Well, Canada’s federal government is once again mounting another attack on guide and service dog handlers.
Now the Canadian Transportation Agency is proposing that all guide and service dog handlers provide documentation and register with all federally regulated modes of transportation if they wish to travel.
They are requesting that an accredited professional service animal training institution certify that our dogs are indeed trained. No definition of what they mean by such an institution.
They also want a vet to provide a up-to-date vaccination record. Okay, maybe to some this sounds reasonable, but the CTA offers no rationale or explanation as to how this will improve passenger service.
I have traveled for about 40 years with my guide dog and never been asked for documentation. My speculation is that maybe people have been trying to pass their pets off as service dogs and causing problems once onboard. So why not go after those fakers? Why put the burden on persons with legitimate guide and service dogs? Such action is contrary to how are society normally addresses crime or wrongdoing.
Maybe we should level the playing field and ask other groups to also register and provide documentation of their ability to travel. For example, doctors could be asked to certify that passengers will not cough and sneeze on fellow passengers; social workers could certify that parents are trained to manage their children while in the air; and an addictions counsellor could certify that passengers are capable of drinking responsibly while flying.
This constant demand to prove legitimacy is getting so tiresome and an erosion of our rights. Traveling with a guide or service dog is not a luxury or life style. It is a human right confirmed by Canadian law.
Coalition Chair Yvonne Peters opened the meeting and thanked CFB for use of their Conference Call line.
Yvonne recalled the First Coalition Conference Call on July 5, 2017, organized by Tom Dekker and Albert Ruel at GTT. It brought together people from across the country who were very alarmed at the National Standards that were put out for public review.
- Debriefing regarding the withdrawal of the Canadian General Standards Board , CGSB, in continuing with the writing of Standards
- Future steps of the Coalition
Yvonne explained the coalition had started 10 months ago after finding out the Federal Government was developing standards that would impact al of us who use Guide Dogs and Service Dogs in Canada in a negative way. We all agreed to stop the CGSB standards process. The standards development started with Veterans Affairs wanting to develop standards for psychiatric dogs for Veterans and they contracted with the CGSB to do this in early 2015.. The CGSB has their own methods and process, none of which is based in Human Rights. It is based on development of industry standards like wiring and flame retardant. The process quickly morphed into a secret behind the scenes working group under the CGSB for two years, that had decided to include all Guide Dogs and Service Dogs in Canada without any discussion, consultation or consent of the people impacted. They put the standards they had developed up for public review in May 2017, which was the first time most of us had heard about them, hence the start of the coalition to stop them.
Yvonne gave a huge thank you to everyone who devoted their time to write responses to the standards, write and meet with their MP’s, write the Ministers and the Prime Ministers, set up the social media campaign with a blog and facebook page, set up the email list, do the research and write a major report, get information through the freedom of information act, everyone who stay connected with each other, met with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Procurement and everyone who participated in the list to further develop strategies and evoke discussion. All of us came together and were laser focused on the task to stop the standards. Here we are 10 months later with the CGSB ending their process and we believe that Veterans Affairs is going back to their original mandate to develop standards for dogs specifically trained for Veterans.
Opened a debrief of what happened over the past 10 months. Lessons learned, comments, etc.
- Report from Jim Bergeron about his meeting with his MP. The MP stated, after investigation, that it appears the CGSB did not have the appropriate mechanism to develop these types of standards. He also brought up the issue of jurisdiction and that Veterans Affairs was within their right to make standards for dogs for Veterans. Jim stated he cannot confirm the CGSB would not be involved in the issues of standards regarding PTSD dog standards for Veterans; however, it is his understanding that all Service Dogs and Guide Dogs in Canada are no longer being included, only Veterans dogs.
- Christine Switzer is hearing there is some push back to the decision to not include all Service Dogs in Canada. However, this is only from one or two people. Some people are looking at quality assurance rather than standards.
- Alan Conway is very pleased this has happened and thanked everyone for putting so much energy into stepping up and stopping this.
- Susan Hardie wanted to thank the group for welcoming her as a Service Dog user in the coalition and this has made the journey much easier.
Yvonne brought forward the issues that are still outstanding for all Service Dog users in Canada. Regardless of the Federal Standards being withdrawn. The main issue being Access Rights.
Many are stating they feel the coalition should continue. Yvonne felt we have operated rather well as a grass roots informal structure, especially since we have no resources. She did not think we could go on forever that way, and we need to think about how the coalition could continue and evolve without losing its grassroots strength.
Question: are people happy and want the coalition to continue?
Answer: The response was a resounding and unanimous yes!
Yvonne then described two possible structures:
- One is the more formal one setting up a non profit, have an elected Board, bylaws and starting yet another organisation where much of the energy and resources would be siphoned off to maintain the organization itself. Book keeping, audit reports, etc. This could interfere with the way the coalition has worked successfully so far as a loose structure with individual commitment of time and work as people can give it.
