CGSB Technical Committee Interim Report and GDUC Response, February 2108

Here is the interim report issued by the project’s Technical Committee co-chairs on Friday, February 2.  The report was circulated widely and we are working to determine exactly who received a copy.  Following that is our response, which was also sent under cover to a number of Cabinet Ministers, the PM, and contacts at both the CHRC and Public Services and Procurement.  We’ll have more to say about the implications of the report in the not-too-distant future.

Interim Report

January 31, 2018

CGSB Service Dog Standard Technical Committee – Interim Report

This report was developed to inform interested parties at the federal government level of the progress of the work being done by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and the CGSB Committee on Service Dogs that is developing a National Standard of Canada for Service Dog Teams.

Purpose of this Standard

To establish criteria and best practices, roles, responsibilities and expectations around the production and use of Service Dogs, with the goal of promoting barrier free access for Service Dog teams while ensuring the safety of both the user and the general public.

Users of this Standard

  • Government – To provide all levels of government with a consensus-based National Standard that reflects industry norms and best practices, with the goal of promoting consistency and equality in regulation across Canada.
  • Industry – To promote informed and inclusive policy development for agencies and businesses that creates shared values and expectations for industry and Service Dog users and transcend provincial boundaries.
  • Users of Service Dogs – To promote and support the development of regulation and policies that will:

1) inform and protect those with disabilities seeking service dogs from providers that are fraudulent or act in ways that worsen their disability and

2) enhance accessibility and inclusion across provincial barriers for Service Dog users.

Establishment of the Committee

  • CGSB was contacted by the Department of National Defense, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Animal Assisted Support Services to develop a National Standard of Canada for Service Dogs.
  • CGSB was provided with names of stakeholders that were invited to form the Technical Committee (TC).

o Other interested parties also proactively contacted CGSB and they were offered to join the Committee.

o CGSB to date has not refused membership to any interested stakeholders that meet CGSB Policy and Procedure requirements.

o CGSB continues to add members to the Technical Committee based on any gaps that arise in membership.

  • Using CGSB Policy and Procedures, a Technical Committee was created that was determined to be fair, balanced and reflecting the needs of producers, users, general interests and regulators.

Mandate of the Committee

  • The Committee was tasked with the mandate to create a National Standard of Canada for Service Dog Teams.

Selection of Co-Chairs

  • It is customary for Technical Committees to only have one Chair, but in this situation, CGSB recognized there were diverse opinions in the industry and on the Technical Committee regarding Service Dog Standards. A well-rounded approach for the leadership of the Committee was sought and a call for nominations of Co-Chairs was distributed.
  • Members were nominated for the Co-Chair positions and the Committee held a vote. Following CGSB Policy and Procedures and based on the ballot results, Kristine Aanderson and Danielle Forbes were elected as Co-Chairs.

Terms of Reference

  • The Scope of work for the Technical Committee was determined at the first meeting held in October 2015. It included: definition and use of the term disability/user of a service dog, development of a standard that will enable freedom of movement and safe access in society and inclusion of provisions for the welfare of the service dog.
  • At this meeting, the outline for the Scope of the Standard was also determined by the Technical Committee. The definition of the term “Service Dog” voted on by the Committee included both Service Dogs and Guide Dog Teams, and unanimity was achieved (including members representing Guide Dog training organizations and Guide Dog User Groups). This decision is evidenced in the formal meeting Minutes.

Program of Work

  • At the first meeting in October, 2015, the technical committee members were informed of the need to maintain confidentiality of the proceedings from the general public, but were strongly encouraged to ensure that the members and stakeholders of their organizations were well informed of the proceedings and given opportunities to bring forward ideas, questions or concerns during the process. This was done to ensure that more than two years was given for the members and stakeholders to actively participate in the standard development process prior to the publication of the standard.
  • Also at the first meeting, Working Groups were formed to develop specific content for the draft Standard. These Working Groups developed definitions using existing industry standards to create a framework for discussion, and developed an informative appendix which addressed the care and training of service dogs.
  • These Working Groups were given a number of months to develop their documents and these documents were sent to the Committee prior to meeting to ensure all Committee members had time to review the work and contribute their input.
  • The Working Group documents were discussed during various subsequent Committee meetings in Ottawa/Gatineau and a draft standard was developed using the consensus-based approach.
  • Consensus on the draft Standard was reached in Spring 2017, and the draft was posted for a 60-day Public Review period. There was a significant number of comments received, totally approximately 600 pages. Every public comment was distributed to Committee members for review and then discussed at the meeting in September 2017. Relevant changes were made to the draft during the meeting to address the comments and strengthen the draft Standard.

