Public toilets in Ottawa

Based on ‘Status Report for World Toilet Day 2021’

By GottaGo! Campaign

The GottaGo! Campaign gives Ottawa a C+ grade on it’s handling of the toilet issue. Here are the pluses and minuses.

 Public toilets in downtown Ottawa

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt access to all public toilets in downtown Ottawa. Our count is that there are 24 public toilets in the downtown:

  • 2 “stand-alone” toilets, one in Major’s Hill Park and another west of the Centre Block of Parliament Hill (Unfortunately the latter provides more facilities for men than for women, despite widespread research and new building codes that recognize the different amounts of time required by each gender and encourage twice as many stalls for women.)
  • 15 in public buildings (e.g. the National Arts Centre, Byward Market, City Hall and the National Gallery)
  • 7 in commercial or other buildings (identified in the Ottawa Tourist Map).

Almost all these public buildings have had limited access over the past few months, so the toilets have often been inaccessible.

A major positive development has been the decision by the City to build two new stand-alone public toilets on Sparks Street and in the Byward Market. City planners have invited GottaGo! to participate in discussions about design and type of toilets, with the current thinking in favour of self-cleaning.

Further, the province has proposed regulations giving delivery drivers the right to use the toilets of businesses to which they deliver.

The Portapotties introduced by the city during the early days of the pandemic have largely disappeared.

Ottawa continues to have no street-level signs about where to find public toilets or when they are open. Similarly there are no signs on the exterior of public buildings that have a toilet that could be used by the public.

Toilets in public transit

The two LRT lines have public toilets in only four of the 17 stations –Tunney’s Pasture, Bayview, Hurdman and Blair – so only 24 per cent of stations. OC Transpo’s plans for the next stages include 10 public toilets in the next 24 stations, thus maintaining this ratio. While we would like to see a toilet at every station, we believe this is one of the highest ratios in any urban train transit system in North America and better than similar (though older) transport systems in London, Paris and other major European cities. LRT system maps in the entrance of stations need to indicate which stations have toilets.

There are still no toilets at any of the 19 OC Transpo park-and-ride locations nor at any bus stations.

Public toilets outside the downtown core

The city’s open data set lists 177 locations with a public toilet. However, this does not mean they are open and available. Many have limited hours during the day, and many close in the winter.

In 2019, we reported that Starbucks, Bridgehead, Tim Horton’s and others were increasingly making their toilets somewhat more available to non-customers. With COVID-19 restrictions on these businesses, access was cut back significantly in 2020, and we understand these restrictions remain in place.

There are over 100 splash pads, dozens of parks and playing fields and many kilometres of bicycle and walking paths in Ottawa, many with no toilet facilities.

Toilets for special needs

Toilets in some older buildings make inadequate provision for wheelchairs or require users to enter by a back door. Some toilets are not wide enough to roll in wheelchairs and close the door; some have no press button to open the door. People with medical issues (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other incontinence issues) need frequent toilet visits and not having a readily accessible toilet is detrimental to their health and wellbeing. People living on the street must urinate and defecate outdoors, which is a serious health risk. This means human waste is left in doorways, alleys and even bus shelters.

Toilets and gender

Women and female-identifying populations need a stall as well as waste receptacles for menstrual products. Many buildings continue to provide the same size toilet facilities for men and women, although it is now argued that women require double the area. We are pleased to note that renovations to the National Arts Centre completed in 2019 have provided more toilet facilities for women.

There remain few gender-neutral public toilets in Ottawa. The gendering of public toilets poses a safety risk for gender diverse people who need access to hygienic sanitation. Non-gendered, accessible toilet facilities with individual waste receptacles create a safe and secure site for all persons. According to research, almost 70 per cent of transgender people have had a “negative experience” in gendered bathrooms. In Ontario, 57 per cent have chosen at least once to avoid bathrooms altogether out of fear of harassment.

Malls and other public buildings use gendered characters on signs for toilet facilities. It would be less confusing to use the “holding it in” graphic or simply a toilet. For example, we love the unambiguous toilet sign at the new Ottawa Art Gallery, which uses an outline of a toilet seat and water closet and is also in braille.

How to locate a toilet in Ottawa

We welcome the fact that web pages and apps such as, Flush, GoHere, Quench and ToiletFinder are available for those with smart phones and who know these tools exist. The last time we checked, there were still lots of gaps for Ottawa.

The new Official Plan, approved recently by city council, makes no mention of public toilets. Does this mean that the public will need to “hold it” for the next 25 years?

The GottaGo Campaign core team consists of Bessa Whitmore, Nick Aplin, Kristina Ropke, Eric McCabe, Alan Etherington, Zeinab Mohammed and Lui Kashungnao.

According to Lost Ottawa, this city has had its share of “oops” toilet moments. In 1966, the city had to delay its plan to demolish Union Station when it realized the only downtown public toilet was there, and the crowds coming to the 1967 Centennial celebrations would need somewhere to go.
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