What the Canadian Coalition of Guide and Service Dog Handlers Has Accomplished So Far

When the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) posted draft service dog regulations for comment in early May 2017, their website provided the regulations on one page and a place to comment on another. Comments had to be made on a form that was not very accessible to less-experienced screen-reader users, and all comments had to be made referencing specific items within the draft regulations. The draft regulations were very long and very detailed in every aspect of dog training, handling, inspection and certification.

Prior to formation of what is now the Canadian Coalition of Guide and Service Dog Handlers (CCGSDH) in July, several people were already working on responses to the draft regulations through the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), their MPs, and other people in their networks to get the CGSB site made more accessible and to accept general comments in letter form. These appeals to the CGSB gained a two week extension for comments, to July 14, 2017.

Until late June, when they received letters of concern from their respective guide dog schools in the USA, the large majority of guide dog users in Canada had no idea that these regulations were being developed.

The Canadian Coalition of Guide and Service Dog Handlers came into being following a conference call arranged for July 5 by several Canadian graduates of American guide dog schools. Thanks to Tom Dekker, Albert Ruel of the Canadian Council of the Blind, and a concerted social media and e-mail campaign, more than 30 people came together on that first call in an extremely productive way.

As a result of that first call, the Service Dog Standard mailing list was formed. This enabled discussion and planning to move forward, including making direct contact with the CGSB’s service dog standard committee. Two members of that committee participated in the second conference call on July 13, where clarification and more information were provided. During this call, we were pleased to learn that the service dog standard issue has been escalated to “senior management” for their attention.

As a result of the third conference call, entitled “Next Steps”, on July 22, the Hands Off Our Harnesses blog (#HOOH) and Facebook page came into being. As of August 6, the blog has had 886 hits, the Facebook page has reached 3,589 people, and there have been 1,087 “post engagements” (likes, comments and shares). There has also been a considerable amount of activity on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The next meeting of the CGSB committee takes place on September 20, and will include members of the CCGSDH and the CHRC.

Here is a summary of other CCGSDH activities so far:

  • Calls to our respective schools, friends, and anyone who loves us to get their support and to write a submission to CGSB prior to July 14.
  • By sharing our submissions with each other and encouraging others to write, it’s estimated that between 100 and 150 submissions to the CGSB originated from the CCGSDH and its network.
  • Yvonne Peters’ podcast interview with Jonathan Mosen on “The Blind Side Podcast“. Yvonne is Chair of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and a Seeing Eye graduate.
  • A national Canadian Press article from CP reporter and Seeing Eye graduate Michelle McQuigge.
  • A conference call took place with the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) on August 15 to clarify our legal position from a human rights perspective and the impact of these standards on our lives. What aspects of these draft regulations violate our human rights under existing charters, legislation and standards?
  • Letter sent to Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
  • CCGSDH mission statement finalized.
  • Two people working on a request to meet with federal ministers regarding the draft standards.
  • Draft letter to our MPs provided for use and change as needed see elsewhere on this blog for the draft letter.
  • Draft statement about how these standards would affect us.
  • We continue to move forward with the aim of reinitiating the entire service dog standard process in a way that can work for everyone – one that exemplifies the spirit and intent of Canadian disability legislation now in development.

As you can see, the work is definitely moving ahead. You can still help by writing to your Member of Parliament or Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.