Group pushes for more public toilets

Toilets are a growing topic of discussion in Ottawa following the GottaGo! Campaign’s push for the implementation of more public facilities.

The campaign wants to provide assistance to those – pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with disabilities – who can’t necessarily wait until they get home in order to relieve themselves.

According to coordinating director, Joan Kuyek, the campaign began a year ago as part of the 2013 Civics Boot Camp run by the Citizens Academy.

Kuyek and her group, consisting of eight civilian members, pitched a plan of action to a mock panel concerning an area of waste management they believed needed improvement in the city. 

“We agreed on public toilets because it was such an issue for everybody,” Kuyek said. “We had people with small kids, a couple of older people in the group…and we realized we all had problems and knew people that had.”

The group hopes to adopt washrooms, similar to those in countries like Seoul and Paris, which provide an enclosed space in high traffic areas that can be easily accessed at any hour of the day.

According to, a news conglomerate run by the Paris Directorate of Information and Communication, there are nearly 400 public toilets in Paris as of 2009.

All toilets are wheelchair accessible, well signed, concentrated in areas of tourism, and use rainwater as a part of a green initiative.

Kuyek says the public washroom at Ottawa City Hall is one of the only decent facilities in Ottawa, providing obvious signage with its location and its hours.

Most public facilities in Ottawa, however, are only operational during business hours.

Andrée Germain, an HIV prevention researcher at the University of Ottawa, has often encountered problems with the lack of public washrooms.

“I started noticing it as a problem in Ottawa when I was pregnant because, of course, you’ve got to go a lot more often and a lot more urgently,” she says. “Especially if you want to be walking through parks, you think there would be more available, but there really isn’t in Ottawa.”

GottaGo! has also aligned itself with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada in order to publicize the challenges faced by those living with either disease.

Crohn’s and Colitis are both lifelong illnesses that affect a person’s gastrointestinal system, often causing spontaneous bouts of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Sherry Pang, a development coordinator at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada in Ottawa, has suffered from Crohn’s disease for most of her life, and says the lack of public washrooms creates an anxiety among those with gastrointestinal problems.

“I hear stories so often that they don’t want to leave their homes because they’re so afraid of humiliation if they don’t make it to the bathroom in time,” says Pang. “They’re really chained to knowing where the washroom is and being able to access it.”

GottaGo! has reached out to Ottawa city councillors in order to garner support for the cause, receiving what Kuyek believes to be a positive response.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, was one of the first to be contacted by the group and says he believes GottaGo! has created a solid springboard from which to launch the initiative.

“They’re having conversations to start speaking about locations and how to fund the public washrooms,” he says. “I know that all the stakeholders are quite interested and want to be part of the campaign.

Kuyek said the group expects the cost of new facilities to be the only real barrier they face, but is taking proactive steps and consulting with representatives in the city council about the budgeting process.

GottaGo! held a lunchtime roundtable at Octopus Books’ Bank Street location on April 16 in an effort to build a greater base of support  and advance the initiative.