Amherst man speaks out about inaccessible court facilities

Darrell Cole, The Amherst News
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Mitchell summoned for jury duty, but excused for accessibility reasons

AMHERST – An Amherst man is upset that he can’t do his civic duty because Amherst’s historic courthouse is not wheelchair accessible.

Jim Mitchell is concerned that he cannot serve on a jury because the historic Amherst courthouse is not accessible to the physically challenged.

“People with disabilities only want equal rights. They want to be treated like everyone else, we don’t want special treatment,” Jim Mitchell said. “It can’t believe that in today’s modern world that a public building like the courthouse is not accessible. This doesn’t only impact the physically challenged, but also seniors who can’t negotiate the stairs to the courtroom.”

Mitchell said he received a letter several weeks ago summoning him to jury duty this week and again in June. Upon checking out the courthouse, he found there to be no wheelchair ramps and no way for him to get into the building or to get to the second floor since the 130-year-old building doesn’t have an elevator either.

He reported his concerns to the Amherst Justice Centre and was told he was excused from jury duty, even though he was willing to serve.

“I told them I didn’t want to be excused. I felt I was being denied by rights to participate in the judicial process,” he said. “Court staff said they were sorry but there’s nothing they could do.

“The way I look at it is it’s my duty to serve, but it’s also the court system’s duty to make sure help is there for people who need help with accessibility and right now this is totally unacceptable and needs to be fixed. And if they say nothing can be done because this is a heritage building they need to move out and find a new place.”

He said if it’s not illegal to have an inaccessible public building, it should be.

Mitchell said there was a time when he could hop up the stairs to gain access to the building, but his good leg no longer supports him.

An outspoken advocate for the physically challenged, Mitchell said he sent a letter to the justice centre expressing his concerns and also wrote Cumberland North MLA Terry Farrell.

He also plans to reach out to Justice Minister Lena Diab.

Justice Department spokesman Chad Lucas said he understands Mitchell’s frustration.

“It’s important to make sure all citizens have access to public facilities,” he said. “The Amherst courthouse is an older building and has quite a few constraints. We’re going to be reviewing the use of building and looking at what actions we can take to address the issue or take alternative solutions.”

Lucas said court staff will also meet with Mitchell to discuss the situation.

Organizations: Amherst Justice Centre, Justice Department

Geographic location: Amherst

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