Meetings

  • Six meetings have taken place in Ottawa/Gatineau since October 2015.
  • At each of the meetings, extra time/attention was given to the issues of:

disability sensitivity,

taking steps so committee members would feel safe in the meeting space,

ensuring the process follows CGSB Policy and Procedures,

providing time for input from the Committee members at all stages of standards development and achieving consensus on all sensitive topics before progressing.

  • A small number of committee members felt that they could not participate in select meetings for personal reasons and could not communicate a solution to their concerns to the co-chairs. Their lack of participation in multiple days of the meetings made it difficult to include their voices in discussions, but any written material they had provided was read to the committee in their absence.
  • To ensure that all voices are given an opportunity to be heard during the entire process, the co-chairs have made themselves available outside of the committee meetings to members of the committee and to public interest groups. Many meetings have occurred this way, including multiple occasions where co-chairs have abbreviated vacations to address matters individuals felt needed to be addressed immediately.

Points of Consensus

  • Points of consensus

o The need for a Service Dog handler to meet minimum requirements to ensure the safety of the public and the wellbeing of the service dog.

o The need of the Service Dog to meet minimum requirements of temperament, ability to work and physical health.

o The need of the Service Dog Team to be well matched to meet the needs of the user and the dog.

  • Points with vigorous discussion, but ultimately achieving consensus

o Definition of Disability

  • Discussion was had that using a Social Model of Disability would be best, however members of the Committee raised concerns that this could provide barriers for regulators in implementing the Standard, as it was more advanced than much of what currently exists in Canada. A decision was reached to use language reflecting the Social Model of Disability but include requirements to ensure an individual with a disability would qualify under existing Canadian regulations.

o Hierarchy of disabilities

  • There was a spirited debate during the fall 2017 meeting regarding the question of ‘Should all disabilities be treated equally under the standard, or should some disabilities be given priority status for non-disability-accommodation based reasons?’ It was noted by the committee that the standard should allow individuals to be able to meet the standard with accommodations for their specific disability, but that no disability or disability group should be given exemption from adhering to a standard based on history or perceived status of the disability. It was consensus of the committee that all disabilities should be treated equally by this standard.

o Inclusion of Guide Dogs in the Standard

  • Concern was raised from the Guide Dog Community that this Standard would cause additional hardship for Guide Dog handlers. This was the topic of much discussion and thorough consideration by the Committee. Through discussion, elements were added to the draft to ensure that there would be no additional hardships or restrictions on Guide Dog handlers above what is already required of them by International Guide Dog Federation accredited training schools where they obtained their Guide Dogs.
  • The International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) board member who is on the Technical Committee fully supports the inclusion of guide dogs in this standard. He believes that this standard is needed to support and protect guide dog users, while not adding any additional hardship for IGDF teams.

o Equivalency

  • There is a strong desire on the Committee for the Standard to outline the service dog training schools or organizations that already have industry standards that are equivalent to the proposed National Standard. Through rigorous discussion, it was determined that any equivalency would need to ensure the organization has oversight and a commitment to fair and equitable treatment of Canadians with Disabilities and the inclusion of accepted best-practice standards for the welfare of the service dogs.
  • Much of the miscommunication that exists currently with concerned stakeholders is surrounding the issue of equivalency for existing certified dogs. It is noteworthy that National Standards cannot make statements to determine what an equivalency may be. This is the role of a regulatory body (ie. the provinces, Veterans Affairs, Transport Canada etc..). The National Standard will establish its own set of criteria and any equivalencies will be determined as the implementation in Canada occurs. The Committee has, however, undertaken to help offer guidance and support on this matter and create a companion document to the National Standard that will explain to regulatory bodies that there may be other equivalencies (industry standards), and that the intention is not to have any current re-testing, re-certification or changes in any way to existing certified dogs.
  • It is important to note that the draft standard is comprised of current industry-based standards for service dog teams. There are no elements in the standard that would cause a current working service dog team from an accredited service or guide dog school to have to complete additional steps in order to be in conformance with the standard.

o Humane treatment of Service Dogs

  • There was a general consensus on acceptable methods of the treatment of Service Dogs, but a vocal minority initiated spirited discussion, arguing that methods and devices that have a high potential to cause the service dog pain should be allowed in the standard. The Committee was able to achieve consensus (but not unanimity) on the concept that the Service Dog shall be treated in a humane manner that does not cause them fear, distress or pain. This included a prohibition in the Standard on certain types of equipment, such as collars delivering electrical current or shock to the skin of the dog or using metal points/prongs on the dog’s neck. This is consistent with the position of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

