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Fact check: Did Alberta's health minister reserve accessible parking spaces at a Calgary hospital?

This photo of a sign that seems to be reserving accessible parking spots for Alberta government officials at the Foothills Medical Centre began circulating online on Tuesday, generating controversy. (r/alberta/Reddit - image credit)
This photo of a sign that seems to be reserving accessible parking spots for Alberta government officials at the Foothills Medical Centre began circulating online on Tuesday, generating controversy. (r/alberta/Reddit - image credit)

On Tuesday, a Reddit post began circulating on various social media platforms after it included a photo of a sign that appeared to be reserving multiple accessible parking spaces for Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange as well as her deputy minister at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

The image is of a sandwich board-style sign that reads "reserved for minister of health and deputy minister of health" in all capital letters, while the accessible parking space sign is covered with what appears to be a garbage bag.

The image was posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, and had garnered over 88,000 views as of Thursday morning. Some people began speculating online that LaGrange was responsible for claiming the parking spots for herself, directing blame toward her.

But did the ministry actually block off accessible parking spaces for officials?

CBC News contacted Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Ministry of Health to verify the image.

An email statement from the Ministry of Health reads: "A sign made by Alberta Health Services Parking Services was placed in a disabled parking stall at Foothills Medical Centre."

"Minister LaGrange and her health officials did not request this sign and they do not require a reserved parking spot at hospitals or any other events."

The statement concludes by noting that neither LaGrange nor the the deputy minister were at the Foothills Medical Centre on Tuesday.

And shortly after, AHS emailed CBC News the very same statement.

LaGrange posted on her social media about being in Lethbridge, Alta., on Tuesday for the first of the UCP's health-care system engagement sessions set to take place around the province.

CBC News followed up with AHS to clarify how the decision was made and what parking protocols exist for visits from government officials.

"This was an error and we apologize if it caused any inconvenience for patients or visitors," reads an email statement from James Wood, media relations director for AHS Calgary Zone.

The sign has since been removed.

Spaces designed for people with disabilities

Darby Young is the founder and principal accessibility strategist of Level Playing Field, a Calgary-based accessibility consultation firm specializing in architecture and design.

She said she understands why being close to entrances and exits could be important to politicians, but actions like this can make everything more challenging for people with disabilities.

'It's a huge thing if if you're taking away accessible spots and somebody with a disability needs to go to the hospital, needs to attend an appointment or see a friend,' says Darby Young, founder and principal accessibility strategist of Level Playing Field in Calgary.
'It's a huge thing if if you're taking away accessible spots and somebody with a disability needs to go to the hospital, needs to attend an appointment or see a friend,' says Darby Young, founder and principal accessibility strategist of Level Playing Field in Calgary.

'It's a huge thing if you're taking away accessible spots and somebody with a disability needs to go to the hospital, needs to attend an appointment or see a friend,' says Darby Young, founder and principal accessibility strategist of Level Playing Field in Calgary. (Submitted by Darby Young)

"I think my first thought is … what is going on here? Second thought is, I'm kind of shocked, but I think it's a complete miscommunication," said Young.

"Whoever did that didn't understand the purpose of those parking stalls."

Young drew comparisons between this image and the 2017 backlash that followed after the Calgary International Airport converted accessible parking stalls into "Lexus-only" branded parking spots.

The parking stalls in question are located in front of the north entrance of McCaig Tower at the Foothills Medical Centre, pictured on Jan. 25, 2024. Alberta Health Services (AHS) did not confirm how long the sign was placed there for.
The parking stalls in question are located in front of the north entrance of McCaig Tower at the Foothills Medical Centre, pictured on Jan. 25, 2024. Alberta Health Services (AHS) did not confirm how long the sign was placed there for.

The parking stalls in question are located in front of the north entrance of McCaig Tower at the Foothills Medical Centre, pictured on Thursday. Alberta Health Services did not confirm how long the sign was there. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"Those spots are designed to help people with disabilities be able to park," Young said. "When somebody does that, it pushes us to a regular stall, which wouldn't be wide enough."

In Calgary, parking in accessible spaces without displaying a valid accessible parking placard can result in being fined.