CCGSDHandlers’ Teleconference with OHRC, August 23, 2017

Summary Notes Draft National Standards on Service Dog Teams

Teleconference with Jeff Poirier,  OHRC
August 23, 2017, 2:00-3:00 pm.

Purpose for teleconference:

In his Aug. 22nd 2017 message to Reg Sullivan Mr. Jeff  Poirier states that the purpose of the teleconference is for him  to hear concerns from our group about the draft national standard for service dog teams. He reminds us that “the OHRC has taken no position on the draft standards themselves. His role is to explain what may be relevant under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, OHRC policy and recent case law about the right of persons with disabilities who use service animals to be free from discrimination.

Participants:

Jeff Poirier, OHRC
Reg Sullivan
Adele Farough
Sheri Cohen
Myra Rodrigues

Introduction & Opening Statements:

Reg provided a brief background, pointing out among other issues that the American schools, which provide guide dogs to 70% of Canadian guide dog users, were shut out of the standard development process in spite of their years of experience and  expertise in serving Canadian Clients.

The committee drafting the standards did not include any guide dog handlers or representatives from the largest schools that serve the majority of Canadian guide dog users.

A  significant issue for us is the fact that we have been alerted by some of the most highly respected American schools that they are concerned about the inappropriate nature of the standards with respect to guide dogs, and that they may withdraw services to Canadians if such inappropriate standards are adopted by Canada.  If this happens it would eliminate  our freedom of choice when selecting a guide dog school.

Sheri asked why  the OHRC thinks that the draft standards will not affect or discriminate against over 300 Guide dog handlers in Ontario if these standards are passed by the federal government.

Jeff responded  that he was not aware that the draft standards would become law, pointing out that the draft says they are voluntary. He made a comparison to  federal building standards which can  legally applied to federal government buildings, but would not be a legal requirement in provincial settings as building codes are within provincial jurisdictions. However, provinces may wish to review and to consider adoption of  similar standards.

Reg noted that it has been suggested that these standards may be adopted by some provinces and would not be voluntary. That is why we are feeling insecure  and concerned that AODA and the Ontario Blind Persons Act might be pushed aside in favor of these standards.

Jeff commented that, in theory, there is nothing wrong with having standards, but the question is whether such standards would interfere with Ontario legislation. OHRC would look at it if that seemed to be the case.

Sheri expressed our concern as to why the drafting committee would, in a sense, reinvent the wheel when its members were aware of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) standards that are recognized and respected around the world.

Jeff stated that OHRC’s written response was not to say that OHRC agrees or disagrees with the standards. The provisions as drafted are mostly about training and care of service dogs. OHRC is not an expert on this.  He didn’t see anything that would interfere with Ontario case law as set out by the Ontario Tribunal.

Adele pointed out that we are coming from the premise that the draft standards in question are inconsistent with best practices for guide dogs, and do not reflect an understanding of blindness nor the working of guide dog teams. Most of us would never meet the standards as drafted, and so would be denied access to guide dog training. Also, some aspects of the draft standards would constitute an invasion of the individual’s privacy.

For example, according to Clause #8, an inspector has a right to come to one’s  home, go through financial & veterinary  records, check on cleanliness etc. We see this as an invasion of privacy, and a potentially stressful burden on guide dog users. The highly respected American guide dog schools evaluate the ability of each applicant to care and work with a guide dog. An independent inspector would be an unnecessary and inappropriate duplication.

According to Clause #9, we are to be independently tested on aggression, how we would handle a situation if someone attempts to take the dog from you, how we deal with broken glass situations, etc. This cannot be done by an independent inspector.

Guide dog users work in react mode, we give the forward command, with glass, we might wander into it and could not pass the test. The inspecting and testing as described in the draft standards could put our dog teams at risk, and do not reflect training of guide dogs or how guide dog teams travel safely and independently.

The standards, if adopted, could force all of us to apply to Canadian  schools, which are simply not able to accommodate the majority of Canadian guide dog users. This would result in a denial of service and that would be a violation of our human rights.

Jeff noted that Ontario policy and case law recognizes that service animals do not have to be formally trained.

Reg pointed out that a big part of the problem is that they are lumping guide dogs in with all other service animals. We want recognition of the highly respected guide dog standards, (IGDF), already in place in 92 countries around the world including Canada. Reg emphasized that we need to have guide dogs taken out of the proposed standards, noting that current guide dog standards are ten times higher and far more appropriate with respect to guide dog teams than what is written in the draft under discussion.

Adele raised our concern that these federal standards would override provincial legislation.

Jeff again noted that, in theory the idea of having standards is not contrary to Ontario case law. Human Rights law is highest law in Ontario – nothing is higher than the human rights code. He reiterated his earlier point that, like building code standards, the federal government can regulate what is within or relates to its own buildings, employees, etc. but can’t mandate a provincial building code.

Adele reminded Jeff that our guide dog schools have stated that they would not be able to provide services if these standards become law, and that would violate our basic human rights.

Jeff responded that our argument might be legitimate, but so far, the National Standards Board is saying this is not happening in this jurisdiction. That is, no one is saying that they will be putting these standards into law.

OHRC would be concerned If a federal standard include something that would be in opposition to Ontario legislation or the Ontario Human Rights Code , but OHRC didn’t see anything to that effect. For example, if the draft standards stated that service animals would be required to be professionally trained, that would conflict with Ontario case law and would be of concern to the OHRC.

In conclusion, he assured us that he would again review the relevant materials, and raise our concerns with the Chief Commissioner.

In summary, the call ended amicably and the discussion addressed the purpose of the call as stated by Jeff in his email message to Reg prior to the meeting.

There was no commitment on behalf of the OHRC to support our coalitions initiative to scrap the standards or remove Guide Dog Teams from the Standards.  Although, Jeff invited us to continue communicating any changes that may impact the OHRC position.

Regards,

The Ontario Subcommittee

 

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