Canada Post suspends community mailbox program

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Late on Monday afternoon, Canada Post announced it was putting on hold its plans to transition away from door-to-door delivery. The Crown corporation promised to "work collaboratively with the Government of Canada to determine the best path forward given the ongoing challenges faced by the Canadian postal system," according to a news release.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) stated it is "happy that Canada Post has 'temporarily' suspended its decision to end home mail delivery." The union wants a permanent halt to the delivery cuts and for delivery to be restored in areas that it has already been lost.

CUPW is also calling on the new Liberal government to conduct a public review of Canada Post.

Once billed as a necessary step to reduce costs, the community mailbox program has been widely controversial. A majority of Canadians had been found to be opposed to the changes, which would see existing home delivery in urban areas come to an end.

In particular, groups representing seniors and people with disabilities are worried that it would impose undue hardship and increase social isolation for those unable to make the journey to mailbox locations, which themselves were criticized for being placed poorly and without notice or consultation.

In July, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra claimed before a House of Commons committee that seniors he spoke to "want to be active, want to be living fuller lives" in an apparent attempt to suggest that the changes were welcome. The comments were greeted with overwhelming scorn.

Canada Post's workers have also warned that the mailboxes are prone to theft and vandalism, while a number of reports have surfaced of the mailboxes being placed poorly and without consultation or notice. Canada Post itself has recorded thousands of incidents involving the mailboxes, including tampering and arson.

As recently as Friday, CBC NL reported that a Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador woman found her lawn torn up to install super mailboxes. She received no notice and workers were unable to provide proof of permission. When she refused to move, the contractors hired by Canada Post phoned the police.

The same day, an Abbotsford man parked his truck over a hole dug for the mailbox, given that the notice he received about the mailbox's location showed a different address.

Richard Biggar, the Green party candidate for Southern Shore-St. Margaret's in the recent election, expressed that mailboxes have been placed in locations that are impractical and even dangerous for residents. During a phone interview Tuesday evening he told rabble about the mailbox site on St. Margaret's Bay Road near the Halifax Shopping Centre.

"A super busy road on a corner, all the plowed snow on the corner. ...It's really busy, one of the most busiest roads in Halifax. ...There's an embarkment, four feet high, a parking lot behind it. The plough would've just buried it. It's still there. You're putting your life in your hands to get your mail. The first plough that goes by, it's just going to be a plough of ice."

The mailbox's inappropriate location was enough to make it the site of a rally in August attended by Elizabeth May and CUPW members.

Opposition to the transition had been multi-faceted and has featured highly varied activism, with the CUPW launching a 'Save Canada Post' campaign in July as well as a court case. The previous month, an Ottawa woman transformed the concrete base of a planned mailbox into a medicinal plant garden while sympathetic Canada Post workers manned a picket line to prevent further construction.

The City of Hamilton began issuing fines to Canada Post, while the Mayor of Montreal famously took a jackhammer to a planned mailbox site's concrete base, calling Canada Post's claims that it would be accommodating "bullshit." The concrete slab had been placed in a nature park.

Disability organizations concerned about existing inaccessible sites

James Hicks, the National Coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said he was "thrilled" that the transition would be halted but expressed hope that a solution could be found for people with disabilities who live in urban areas where home delivery has already ended.

"People with disabilities, they can't really use [the super mailboxes.] We've been asking them to halt for quite some time. Where it goes from here will be interesting to see. And we hope that they will invite the Council of Canadians with Disabilities to be part of the solution," he told rabble in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

Hicks also mentioned that some people have raised the idea of a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the government-created body charged with administering the Canadian Human Rights Act.

He went on to explain that even the current design and construction of the community mailboxes, as well as their locations, can be inaccessible for some people with disabilities.

"It makes sense that there's problem. You're dealing with something that's in the middle of the sidewalk, on the edge. People will have difficulty getting chairs close enough, reaching up to put a key in. It's also the way their manufactured," he said, describing the mailboxes' structure of locks and doors that may be difficult to operate for persons with fine motor abilities.

Hicks expressed hope that, if home delivery is not restored in the areas where it has ended, an alternate service could be provided for persons with disabilities who register.

While he noted that no announcement has been made on restoring door-to-door service in affected areas, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey says that the Liberal promise to save home delivery "has not been fulfilled" by Canada Post's decision.

The Canada Post section of the Liberal platform document, however, does not specifically commit to restoring home delivery in places where community mailboxes have been recently installed.

"There's just a plethora of issues for certain people with disabilities," Hicks added. ."..I hope they re-consider the whole program. I'd like to see them sit down with us and look at what their plan is and how they can move forward and provide services to people."

Cory Collins is a nonfiction writer, visual artist, poet and contributor to rabble.ca and other publications. His poetry, criticism and art work have appeared in the Island Review, Lemon Hound, The Telegram, Burnaby Now, Off the Coast and Cordite Poetry Review, while he has written on current events, economic news and political affairs for Aslan Media, People's World, Bee Culture and Canadian Dimension. He lives in St. John's and can be contacted via Twitter @coryGcollins or corycollins.ca.

Photo: flickr/Ross Dunn - 4 million+ views!

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