- The second is for the Coalition to consider seriously, instead go under the Umbrella of another organization with credibility, equipped to offer structure and support and not interfere with the goals of the Coalition. This would allow us to apply for funds through the Umbrella Organization and also utilize their expertise. Susan Hardie, the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre of Disability Studies, CCDS has offered to have the Coalition work under their umbrella as a Community of Practice. The coalition would continue as it is now making our own decisions. The benefits would assist us with research, apply for resources as needed and allow us to continue making decisions the way we are currently doing. It would give us some time to develop our own credibility.
Susan gave an overview of the work the CCDS is doing. Since she joined in 2014, they have been restructuring and are now operationalizing becoming a hub of knowledge in the area of disability issues. They are increasingly serving a role of facilitator for research, education and development which supports community mobilization.
As we are growing in our strategic plan we are looking at our ability to support community practice which is used a lot in professional circles. It is also a way to support people with shared interests. CCDS role would be to work with the Coalition around the three areas of research, education and development assisting to identify the needs of the community towards their stated goal.
Yvonne explained one of the ways we would develop our relationship between the Coalition and the CCDS is through a memorandum of understanding, MOU. It would be an agreement on how we would work together, so we retain who we are and how we do things. Susan stated she would like it to be a partnership between CCDS and the Coalition. The link to the website is www.disabilitystudies.ca
Questions and Answers regarding being under the CCDS umbrella
Question: Would we be under the CCDS umbrella and still maintain our independence and be partners with CCDS?
Answer: Yes The CCDS and the Coalition would negotiate things like the number of conference calls, webinars, research topics, level of staff time to support the coalition in areas like applying for funding to support the work of the Coalition. This would be done after the MOU is signed and as work of the Coalition develops. The hope would be to have the work of the Coalition supported through ongoing funding in the CCDS strategic plan.
Question: Do you have other partnerships similar to this proposed one?
Answer: Yes CCDS is working with another organization and are developing a joint research plan. It is working out very well.
Question: How would an MOU with an informal grass roots group work? Who would sign on behalf of the group?
Answer: In the past groups such as ours, have decided on a designated Representative or Chair to sign. The Coalition could also discuss and decide on a small team of people who all sign on behalf of the bigger group. There is always an element of trust and the Coalition would need to review any proposed MOU and then appoint one or several representatives to sign and be responsible to report back to the entire Coalition.
Question: Who does CCDS report to, how is it structured.
- Answer: Originally CCDS started as a Manitoba Incorporation, then in 2004 became a National Organization, became Federally incorporated as a Charity with corporate status in both Manitoba and Ontario. The goal is to have the hub in Manitoba and have the spokes increasingly have a presence in with working with organizations across the country. Susan listed several organizations they have partnerships with.
Question: How does CCDS work. Are they research based and are they centred around colleges and universities?
- Answer: Our structure is unique in that CCDS is a community based organization which is University affiliated. We are structured to work with Canadian groups in the disability sector specifically around best evidence. We have been approached by Community Living groups, disability specific groups to support research and program development. Whatever the community needs, we try and address those needs.
- Question: Is there some kind of timeline for how long the agreement/MOU would be?
- Answer: With other organizations we committed to the first year then revisit the MOU every year andlook at where the organization is at and what where they want to go in the future, This also allows the work of the organization to be built into the CCDS operational plan. Our best practise is to keep the communication up and have an ongoing dialogue to ensure we can support the organization throughout the year.
Question: I looked at your website and was very impressed. As our fight is steeped in Human Rights, what is your relationship with the UNCRPD should we need more support in that area.
- Answer: Susan thanked them for looking at the website, which is becoming bi-lingual. The CCDS just hired a new staff member who along with another staff member will be attending the CRPD meeting in June. We are on the UNCRPD and we are a rep on the International Committee. We have historic and current knowledge on the UNCRPD and can be helpful in that area. CCSD was involved in the writing of the UNCRPD
Question: Is there any limitations on our activities going under the umbrella of CCDS like our advocacy work.
Answer: CCDS will continue to work with organizations to co-create best evidence briefs to be used to improve the lives of people using guide and service dogs. Susan promised to follow up with CCDS lawyer who advised the inclusion of statement that CCDS and The Coalition can work on areas of research, education and development with indication that CCDS can not pursue pure advocacy work with The Coalition. Thus, there are limits regarding advocacy on what CCDS can do as it is a charitable organization, but this limit is not imposed on The Coalition. Susan shared she likes to think about what is needed to advance work, someone working within systems (which means there will be limits in area of advocacy such as CCDS which is a charity) and others outside of systems (without limits of advocacy). Together these groups can make a difference as it is Susan’s sense you need both for real change (Please note this reflects Susan’s theory of change).
Comments made about going under CCDS umbrella
- It is an interesting idea and certainly having been involved with setting up organizations, the amount of paperwork load and reporting to Revenue Canada is over whelming and it can really interfere with the amount of time available to do the actual work you wanted to do in the first place. This would allow us to actually do the work needed. I agree with this idea.
