After ice cream makers and smart trash cans, here are self-cleaning toilets: another useless gadget from the City

In Montreal, journalist Louis-Philippe Messier travels mostly on the run, his desk in his backpack, on the lookout for fascinating subjects and people. He speaks to everyone and is interested in all walks of life in this urban chronicle.

It should not be surprising to sometimes find human excrement on public roads in the Ville-Marie district of Montreal since the expensive self-cleaning toilets that were supposed to accommodate the itinerant population are broken almost all the time or close at 7 p.m.

Like “ice cream crunchers” that never come out and smart “compact” trash cans that don’t save time or money, this expensive technology has failed to deliver on its promises.

On Wednesday, I visited five self-cleaning toilets. These “gadgets” each cost between a quarter and half a million $ and each require $25,000 in maintenance annually, the City wrote to me by email.

Four were out of commission and appeared to have been in a coma for a long time.

“Two weeks ago the cabin was already out of service. I had to relieve myself outside next to the little cabin over there. Fortunately, I had toilet paper with me,” says Samuel Beauchesne, whom I meet in Walter-Stewart Park where the unusable self-cleaning cabin is integrated into the chalet.

“Run test (sic),” said the screen of the broken self-cleaning toilet in Walter-Stewart Park.

Photo Louis-Philippe Messier

“It’s terrible! There, I’m going to try to find a chemical toilet not too far away. But if I don’t find any, well…” He doesn’t finish his thought, but we can guess: Mr. Beauchesne will then have to resort to the bush option again.

When I visited on Monday, the toilet at Papineau station was broken, its door open, the bowl overflowing, its walls smeared. On Wednesday, it was closed, the screen turned off.


The Papineau metro cabin was, unsurprisingly, broken down. Two days earlier, its door was open and its interior in a state of unsanitary conditions that was disgusting enough for me to spare you the photo I took of it…

Photo Louis-Philippe Messier

As for the toilets at Charles-S-Campbell Park… Miracle! It works. Two men are waiting their turn.

“Three-quarters of the time it doesn’t work. It would have cost less to install ten heated chemical toilets than just one rich toilet like that which never works!” laments a man who asks me to call him The Mover.


Amazing! The cabin at Charles-S.Campbell Park was working and “The Mover” was able to use it… which happens too rarely for his taste. He most often has to do his business outside on newspaper hidden as best he can in an alley.

Photo Louis-Philippe Messier

The Mover avoids dirtying the public highway:

“I take doggy bags or do it on newspapers that I can throw away afterwards,” confides the one who is still forced to squat in an alley, hiding as best he can.


All the seats have disappeared a long time ago.

Louis-Philippe Messier

The toilet in Émilie-Gamelin? Inert, screen off. The human waste on the edge of the metro entrance that I noticed in a report on March 4 was never cleaned by human hands, but the rain partially dissolved it.

The toilet in the Old Port at the corner of rue Saint-Gabriel and rue de la Commune tells me in Italian (!) that it is under maintenance: handling! But nothing happens.

“The parts come from Italy and are too expensive for the budget,” a knowledgeable source tells me.

“These cabins would work fine if they didn’t get trashed on a regular basis. People make fires there, inject themselves there and leave their syringes lying around.”

“Some people force the door at night and put a stick through the trash can to destroy the compressor which makes noise so they can sleep peacefully.”

None of the five self-cleaning toilets have a seat. The City seems to have given up on replacing them.

It’s certainly deplorable that people are defecating on public roads, but if they have nowhere to go…

The solution?

“No more chemical toilets,” the users I spoke to told me.

Will anyone listen to them?

Despite criticism from the main stakeholders, the City seems to be staying the course: “The installation of a self-cleaning toilet is planned as part of the Place des Montréalaises project currently being carried out,” confirms a public relations specialist.


The City of Montreal’s ice cream makers are expensive and are almost never used.

Screenshot taken from TVA Nouvelles


BigBelly smart bins did not save money.

Photo Nadia Lemieux / 24H

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