If you ask Lisa Prat why she has such an unsteady gait, she’ll tell you: It’s a symptom of having multiple sclerosis.
And that’s exactly what she had to do earlier this week when security at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal almost refused her entry for being intoxicated.
Prat was on her way home to Pender Island Tuesday, when her MS flared up. Suddenly she found herself having trouble doing the most basic things: walking, talking and even sitting upright all became extremely difficult for her. She made the decision to leave her car behind and instead take the ferry as a foot passenger, but when she came into view of those working that day, she could already tell they were giving her funny looks.
“I know I look drunk, I said to them when I paid for my ticket … I saw you watching me come in — I’m not drunk, I’m having a bad relapse,” she told CHEK News.
Prat says she asked for assistance getting to the Pender terminal, hoping to get a wheelchair or at least assistance with her bag. “No one would help,” she said.
She tells CHEK it was a struggle to make her way to the waiting area on her own and felt exhausted when she finally got there. She says only 5 minutes had passed before security showed up, looking for her.
“They told me you’re not getting on this ferry, you’re too drunk. I explained to them, I’m not drunk — I’m exhausted, yes, but I’m not drunk.”
She says that despite her pleas, they wouldn’t budge. That’s when another resident of Pender Island who knew Prat stepped in.
“I can hear Lisa crying, talking to a family member on the phone,” Grant Hobbs recalls. “The security guard is thinking she’s drunk. She’s swaying around in the seat, and she’s crying.”
He says despite her explanation, the staff member was insistent that she step outside. Hobbs adds that Prat was swearing, hence why there was a concern from the employee.
“I told him, dude — you don’t get it. She’s handicapped. She takes the ferry every day. Her husband waits every day on the other side.”
Eventually, they managed to convince staff at the ferry terminal that she really was just suffering from her symptoms, but the whole experience has left Prat traumatized.
“Everyone expects you to be in a wheelchair, we’re not all in wheelchairs. We’re out there, we’re trying to fight a good life… and yeah, sometimes it doesn’t look right.”
This isn’t the first time Prat has had trouble getting to and from her home on Pender Island. In 2019, she missed a crucial appointment with her neurologist when the Salish Raven broke down entirely, stranding her at sea for four-and-a-half hours.
A spokesperson with BC Ferries told CHEK News that as part of its Conditions of Carriage, all passengers must be fit for travel for their own health and well-being, and that of others, but that in no way is it ever the company’s intention to interact with customers in a disrespectful way, or ignore medical accommodations.
While we won’t speak about individual circumstances, when disturbances are reported to our staff by other customers, we take them seriously and we review each situation. This is aided by video monitoring of the public spaces at our terminals and on our vessels.
“Our priority is always the care and concern of all passengers travelling with us,” concluded the statement from BC Ferries.
Despite the response, it remains unclear how ferry employees determine passengers eligibility to be fit and well, or how they differentiate medical conditions with inebriation.
According to MS Canada, balance, speech and cognitive impairment are just some of the symptoms caused by the disease. There are over 23 different symptoms listed on the website, many of which can be mistaken for other illnesses and impairments, and some which can’t be seen at all.