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Trapped in a tragedy: no plan in place for disabled vet

Jillian Zacchia

October, 2009

No one individual or institution can prepare for what happened three years ago, on September 13, at Dawson College when Kimveer Gill walked in and started shooting.

Difficult as it was for those who could walk, it was impossible for Myron Galen, a teacher at the college who uses a wheelchair.

In order to leave the school safely, one had to listen to the police and follow protocol, but Galen didn’t have the option of following the orders. He was one of a number of people with mobility issues stuck in the school.

On the day of the tragedy, Galen was in his office on the fifth floor, aware of what had happened but unable to leave the school along with everyone else. “The elevators were shut down,” he said. “They always are during emergencies. There was no way for me to get out.”

Galen waited in his wheelchair with a colleague, Aaron Krishtalka, who stayed by his side for four hours until he was allowed to leave through the Atrium. Donna Varrica, Dawson’s manager of communications, admitted that there are “severe gaps” in the evacuation procedure for those with limited mobility, “Myron being one of them. Relying on the kindness of strangers shouldn’t be the case.” Galen said he felt vulnerable because he didn’t feel protected by the authorities or the school administration. “A lot of physically disabled people were in danger and I’ve been complaining about it for years.”

“The problem is that the protocol that exists now is prepared on paper, but we found that when it’s put into practice it has some large gaps,” Varrica said. “When we practise evacuations, we don’t actually bring people with limited mobility outside. This disturbs people in wheelchairs because they haven’t actually done the exercise.”

“Nothing has been done to accommodate those in wheelchairs in the event of an emergency yet,” Galen said, and according to Varrica, he’s partially right. “We’ve set up a task force with people who’ve encountered a problem, instead of able bodied people making plans for those in wheelchairs,” Varrica said. “Galen is one of the members.

“We’re trying to come at it from different angles to see if we can create a real procedure.”

The committee will meet in the coming weeks but no progress has been made to reform the evacuation procedure for those in wheelchairs since the Dawson tragedy, Varrica said.

“You can’t plan for an attack like this,” Galen said, “but you can plan for an evacuation, and Dawson hasn’t gotten it right for the mobility-impaired.”



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