Public Comment

  • The first draft of the National Standard was available for a Public Review period of 74 days from May 2, 2017 to July 14, 2017. Over 600 pages of public comments were received during this process. The Co-Chairs carefully examined every comment submitted and a copy of all comments was provided to the Technical Committee prior to the September 2017 meeting. Comments were reviewed and discussed by the Committee at this 2017 meeting to ensure all concerns and viewpoints were addressed.
  • During the Public Review Period, concern regarding accessibility for visually impaired Canadians was identified, so additional time and resources were quickly provided to ensure the voices of all Canadians were heard.
  • The comments received from the Public Review Period can be grouped into four types:
  • Praise for the Standard

o Positive comments were received indicating:

  • There is a strong need for this Standard
  • The direction of the Committee is positive
  • This draft Standard does a good job of balancing the needs of the Service Dog users, the public and the welfare of the Service Dog
  • Many Canadians are eagerly awaiting the publishing of this new Standard as it will enhance their daily lives
  • Concerns related to misunderstandings

o Many comments that raised significant concern about the draft Standard were rooted in misunderstandings and fear about what the Standard would mean for their daily lives. Examples of this included concern from Guide Dog Users that this Standard would result in:

  • Requirements for Guide Dog users to complete additional certification steps after being paired with their Guide Dog from an accredited school (which it would not)
  • Accredited U.S. Guide Dog schools would no longer support placing dogs in Canada (which it would not, as confirmed by a board member of the International Guide Dog Federation)

o As a result of the number of comments based on stakeholder misunderstandings of the draft Standard, the Technical Committee is developing a companion document to accompany the Standard to provide the information needed.

  • Personal Opinions

o There are many issues related to disabilities and Service Dogs that Canadians have a variety of personal opinions on. The opinions reflected in the comments were not unanimous on any subject and they mainly reflected the viewpoints raised during discussions had by the Technical Committee during the development of the standard, prior to achieving consensus on these issues. During the Public Review Period, some Canadians also shared their negative personal experiences under current frameworks and fears of ‘losing their dogs’ should an overly restrictive standard be implemented.

  • Concerns resulting in changes to the draft Standard

o Overly Intrusive

  • Many comments noted that some individual points of the Standard were too intrusive and should be removed. These included specific requirements on the food, grooming and other care elements for the Service Dog.
  • Intrusive elements were unanimously removed during the September 2017 Committee meeting.

o Overly Prescriptive

  • Many comments indicated that there were individual points of the Standard that were too prescriptive regarding how the Service Dog should be cared for. An example of this was the requirement for all Service Dog Handlers to have formal canine first aid training.
  • Overly prescriptive elements were unanimously removed during the September 2017 Committee meeting.

o Overly specific

  • Some comments noted that certain definitions were too specific and resulted in a lack of clarity on larger definitions. An example is the definition of “Service Dog Teams” (where the person with the disability does not have care and control of the service dog, ie. an Autism Service Dog for use by a child)
  • Overly specific elements were changed at the September 2017 Committee meeting to make them broader, more easily understood and more user friendly.

Next Steps

In order to meet the needs of Canadians to develop a National Standard of Canada, the Technical Committee will complete the following steps.

  • Complete the ‘companion document’ to ensure the Standard is easy for Canadians to use and avoid misunderstandings in the future.
  • Complete a second Public Review Period (according to CGSB Policy and Procedures) to ensure the voices of Canadians are heard.
  • These comments from the second Public Review Period will then be taken to the Committee and any changes to the Standard deemed relevant will be made.
  • Once there is consensus on the Committee, a formal ballot will be held and if consensus is reached on the ballot, the Standard will be published. While it is not possible to achieve unanimity on all issues contained in the Standard, consensus with Service Dog producers, users, general interests and regulators has been achieved at each stage of standards development process. It is worth noting that as Co-Chairs and long-standing industry stakeholders ourselves, we are aware of the many divergent opinions that exist surrounding Service and Guide Dogs from a variety of different groups. We are also aware that to date, there has been some dissatisfaction expressed by certain special interest groups pertaining to the development of a National Standard. Some of these groups are simply fearful of the unknown and do not understand how or if this Standard will affect them. We are trying to dispel these fears by working with these groups and regulators to let them know that there is no intention to disrupt currently certified Service Dog or Guide Dog teams in Canada. Others are groups that do not agree with the best practices currently in existence in the industry and appear to be trying to further a Standard that is in the best interest of their organization(s), rather than the best interests of Canadians. These groups have questioned the CGSB process and consensus-based Committee decisions. We feel confident that while they may have differing viewpoints, that their voices have been heard and the consensus-based process has been followed. The majority of the members of this committee have communicated that they are happy with the process and progress of this Standard. In the opinions as Co-Chairs, all indications have pointed to CGSB representatives adhering to CGSB Policy and Procedures. We have ensured that ample time has been given for discussion during meetings with members of the Committee and consensus has been achieved during discussion of sensitive topics. We also have made ourselves available outside of the meetings for any Committee members or stakeholders to ensure that they feel their voices are heard. It is our opinion that the best interests of Canadians are being served by the development of this Standard. As Co-Chairs, we look forward to working together with members of the Technical Committee and stakeholders to continue to move this Standard forward, reduce misunderstandings and help all Canadians with disabilities to live beyond the boundaries, with the assistance of their talented Service Dogs. The Co-Chairs would like to offer the opportunity to any interested members of federal government or Crown Corporation to meet with us to ask any questions that they may have regarding the Technical Committee, the processes up to this point or future directions. We thank our Federal Partners for their interest and support. We look forward for the opportunity for discussion before presentation of our final report.

