For more than three years, an unnamed woman has taken it upon herself to drive others to their treatment sessions and doctor appointments at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ontario, Canada. After surviving stage III breast cancer herself and noticing the pressing need many patients had for rides to their treatments, she decided to give back by offering such a service to those in need.
“I battled it for two years. I lost my hair. You lose your dignity,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to be here and that’s why I wanted to give back because I know the good Lord gave me a second chance.”
The woman asks for about $10-$12 for a round trip to help cover the cost of gas and vehicle maintenance and refuses tips. She does about 20 round trips per month.
Many hospital procedures, treatments, and surgeries make driving dangerous or even impossible for patients. Those who do not have family or friends in the area often have no option but to hail a cab, and that can be a huge extra expense for cancer patients whose budgets are already stretched thin and who must go to treatment several times a year, if not so often as several times a week.
This volunteer version of a cab service costs less to patients and enables them to get a safe ride to and from the hospital from someone who understands what they’re going through.
This woman’s work is so important that the hospital refers to her as a “critical volunteer,” and staff have said that things run much more smoothly when patients who aren’t supposed to be driving can get one at a low rate from a trusted source.
However, bylaw officers disagreed. When they found out that she was charging for her services, they fined her a hefty fee of C$2,600 ($2,015 U.S.) for the offense of operating a vehicle for hire without a license.
“I’m devastated,” she says. “I had cancer and I just wanted to give back to the community.”
The woman—and many others—are saying the fine is ridiculous. Despite the fact that she had been previously warned that she was breaking the law, many believe she should not have been fined. This good samaritan, who lives on a fixed income, is not making a profit off her work, but rather just trying to cover her own costs as she helps others in need.
“It just drives me crazy when bureaucrats find a way to punish people for doing sensible, altruistic things,” says Jeff Schlemmer, head of Neighbourhood Legal Services. He goes on to say that, although the woman’s offense was technically illegal and punishable, the amount of the fine was unfair.
“I can understand if they said, ‘Technically you’re doing something wrong, here’s a ticket for $100, don’t do it again.’ That’s proportionate, that’s going to shut her down, that would achieve their objective. A $2,200 fine is obviously aimed at a company. It’s not aimed at a disabled person on a fixed income.”
The case was brought before the City Council — however, the council does not have the authority to simply overturn the fine.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?