B.C. man in wheelchair says he was dropped, injured by Air Canada crew in Vancouver

B.C. man in wheelchair says he was dropped, injured by Air Canada crew in Vancouver.

Ryan Lachance, who lives with quad spastic cerebral palsy, is pictured with his care aid Emma Proulx at his apartment in White Rock, B.C., about 50 kilometres southeast of Vancouver on Wednesday. Ben Nelms, CBC

Michelle Ghoussoub, CBC News British Columbia November 02, 2023

A B.C. man who uses a wheelchair says he was dropped and injured while attempting to exit an Air Canada flight, after the airline’s crew failed to bring the equipment he needed.

Ryan Lachance, 44, is a White Rock-based stand-up comedian who has quad spastic cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair.

In early May he travelled to Nova Scotia to perform in the Halifax Comedy Festival. When Lachance travels by plane, he is accompanied by a care assistant, and uses an eagle lift to help him move from his airplane seat.

But upon his return to Vancouver, he said Air Canada ground crew insisted they could transfer him without assistance from the lift, and tried to hoist him themselves onto an aisle chair, a narrow version of a wheelchair.

WATCH | B.C. comedian calls for change, says he was dropped by Air Canada crew: Ryan Lachance and his caregiver, Emma Proulx, say Air Canada crew need better training to keep people with disabilities safe. 0:59 CBC

“It was a massive struggle to get me out of the seat. I travel with a sling underneath me to make it easier for people to pick me up. They kept pulling that and it was hurting my body, bruising my back and my hip really bad,” he said.

Emma Proulx, Lachance’s care assistant who was travelling with him, said she told the crew at least four times that Lachance needed assistance from the eagle lift. But the crew insisted on continuing by themselves, wrestling him into the aisle chair with difficulty.

Lachance was eventually yanked off the chair and landed hard on the floor, Proulx said.

“It was painful to watch, and it was painful for Ryan to experience,” she said.

“The one guy that was holding him up on his shoulders did not have his shoulders [properly], and the guy who had his legs pulled, and Ryan just flew off the seat and landed on his butt. And they lifted him up again and then finally they decided, ‘Oh we need to get the eagle lift.'”

Ryan Lachance was returning home after travelling to the Halifax Comedy Festival, where he performed at an event put on entirely by comedians with disabilities. Ben Nelms, CBC

It took over an hour and a half for Lachance to get off the flight. Lachance said the incident left him bedridden for three days.

After filing a formal complaint, Lachance said he was offered $500 in flight credits.

“This customer did not receive the level of service we normally provide,” Air Canada told CBC News in an emailed statement.

“We are in communication with him in order to resolve this matter to his satisfaction.”

‘I’m giving you this so you don’t hate us’

Lachance said he decided to share his story after another incident where a wheelchair user was forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas, after the crew said no aisle chair was available. The Canadian Transportation Agency is now investigating the incident.

It also follows the story of Stephanie Cadieux, Canada’s chief accessibility officer, whose wheelchair was lost by Air Canada.

Lachance and Proulx are now calling for better training for Air Canada staff, and say crew need to know how to use the equipment that is available to them.

“It was like our opinion didn’t matter and they knew what was best. I travel, I know my body, I know what I can and can’t do,” said Lachance.

“It made me really gun shy to travel which is unfortunate because I have to travel for work all the time.”

As a care assistant, Proulx isn’t allowed to assist Lachance directly while on a flight. She said the incident made her feel “helpless.”

Lachance and Proulx are now calling for better training for Air Canada staff, and say crew need to know how to use the equipment that is available to them. Ben Nelms, CBC

“I just wanted to do it myself but I couldn’t… They were just handing me gifts from first class to compensate for the poor behaviour that was being displayed in front of me. They literally said, ‘I’m giving you this so you don’t hate us.’ I just couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that.”

Lachance said he was also unimpressed with his experience in Toronto, where Air Canada ground crew rushed him off his flight and through the airport.

During the process of transferring him to his new chair, his shirt was pulled up over his stomach, leaving him exposed. He was transported through the busy airport without anyone taking the time to adjust his shirt.

“It made me feel so uncomfortable… I felt really low at that point, I felt like I was being put on display,” he said.

In Halifax, Lachance performed at an event put on entirely by comedians with disabilities, an experience that left him feeling inspired.

“This took all the joy out of it. I went from being extremely happy and proud to miserable and angry,” he said.

“It’s not about me. I know this happens to people all the time and I just wanted to be another voice.”

Michelle Ghoussoub is a reporter and anchor for CBC News based in Vancouver. She has received a nomination for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reporter. She can be reached at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca.

Source CBC News British Columbia


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