Allison Davidson

Victoria man challenging human rights tribunal ruling over guide dog discrimination

A Victoria resident is challenging a ruling by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

A Victoria resident is challenging a ruling by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, after a local taxi company allegedly discriminated against him by refusing to transport him and his guide dog.

On July 15, 2014, Graeme McCreath, who is legally blind, was having dinner at Earls in downtown Victoria. At the end of the night, a friend called him a taxi, however, when it arrived, the driver refused to pick up McCreath and his five-year-old German Shepherd guide dog, Adrienne.

The driver, who works for Victoria Taxi, claimed he had an allergy and shortly after flagged down another taxi, who drove McCreath and Adrienne home.

“He never apologized, never wrote a letter, never said anything,” said McCreath, who has experienced similar situations with taxi drivers in the past. “It’s rampant.”

He filed a complaint with the human rights tribunal, claiming discrimination and that the driver was not allergic to the dog, but was afraid of it.

Taxi drivers are required to file a certificate with their employer signed by a doctor, saying they are allergic to animals in order to exempt them from transporting them. The certificate is kept on file and is required to be renewed annually.

The driver’s doctor’s note was dated Dec. 14, 2014, five months after the incident.

But in October, the tribunal ruled in favour of the driver, claiming he could have been allergic to dogs without having a doctors note.

“I have found that Mr. McCreath was accommodated in another taxi almost immediately and that, more generally, the exception policy strikes a reasonable balance,” said tribunal member Jacqueline Beltgens, in the ruling. “Also, the suggestion of requiring a driver to take allergy medications, or at the very extreme, refusing to hire a driver who cannot transport animals because of a medical conditions, is untenable, and would not constitute reasonable accommodation.”

But Mary Ellen Gabias, president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, said there’s no proof the driver had allergies in the first place.

“The human rights tribunal does not understand. They may be good at other types of discrimination but clearly the ruling on this case makes it clear that they don’t understand disability,” she said, noting there have been two cases concerning guide dogs and taxis, both of which went against the guide dog user. “What the tribunal has done is make it possible for taxi drivers to decide that they don’t want to transport guide dogs. All they have to do to make it stick is after the fact walk into a clinic and get any kind of doctors note.”

McCreath is filing for a judicial review.

Last week, the province announced new rules and regulations allowing certified guide and service dogs in restaurants, on transit (including taxis) or in other businesses that will come into effect Jan. 18.

If organizations deny the dog, they could be hit with fines to a maximum of $3,000, if convicted — penalties that are among the most expensive in the country.

Ministry of Justice inspectors will also be authorized to issue violation tickets ranging from $50 to $250, after information and education.

However, Gabias and McCreath agreed, more needs to be done.

“The way they’re publicizing it is that they’re encouraging businesses to ask them to show their identification,” Gabias said. “If you pull into the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant, nobody says show me your drivers licence so I know you have a right to be here.”

 

 

 

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