Blind Justice: Service Animals & Ontario Law

Image of a guide dog

Paralegal and SCOPE contributor Baruch Lipinsky summarizes recent Human Rights Tribunal decisions that affect service providers and people who use service animals.

In Ontario, blind people who are accompanied by their service dogs have been asked to leave stores, marketplaces and restaurants by merchants who are not aware of the difference between these animals and pets.

Visually impaired customers who are told their service animal must leave a premise may file complaints under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC). Three such cases are: Hill v. Bani–Ahmad, 2014 937 (CanLII); Bourdeau v. Kingston Bazar, 2012, HRTO 393 (CanLII); and Schussler v. 1709043 Ontario Ltd, 2009, HRTO 2194 (CanLII).

In Hill v. Bani-Ahmed, Hill and his wife went to Ali Baba’s Restaurant in Toronto, accompanied by Hill’s guide dog. They were told the service dog had to wait outside, because health regulations do not permit pets in the restaurant. Hill filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal, under S. 34 of the OHRC.

The adjudicator found that Mr. Hill experienced “significant mental and emotional distress.” He ordered the restaurateur, Bani-Ahmed, to pay Hill $5,000 for breaching his rights. The owner is to post signs at the entrance of each of his Ali Baba’s Restaurant locations, stating that his business is committed to complying with the Code and that service animals are welcome. In addition, Ali Baba’s Restaurant employees are to take “Human Rights 101” training.

‘Loss of Dignity’ at Being Asked to Leave

In Bourdeau v. Kingston Bazar, Karoline Bourdeau, a blind woman who has a guide dog, was told to leave a grocery store by a staff member. Bourdeau filed a claim under S. 34 of the Code. The adjudicator found that Bourdeau “suffered considerable distress and the loss of dignity” and ordered that the respondent pay Bourdeau $15,000. The business was directed to post a sign at the entrance, that service animals are welcome.

In Schussler v. 1709043 Ontario, Penny Schussler went to Chan’s Chinese Buffet with her guide dog, which assists her with her epilepsy. The restaurant manager asked Schussler not to bring in the guide dog. Schussler filed a claim of discrimination on the basis of disability in the provision of a service, contrary to sections 1 and 9 of the Code. The adjudicator ordered monetary compensation of $500, and directed that the restaurant develop an accommodation policy.

In addition to the Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) (AODA) affects the provision of services to people with disabilities.

Every person or organization in the public and private sector will need to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) by 2025. 
Under the Act, a “barrier” is anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability. This includes a physical barrier, an architectural barrier, an information or communications barrier, an attitudinal barrier, a technological barrier, a policy or a practice.

Allowed or Provided For

Ontario Regulation 429/07 of AODA, Section 4, pertains to the “use of service animals and support persons.” Service providers must allow service animals on their premises, unless they are excluded for health reasons. In that case, the service provider is required to provide an alternative way for the disabled person to access the service. Every organization with 20 employees or more must also have a policy with regards to the Regulation, and make the policy available to anyone who asks.

According to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, 

the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and the Customer Service Standard in AODA do not replace legal obligations under the Code when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities. Organizations must comply with both pieces of legislation.

Paralegals can represent clients who have faced discrimination because of a service animal. An aging population and other factors could mean that more cases such as Hill find their way to the HRTO. Information and training related to AODA are available through the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

    More Information & Case Law:

    

http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_05a11_e.htm

    

Sample accessibility policy, from WSIAT 


    E-learning video from Ontario Human Rights Commission

    AODA Training Resource


    Baruch Lipinsky, B. A.(Hons.), M. I., is a paralegal and legal researcher. He provides legal research & writing services to both legal professionals & laypeople alike.

    Contact Baruch at:

    416-919-1352 ● Baruch@lipinskylegalresearch.com

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