroom supply company QS Supplies and the online toilet-finding tool PeePlace.

According to this index, Iceland tops the amount of public toilets per 100,000 residents, with 56. Switzerland has 48 public toilets per 100,000 people. Canada and the United States? Only 18 and 8 per 100,000 respectively. The United States ties with Botswana for the provision of public washrooms.

In Canada and the United States we’ve made businesses responsible for providing public washrooms, which causes conflict when people using those private facilities are not shopping in the store. It was American professor Peter Baldwin who calls the lack of public washrooms ” a social justice issue as well as a basic infrastructure priority.

Professor Baldwin states “It means that we have to acknowledge human waste. Talking about public restrooms means that you have to broach a forbidden subject.” 

He also captures exactly why not providing public washrooms is wrong.  To not have public washrooms means we are not accepting of people and families using public space for walking, biking, rolling or just hanging out.

As Professor Baldwin summarizes “If you don’t have public bathrooms, what you’re saying is, ‘We do not care about anyone who doesn’t have money…I hope that there will be a move toward greater acceptance of public spending and government intervention, because that’s what it’s going to take to deal with the problem.”

Why isn’t this basic human right a civic election issue?

images: sandyjames, metrovancouver



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  1. I checked out Peeplace and it seems to work reasonably well for Vancouver but it only lists Public Toilets and given the paucity of them in Metro Van it is not very useful unless one is fortunate enough to have one nearby when the need arises. A more comprehensive list is provided by the Flush App on my iPhone. (I think I heard about it in a previous Viewpoint article). It lists both public facilities and private facilities which are available to the public.
    Sandy’s question as to why this is not an election issue is sound. I will make it my business to ask any/every candidate about this at every opportunity. Single issue prolitics perhaps but as you drive like a maniac trying to get home before you soil yourself and your car tends to narrow one’s focus considerably. 😉

  2. The stones in my shoe. So many micro aggressions like: no public toilets, no garbage cans, lack of bus service, heaving sidewalks, unsalted footpaths… it’s no wonder people are fed up with local government and have no trust they can conquer the big issues when they can’t provide the basics.

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