By Zachary Roman
This story will be updated with additional comment from City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
Fourth-year child and youth care student Michelle Everett didn’t know most men’s washrooms don’t have changing tables—until she told her husband she wouldn’t be the only one changing diapers if they have kids.
“I was shocked,” said Everett. “We set out to look at bathrooms every time we went out and find out if this was a real concern. Almost everywhere we went only had diaper changing tables available in women’s washrooms.”
Everett decided to start a petition to mandate accessible diaper changing stations in all of Toronto’s public washrooms. She met all of its signees in person, including students in her classes and community members at events like farmers’ markets.
Though Everett’s petition is directed toward the city, Ryerson is not exempt from this issue because many students have child care responsibilities as well.
Ryerson Facilities Management and Development (FMD) told The Eye in an email they do not currently track the number of washrooms that have change tables. For a map of buildings that have “change-table amenities”—note there is no indication of which washrooms they are available in—see the bottom of this article.
FMD also said in the email that the Daphne Cockwell Complex (DCC) has an infant feeding room that is available to all Ryerson students. Currently, Ryerson has 162 all-gender or universal bathrooms on campus.
“[It] limits the time and care fathers can give to their kids”
“I hope to eradicate some of the limitations that come from the narrative that women are responsible solely for children,” said Everett. “I believe that although the diaper changing table issue is such a small part of this big problem, it still impacts and contributes to it.”
The petition garnered over 700 signatures and was submitted to Ward 13 city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam last month.
Wong-Tam told The Eyeopener, that as someone with an infant herself, she wholeheartedly supports the petition and is working with her team on a campaign for it.
The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing amended its building code in 2015 to mandate universal restrooms with changing tables—but only in bigger or new buildings. Older buildings are still not required to install them.
Everett said businesses have complained they’d need to do a renovation to put changing tables in both of their washrooms as opposed to just one.
She also noted that if a changing table can fit in an airplane bathroom, businesses in older and smaller buildings can make the accommodations.
Khadijah Ahmed, a third-year child and youth care student at Ryerson, said she has been to family and community outings where she has seen fathers have to use makeshift changing tables in common areas or ask a woman in the family to take over.
“It really is perpetuating outdated gender and maternal roles,” said Ahmed. “I believe that parents have equal rights to their children and equal responsibility. Having changing tables in only women’s bathrooms limits the time and care fathers can give to their kids.”
Ahmed said this is important for inclusivity and for families that don’t have a primary female caregiver.
In 2016, Statistics Canada reported a 35.4 per cent increase in children living with a single dad since 2001. More comprehensive data is needed on families with two dads or non-binary individuals.
“I hope to eradicate [the idea] that women are solely responsible for children”
In addition, they revealed in a report that in 1976, stay-at-home fathers accounted for approximately 1 in 70 of all Canadian families with a stay-at-home parent. By 2015, the figure rose to about 1 in 10.
Having changing tables in all of Toronto’s washrooms is important for fathers to continue to be caregivers outside the home, said Ryerson student Feven Iket.
“This cause means a lot to me,” said Iket. “When I get married and have children one day, I will want my husband to be able to access a safe environment where he can change my child’s diaper.”
Everett first brought her petition idea to her local councillor in Ward 15, Jaye Robinson. But because Robinson announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2019, she has been unable to help Everett.
After receiving “little to no help” from Mayor John Tory’s office, Everett decided to reach out to Wong-Tam. Everett said they met on Jan. 24 and she submitted her petition in person. She added that Wong-Tam will be keeping her updated on the next steps as they work to try and turn the petition into actual policy change.
“Imagine the impact this has on young girls seeing women changing babies diapers when they use a public restroom but young boys don’t see this,” Everett said.