Bus Driver with One Eye Wins Drivers’ License Case

  • October 14, 2020
  • Laura Lepine

On July 15, 2020, an Oakville bus driver won her battle against the Ontario Ministry of Transportation regulation that stripped her of her drivers’ license after she lost her right eye to cancer.

Liliana Di Cienzo was a bus driver in Oakville for several years, operating a public bus under her Class C commercial drivers’ license. She had an unblemished driving record.

However, in 2013, Ms. Di Cienzo was diagnosed with cancer in her eye: to treat it, doctors needed to remove her right eye. After Ms. Di Cienzo recovered from her surgery, she tried to return to work.

Instead, she received a letter from the Ministry of Transportation downgrading her commercial drivers’ license and ending her career as a bus driver.

The Ministry of Transportation relied on section 18(3) of Ontario Regulation 340/94, which regulates drivers’ licenses. Section 18(3) sets out the requirements for commercial licenses: the vision requirements in that section are impossible for a person with one eye to meet.

Ms. Di Cienzo applied to the Ontario Superior Court for relief, arguing that the Regulation violated her right to equality under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In its July decision, the Court agreed with Ms. Di Cienzo. It found that the vision standards substantively discriminated against Ms. Di Cienzo based on her physical disability because they created a blanket prohibition against granting Class C licenses to people with only one eye. This perpetuates the stereotype that drivers with only one eye are not able to safely drive public transit vehicles, and don’t allow for any individual exemption based on a driver’s actual capabilities.

The Court further found that, while there was a pressing and substantial objective in maintaining the high safety standards of Ontario highways, the vision standards were not minimally impairing (meaning that there were other ways that Ontario could meet its objective without discriminating against Ms. Di Cienzo and others like her). The Court noted that most other Canadian jurisdictions allow individuals to seek exemptions to vision standards based on their individual abilities. The vision standards were therefore not justified under section 1 of the Charter.

To allow the province time to revise its Regulation, the Court suspended its declaration of unconstitutionality for one year.

You can read the Court’s full decision (Di Cienzo v Attorney General of Ontario, 2020 ONSC 4347) here (link).

You can read an account of the case in Ms. Di Cienzo’s own words in this interview by the Canadian Press, here (link).

Want to learn more about Bakerlaw’s Charter work? Click here (link)!