Sincerely,

Kristine Aanderson

Co-Chair – CGSB Technical Committee on Service Dog Standards

Registered Psychologist

Kristine Aanderson Consulting Services

Danielle Forbes

Co-Chair – CGSB Technical Committee on Service Dog Standards

Executive Director, National Service Dogs

 

GDUC’s Response

Alan Wickham

Specialized Services Sector

Integrated Services Branch

Public Services and Procurement

Via email: alan.wickham@tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca

 

February 7, 2018

Dear Mr. Wickham,

The interim report prepared by the co-chairs of the Canadian General Standards Board Technical Committee tasked with the development of a voluntary national standard on the performance of service dog teams is an attempt to paint a rosy picture of a project which has developed serious shortcomings.  Those who read it may well be lulled into a false sense of security concerning the project’s supposed positive progress.  As a member of the TC, GDUC holds a dissenting view, and feels that it has a moral obligation to Canadian guide dog handlers to provide its perspective.

The decision to elect TC co-chairs was based on the CGSB’s recognition of diverse opinions in the service dog arena, and on the TC regarding service dog standards.  In point of fact, the co-chairs are both affiliated with Assistance Dogs International as service dog producers, and thus cannot, and do not represent divergent opinions.

We call into question the Terms of Reference of the standard as stated in the interim report.  If in fact the CGSB is under contract to Veterans Affairs Canada to develop a voluntary national standard for PTSD dogs, on what authority did the TC decide to create a definition of service dogs that would ultimately determine which types of service dogs would, and which types of service dogs would not, be included in the standard?  GDUC, as the only organization at the table representing Canadian guide dog handlers, did, albeit with reluctance, support the expanded definition, but did so based on an agreement with our TC rep at the time that we could later call for an exemption of guide dogs if we believed that the standard did not address our unique needs.  We are now at that point, but our efforts to obtain the exemption are being stonewalled at every turn by means of diverse tactics and arguments, the latest being “that no disability or disability group should be given exemption from adhering to a standard based on history or perceived status of the disability.”  We reiterate our position that guide dog teams be exempt from the standard, which is consistent with the preponderance of public review feedback received from the blind community.

The CGSB’s insistence on confidentiality agreements served to keep the guide and service dog communities at large in the dark, and resulted in considerable shock and outrage when those communities learned that not only such a standard was under consideration, but that it was being developed entirely without their input.  While we were permitted to keep members of our own organizations in the loop, we were prevented from sharing information about the project with those not at the table, which put us in an untenable position with our peers.  Apparently, the CGSB favours secrecy over open and transparent consultation with stakeholders.

In their report, the TC co-chairs indicated that they had, on several occasions, shortened their vacations to meet with stakeholders.  We see these claims as self-serving, and blatantly disrespectful of other TC members who have voluntarily spent thousands of hours reviewing each and every clause of each and every draft over the past 2 years, not to mention the veritable mountain of public feedback.

