Advocates' Protests Lead Council To Withdraw Parking Arrest
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 6, 2006
KLANG, MALAYSIA--Last week, the Klang Municipal Council (MPK) was ready to throw Gurdip Kaur Pritam Singh in jail.
Thanks to the efforts of disability rights advocates, who drew the attention of the local media and politicians to what they saw as an outright injustice, the council has reversed itself, saying its earlier stance was a simple misunderstanding.
Gurdip, who has used a wheelchair for the past 13 years, received a letter from the council dated March 30 and entitled "Notice of Court Action and Warrant of Arrest". The letter reportedly referred to 10 citations, called "compounds", she received over a two-week period in 2004 for failing to pay parking fees at a lot near a shopping center where she was organizing an event.
Gurdip openly admitted that she did not pay, but said that she had no choice: The area had no parking spaces designated for motorists with disabilities, and the ticketing machines where she was forced to park had poles in front of them, making it impossible to maneuver her wheelchair up to them.
The 45-year-old secretary for the Independent Living & Training Center (ILTC) said she did prominently display a logo sticker on the side of front of her car showing that she had a disability.
"Once, I tried explaining my predicament but the enforcement officer refused to listen," Gurdip told the New Straits Times.
Gurdip and her husband, ILTC president Francis Siva, appealed several times to the council, even sending a February 2005 letter which included a copy of her official identification showing her disability status.
Still, the council would not budge, and issued the threat to jail her a year later.
"Why are they treating me like a criminal?" Gurdip asked during a press conference arranged by the center earlier this week. "I did not commit any offence."
"I have never felt so embarrassed and humiliated in my life," she said. "I demand an apology and explanation from MPK on this matter. If it could happen to me, it could happen to other disabled people as well."
Anthony Thanasayan, ILTC advisor and The Star "Wheel Power" columnist, joined the protest.
"We feel that we are being stereotyped," he said. "This is not the way to treat us. Are they trying to tell us to stay at home and not go out at all?"
The ordeal caught the attention of members of Parliament, who on Monday criticized the Klang council for its handling of the issue, along with its failure to provide such motorists with enough accessible parking spaces in the first place.
"They should be treated with more dignity," Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, told reporters.
On Tuesday, MPK president Abd Bakir Zin announced that Gurdip would not face jail time and that all of her fines would be forgiven. He said denied that any warrant had been issued for her arrest.
"This is the notice we send to all those who have not settled their compounds," he said, adding that the council has always cancelled parking citations issued to people with disabilities. All they had to do was produce a disability card issued by the Welfare Department, or come into the council's office to talk about the problem, he said.
One day earlier, The Star reported that it had contacted MPK public relations officer Norfiza Mahfiz, who said: "Whether you are disabled or not, parking without paying the parking fees is wrong. She can be granted a discount, but we are not going to cancel the compounds."
"Council taking disabled woman to court over parking fees" (The Star)
"Shahrizat: Disabled persons should be treated with more dignity" (Sun2Surf)
"MPK criticised for its insensitive action" (Malay Mail)
"Parking tickets issued to Gurmit to be cancelled" (New Straits Times)