The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ordered the TC10K organization to pay damages and accommodate a blind runner from Saanich, in a written ruling handed down today.
Graeme McCreath, a Broadmead resident and running enthusiast who is legally blind, lodged a human rights complaint against the Victoria International Running Society and TC10K race director Jacqui Sanderson for not allowing him to start five minutes early in the popular April road race.
Tribunal member Marlene Tyshynski ruled that McCreath’s complaint of discrimination is justified. She ordered the race society should accommodate blind runners, that McCreath should have an early start time and that Sanderson must take anti-discrimination training. The society must also pay the 66-year-old physiotherapist $2,500 in damages for injury to his dignity and $590 for lost wages.
“It’s quite a victory. I’m very pleased with what they did. Justice and common sense prevailed,” McCreath said in an interview. “It’s been quite an ordeal for two years. I just want to work with these guys and put it behind us now.”
McCreath, who has a prosthetic left eye and only light perception in the other, and who runs with a guide, had asked the VIRS to allow him to start the 2011 race at the same time as the wheelchair racers to avoid the heavy congestion within his pace group. The race, which has seen up to 10,000 runners, launches hundreds of participants onto the route in waves based on expected finish times.
The VIRS denied his request for an early start, and argued the new route through Fairfield established in 2011 should ease congestion and do a better job of spreading runners out.
During the four-day hearing in October, McCreath testified that the crush of runners for the first two kilometres of the race had made it dangerous and frightening for him and his guide.
A veteran runner, he has competed in six TC10K races in all, including runs from 2006 to 2010. But as a two-person team in the packed 50 to 55 minute group, McCreath and his guide were unable to quickly adjust course or stop in response to unpredictable moves by sighted runners, while amid hundreds of people.
In 2009, his guide Carlos Castillo tripped over a runner who had stopped to tie a shoelace and fell onto a curb. “Although I love running, it has become a real ordeal. It is too unsafe. Most blind people would never do it,” McCreath said during the hearings.
The running society had suggested in its testimony that McCreath’s request was too close to the rollout of the new route in 2011, and would have possibly changed the structure of the race as approved by the City of Victoria, which could require more liability insurance, volunteers and special permits.
The ruling showed there was some debate within the running society board on allowing an early start time for visually impaired people – a similar running category to what the Victoria marathon started in 2010 – but the request was ultimately denied. The society argued that the new route was in fact reasonable accommodation to McCreath’s request to avoid congestion.
Tyshynski didn’t buy it. She wrote that Sanderson’s testimony at times was vague and inconsistent, and that overall, the society didn’t show any compelling reason why McCreath couldn’t start the race the same time as the wheelchair group.
The tribunal judge wrote that the society’s concerns about liability and extra permits were “speculative” and offered without evidence. The society also didn’t offer evidence that the new route in 2011 actually reduced runner congestion, she wrote.
Shannon Kowalko, vice-president of the VIRS, said the organization won’t appeal the ruling and would abide by all the orders set out by the tribunal, including establishing an early start time for visually impaired runners.
“The issues for us were in the interest of safety for Mr. McCreath and other participants on our decision not granting an early start. Certainly it was nothing to do related to being discriminatory,” Kowalko said. “It was about doing research to confirm an early start for visually impaired runners could be done safely.”
VIRC will be working with the City of Victoria to establish a visually impaired runners category with a start time before the main gun for this year’s race on April 28. “No one likes to see this happen,” she said. “We respect the tribunal and its decisions.”
McCreath is still running regularly, and he expects to run the TC10K this year.
“I’m glad of the ruling. I don’t know why (the running society) pushed it so far,” he said. “It’s just a run. It’s not the Olympics. I’m glad the tribunal got it.”
Read the tribunal ruling here.