The report characterizes negative feedback from those who oppose the standard as being rooted in fear and misunderstanding.  Not only do we consider that assertion to be paternalistic, but we view that feedback as coming from people with legitimate concerns, who fully deserved to be taken seriously.  Instead, the interim report glossed over that feedback, much of which concerned the failure of the draft standard to properly address human rights issues.  As an important aside, the words “human rights” were not used even once, unless the authors considered vague references to a social model of disability to be an adequate substitute.  It is more than worth noting that heavyweight organizations such as  the Canadian Human Rights Commission contributed to the public review, which we believe to be unprecedented in the CGSB’s history.  The CHRC provided eight recommendations, and encouraged the CGSB to “pause to reflect and ensure the process undertaken is the right one to meet the goal, and that the standard covers the appropriate scope.”  Their submission went on to say, in part, “We also recommend that the CGSB consult more broadly with stakeholders…”  Other reputable entities, including the World Blind Union, made similar arguments which apparently fell on deaf ears

In reality, the current scope of the proposed standard cannot guarantee equivalency of any kind, nor are there any mechanisms being considered to ensure that regulators will give credence to the companion document which is not part of the actual standard.

The report continually emphasizes the concept of consensus, and implies that there is general agreement among TC members with regard to the standard.  That is not GDUC’s perception, particularly during day one of the September 2017 meetings during which the CGSB interfered with an agenda item related to conducting a vote on the exemption of guide dogs from the standard.  Perhaps more significant is the fact that at least one TC member filed a formal complaint against the CGSB, which has now been escalated to the Standards Council of Canada.

While the standard itself will not technically impose requirements for guide dog users to complete additional certification steps after being paired with dogs from accredited schools, the resulting certification process, following adoption of the standard, may well do exactly that.  Consequently, guide dog handlers, many of whom exist on fixed incomes, are concerned about bearing the as yet undetermined costs of testing and certification.  This is especially true for the approximately 71% of Canadian handlers who obtain dogs in the U.S., and those who choose to attend Canadian schools which will not enter into contracts with the body responsible for certification and testing.  Furthermore, in the Points of Consensus section, the report states “that the intention is not to have any current re-testing, re-certification or changes in any way to existing certified dogs.”  What the report fails to address, is the presumed necessity of certifying guide and service dog teams formed after the standard is implemented, and the potential impact of that process on peoples’ lives.

The report indicates that the International Guide Dog Federation board member who is part of the TC fully supports the inclusion of guide dogs in the standard.  However, the IGDF representative’s views on the matter appear to be at odds with opinions held by some of its member schools.  The fact that a few of the larger American guide dog schools have already written to their Canadian graduates advising that they may have to stop serving them if the proposed standard becomes a reality would seem to bear this out.  After reviewing the IGDF’s response to the public draft, we cannot help but conclude that it is less than supportive of the initiative.  To quote directly from their submission, “The proposal cannot be considered to be an inclusive endeavour.”

With regard to the inaccessibility of the initial public draft for visually impaired Canadians, the co-chairs praised the CGSB for quickly providing additional time and resources to ensure that the voices of all Canadians could be heard.  While the CGSB did eventually produce an accessible public draft, as well as a comment form, it did so almost 3 weeks after the fact, but not without considerable prodding on the part of GDUC and other like-minded organizations.  Those same organizations had to make firm demands for an extension of the public review, which was ultimately granted, but not without initial pushback by CGSB staffers.

In the Meetings section, the report states that extra time/attention was given to the issue of “disability sensitivity.”  Exactly why that sensitivity does not extend to the provision of accessible project materials and communications is beyond us.  Time and again, we reminded the CGSB of its obligation to provide communications in an accessible format, only to have our reminders ignored.  We continue to receive documents in pdf format, including the interim report, which, for many, are challenging to read.

Equally troubling in terms of accessibility, are the CGSB’s plans for obtaining feedback during the upcoming second public review phase.  In an email dated December 15, 2017, the TC Secretary provided notice of a proposal to hire a third party which would accept and transcribe feedback received via the telephone.  Those plans appear to contravene a 2012 decision by The Federal Court of Appeal (Attorney General of Canada v. Jodhan).

In conclusion, Guide Dog Users of Canada objects to the interim report on the grounds outlined above.  We view it as containing several questionable and confusing statements, if not half-truths, and feel that those who read it will be lead into believing that all is well, when in fact there are serious problems on several fronts.  By submitting the interim report without first consulting the remaining members of the TC, the co-chairs have gone against CGSB policies/procedures, broke faith with the committee, and made a mockery of the consensus model.  We therefore close with a demand that the interim report be retracted in its entirety, and that if such a report is really necessary, that the TC be tasked to prepare it in concert so that it reflects the true state of the project.

Thank you for attending to our concerns, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Greg Thompson                                      Christine Switzer

President                                                    TC Voting Member

Guide Dog Users of Canada                Guide Dog Users of Canada

president@gduc.ca                                chrisanne1962@gmail.com

 

 

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