04/15/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 06/24/2015 12:59 EDT

Man who broke leg at mailbox tells Canada Post: 'Keep the path clear'

It was around noon, a week after a huge snow storm hit Hamilton, when Alex Tocher broke his ankle in three places when he stopped to get his mail.

The west Mountain resident pulled up to his local super mailbox, located about 50 metres from his house. He stepped into a snow bank lining the edge of the sidewalk, grabbed his mail and retraced his steps. But when he did, he twisted and broke his ankle in the snow.

It's an incident that has led Tocher, 69, to issue a call to Canada Post as it begins installing more community mailboxes on the Mountain.

"Keep them clear," he said. "At least have somewhere where people can enter to get their mail. And some people, if they're disabled or if they're elderly, I think it should be delivered somehow."

Super mail boxes are an issue at the front of councillors' minds as they prepare to lay down the law with Canada Post on Wednesday. City council has been a vocal opponent of the plan to stop urban mail delivery and replace them with community mailboxes.

To that end, the city voted in February to amend a bylaw to include where community mailboxes can go. But on Monday, before the city could even pass it, Canada Post sent a letter saying that it was starting to install community mailboxes for some 36,000 customers on the Mountain. So city council will likely rush Wednesday to pass its bylaw.

As for Tocher, he doesn't mind community mailboxes. He's had one since the 1995, when he moved into his Adele Court home. His concern is that the corporation doesn't clear the snow in front of them in a timely fashion. As more community mailboxes are installed, he said, more people are at risk of being in his predicament.

It's a predicament that he's struggled with since Feb. 9, when the incident happened.

Breaking his ankle, he said, brought a pain that was "just unbelievable." His neighbour found him in the snow bank in intense pain and took him to the hospital. He's had surgery and spent two months in a cast.

A concern 'from day one'

He's finally graduated to a firm leg brace, but he can't return to his twice-weekly job as a shuttle driver until May, he said. He's only recently been able to get up the stairs. A container on his living room table contains 10 bottles of pills, including vitamins and prescriptions.

Tocher called Canada Post, who got details and didn't call back, he said. Someone also informed the office of Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8, who argues against community mailboxes.

Whitehead said part of his objection is because of the risk to residents as they try to navigate snow-covered sidewalks in front of the mailboxes, much like Tocher did.

"It's a concern I've raised from day one," he said. "Will this expose the city to a higher risk? The answer from our legal (team) is yes."

Snow clearance shouldn't be a concern as more community mailboxes are installed, said Jon Hamilton, Canada Post spokesperson.

$25 million to clear snow

He hadn't heard of Tocher's specific case. But it's the corporation's responsibility to take care of snow clearing, he said, and it has a budget of more than $25 million per year to do so.

It hires contractors to do the job. If people have concerns, he said, they can contact Canada Post.

"If it's a one off, we clean it up," he said. "If it's an ongoing thing, where we're continuing to identify an area where we have an issue, we need to rectify that. We are responsible for clearing the snow and providing safe access in the winter."

That clear access includes the sidewalk in front of the community mailbox. In some cases, it includes the snow bank along the curb's edge if the mailbox faces the street — as it does in Tocher's case.

"It depends on the configuration," Hamilton said.

As for city council, it will vote on its bylaw at a special council meeting on Wednesday. But it's unclear whether it will even make a difference.

Unknown whether the bylaw will even make a difference

When asked, Hamilton would only say that Canada Post works with municipalities on where to install the boxes. He also said that Canada Post surveyed residents on the Mountain, which provided the corporation with plenty of feedback.

"We will be monitoring and we will continue to operate under the laws that govern postal services in this country," he said.

As for why it couldn't wait for the bylaw, Hamilton said Canada Post needs to move forward.

"Ultimately, we would have liked to worked more collaboratively throughout the process. We've put out many offers," he said.

"We've provided maps. We've provided information over the last 10 months, and now we're at a point where we need to move forward."