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Quadriplegic city councillor gets a lift from anonymous donor

·3 min read
Councillor André Cloutier seen in his home in Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine, Que., a town just south of Thetford Mines. Thanks to an anonymous donor and a paratransit company 120 kms from his home, he now has a ride back from his council meetings. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Councillor André Cloutier seen in his home in Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine, Que., a town just south of Thetford Mines. Thanks to an anonymous donor and a paratransit company 120 kms from his home, he now has a ride back from his council meetings. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada - image credit)

André Cloutier no longer has to make the one-kilometre trek from city hall to his home in Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine, Que. — in his wheelchair and in the snow — to fulfil his duties as a city councillor.

Thanks to an anonymous donor and a transportation provider willing to go the extra mile, he's getting a lift.

"It's like an angel fell out of the sky," he said.

"It's surprising, it's a service from another region.… They came 60 kilometres to pick me up at city hall [last week] to drive one kilometre to drop me off. It's a 120-kilometre return trip," he said.

Cloutier is quadriplegic and was re-elected in November to represent residents of his town about 200 kilometres east of Montreal. He'd been relying on a neighbour to help wheel him home since the start of the year when Thetford Mines, the city responsible for providing adapted transportation in his region, said it no longer had the resources to offer paratransit services after 6 p.m.

Cloutier says it wasn't a problem during the summer, but became more challenging as the weather got colder and the days shorter.

After Cloutier shared his story with CBC and Radio-Canada, he says an anonymous donor offered to cover part of the cost of securing him a ride from Transport Haut-Saint-François, a company that operates in a neighbouring regional municipality.

"They're paying for part of it, a good part of it," he said, "I don't have a name, I don't know the amount or anything, it's all anonymous."

"There are still good people out there," he said.

Transportation company steps in

Thérèse Domingue is the general manager at Transport Haut-Saint-François, the company that agreed to step in. She says she got a phone call from a regional organization that works with people who have reduced mobility and she also saw Radio-Canada's report on Cloutier's predicament.

"For me, for the organization, it's our philosophy," she said. "We're fulfilling our mandate, to respond to people's needs, in this case a need that's not being met."

Domingue says the company is one of the few transportation services in the Eastern Townships that has a taxi with a lift that can accommodate a person in a wheelchair. Since the taxi industry in Quebec is now deregulated, there are no restrictions as to where the company can operate.

She says they don't mind going out of their way.

"When we're able to help, it gives us a great sense of satisfaction," she said. "It's not a question of distance for us, we go where the need is."

Four-year mandate

Cloutier says he's grateful to be able to count on outside transportation for now, but he hopes officials in his region and the transportation company in Thetford Mines will find a way to restore paratransit to his area in the evening.

"I have a four-year mandate," he said, "I hope [this situation] won't last four years."

Domingue says Transport Haut-Saint-François is prepared to offer its services to Cloutier for the next four years, but she too hopes it doesn't come to that.

"What he's living isn't unique to his regional municipality and I think there's some reflection that needs to happen about what can be done locally," she said.

"We need to be offering a quality service and the needs exist outside of traditional office hours."

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