Politics

Parliament Hill washrooms to be gender-neutral after renovation

The federal government has decided to scrap all gendered washrooms as part of its current rehabilitation work on Parliament Hill.

Approximately 200 washrooms in Centre Block and the Parliament Welcome Centre will be gender-neutral, and more than half will be individual facilities with a single toilet and sink, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) spokesperson Michèle LaRose confirmed.

A few dozen units will be “designed to be barrier-free, meaning they will be accessible to wheelchairs,” said LaRose, adding that there will no longer be any urinals. 

LaRose said the washrooms will be designed to be inclusive and accessible to all.

Jason Bett of the Public Service Pride Network said the move toward gender-neutral washrooms represents a major step forward. 

“[This] is exactly how it should be,” Bett wrote in an email, adding it’s great to know the major rehabilitation project has been guided by the principles of inclusion and accessibility.

Trans Outaouais president Lionel Lehouillier believes building gender-neutral washrooms are ‘a great way to lead by example.’ (Olivier Plante/Radio-Canada)

“With gender-neutral washrooms, we don’t have to ask ourselves the question, ‘If I use this washroom, will I get stared at, will I get comments? Will people find it strange that I’m in this place?'” said Lionel Lehouillier, president of Trans Outaouais.

“There is a whole mental planning that goes into the heads of gender-diverse people when the time comes to use a washroom.”

Lehouillier said he hopes the provinces and territories will follow in the federal government’s footsteps.

“We are not asking everyone to take a bulldozer and destroy all the washrooms in the country,” explained Olivia Baker, a program manager at Fondation Émergence who trains people on 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace. 

“As we carry out renovations, we can try to make it more inclusive for everyone,” Baker said.

A washroom sign.
A sign on the door of a gender-neutral washroom. (Radio-Canada/Jacques Corriveau)

Sending a political message?

“It’s a very broad message of inclusion,” said Public Services and Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Duclos said the restoration work on Parliament Hill constitutes an “opportunity” to provide “appropriate sanitary facilities […] that meet the expectations and needs of Canadians.”

The new washrooms will be “adapted to the needs of the 2030s and beyond,” Duclos said.

Geneviève Tellier, a professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, believes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government sees this project as an opportunity to send a message.

“Mr. Trudeau, we see him campaigning for the cause of women, for the cause of minorities, of racialized populations, and I have the impression that [it] is part of Mr. Trudeau’s desire to change things,” Tellier said. 

“The challenge for the government will be to carry out this transformation well so as not to create other problems.”

This will come down to the details, she said, because the subject of washrooms is “sensitive.”

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