The Canadian General Standards Board has drafted a set of standards which, if implemented, would impose conditions on the training and use of service dogs. The standards have included guide dogs which are dogs for the blind and visually-impaired, and are therefore, in practice, not service dogs (although they are considered service dogs for human rights purposes). Further, the content of the draft standards is inconsistent with the use and training of guide dogs. Many Canadians get their guide dogs from the United States. The American schools, along with many Canadian schools, find these standards at odds with best practices for training and use of guide dogs, and may have difficulty accepting Canadian applicants. This would force Canadians to apply to the very few extant Canadian schools, which already have long waiting lists. The increased demand would vastly lengthen these wait times. For the foregoing reasons, it is of the utmost importance that these draft standards not be implemented.
Most Seeing Eye graduates found out about these standards in a letter from the school on June 27, 2017. Having received the letter, Seeing Eye graduates decided that immediate and drastic action needed to be taken. Yvonne Peters and Tom Dekker got the ball rolling on the Seeing Eye Graduates Network on Facebook very shortly thereafter. Then, thanks to Albert Ruel of the Canadian Council of the Blind, whom we only contacted on July 1, and the power of social media and email, we had a teleconference with over 30 participants on Wednesday, July 5, from which the Service Dogs Standard mailing list was created, thanks to Brian Moore.
Following another teleconference which took place on July 13, and which included two members of the standards committee, we had our ?Next Steps? teleconference on July 22, out of which came the blog, Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #HOOH. To date, the Facebook page has had over 4000 viewers, with over a thousand who engaged by liking, sharing and commenting.
The people on the list-serve formed an ad-hoc group which became known as the Canadian Coalition of Guide and Service Dog Handlers. There is no president and no board of directors. We make our decisions by consensus.
The committee who developed the draft standards is expected to meet again in September. Hopefully, someone from the coalition will be allowed to present our concerns to the committee at that time. In the meantime, individual members of the coalition are writing to our members of parliament as well as to any other relevant politicians, such as the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, who is responsible for the department that prepared the draft standards.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs spearheaded and provided funding for the creation of the standards for the purpose of having a national standard for the training and handling of PTSD dogs. At some point, all service dogs, including the subset of guide dogs, were included. For that reason, we are also hoping to engage with the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs.
Members of the coalition are also working at the provincial level to encourage provincial human rights commissions to exert pressure on the federal government to drop the draft standards.
Recently, Yvonne Peters facilitated a teleconference with a lawyer to explore our legal options. Further, on September 8, 2017, we will be participating in a teleconference with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
We invite you to check out, like and share our blog at HandsOffOurHarnesses.wordpress.com. Find us on Facebook by doing a search for “hands off our harnesses”, and on Twitter at #HOOH. Stay tuned!
Adele Farough, Ottawa