- Others stated their agreement with this partnership as we do not have to do all the paperwork in a formal structure and as we do not know how long the coalition’s work will take.This supports individuals to be as active as they can when they can and contribute their skills and time as they can.
- Doing it this way also supports working together with the already existing Rights Holder run Organizations and they can support the Coalitions specific goals without interfering with their specific mandates.
- Having all of our organizations working together in support of one another will make us all stronger and our voices louder.
- Another person commented he really liked the idea of going under the umbrella of the CCDS and liked the structure and fully supports the coalition going under it . He also wanted to commend Tom Dekker and Yvonne Peters on the Jonathan Mosen Blindside podcast interview.
Yvonne asked if there are any objections into developing a draft MOU to come back to the group. All agreed to go ahead and draft the MOU between the Coalition and the CCDS.
- Continue to write our MPs, thank them for listening and any their support in how things worked out.
- Keep our ears peeled to what the governments next steps will be now that the CGSB has withdrawn from the standards .
- Tell our MP’s not to let any next moves on any standards must be with handlers and must be based in Human Rights
- We need to keep the pressure on.
- The PILC (Public Interest Law Centre in Manitoba) in follow up to our meeting last fall, has agreed to take on the Coalition as a client and is developing an opinion regarding the Human Rights aspects and the Equality aspects of the different Federal and Provincial laws and standards introducing measures like registration and carding and how that may create more barriers than support enhancing equality and access rights.
- Another initiative is some of us have been invited to present at the CASHRA Conference (the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Association) Conference in June. This will give us an opportunity to wake up Human Rights Commissions to areas where legislation is being introduced that has a potential discriminatory impact, they should be the first ones there doing the shouting. Hopefully we can get Human Rights Commissions engaged.
- The Canadian Transportation Agency is looking at mobility devices and can we as a Coalition look at transportation issues both Federally and Provincially. Tom brought up an issue where a bus company demanded his BC Certification number for his Guide Dog before he could get a reservation. There is national disability groups who attend consultations and its time that Service and Guide Dog Handlers have our own voice. Marcia has agreed to follow up in the CTA meeting in June.
- Yvonne felt in all these types of areas do need addressing and that its time for Guide Dog users and Service Dog users are representing themselves on these committees or any other issues that impact us and not in a token way.
- Richard Marion brought up correspondence from the European Guide Dog Association that was passed onto Heather and Yvonne. He stated there is a move Internationally to look at agreeing to ISO (International Standards Association, which Canada is a voting member) standards for the IGDF (International Guide Dog Federation which accredits most of the Guide Dog Schools in the world) and ADI (Assistance Dog International which accredits many of the Service Dog Schools worldwide) and it appears that Canada has withdrawn from the idea at this time. Heather stated that she is following up both with the European Group and with Paul Metcalf at the IGDF. There is definitely much International work going on related to standards and it would be good to get that information and understand what is happening. Our understanding is important.
- We are tracking what is happening provincially with standards.
- There is a lot going on and we are in response mode and we need as we get involved in anything, we need to figure out what we want. We are not yet exactly clear on what we want to have happen. We know any approach will be steeped in Human Rights and what does that mean? It is important to develop a process where we define for ourselves what a Human Rights approach means and when we are involved in various areas, what are our positions. We are clear generally what it is we want to accomplish, however we need to work together in many areas toget down to specifics.
- Lets ensure we pump up our social media work and tell our story and ensure we have a history. A small team of coalition members are working on this. Anything people feel could go on the blog, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information to come.
- A new member said she is very happy to meet all of us and wanted us to know she will be becoming a new Guide Dog user soon and believes in the work we are doing and she will do what she can to support the work of the Coalition.
- There was some discussion on forced registration and government sanctioned stops and carding like in BC and the difference between an identification card In Ontario that was never designed to be used to card people before they were allowed in public spaces. It was to empower people that if they could not educate the person as a last resort they could use their card.
- Good points were made by a new member who was denied a taxi while on her way to a radio interview to celebrate International Guide Dog Day. She is very impressed by the coalition and feels the transportation issues are very important to work on. She wants to know how we can work together to deal with these transportation issues. A coalition member will speak with her to discuss this further.
- A point was raised that everything we are talking about is about access rights. We should be turning all our attention at that and not always reacting to standards, and every other new scheme the Governments come up with. We need reinforce our rights as full citizens.
- One member would like to see come out of the group is a piece of model legislation for guide/service animals that could be promoted by this group. If government cannot get it right, let’s provide them with an example of what we, the users, feel should be included to promote our use of service animals and protect our rights from those who may abuse them. While the focus needs to be on promoting our rights, we still need to include strong punishments for those who may/will abuse those rights.
- We need to prioritize what we can do and this list is important.
Yvonne closed the meeting by thanking everyone for working through the past 10 months and is looking forward to all of our continued work on these issues.
Several sources provided the Coalition with the following information:
On May 23rd, the Transportation Modernization Act received royal assent. Among other things, it “…mandates the Canadian Transportation Agency to develop regulations for airlines’ obligations to air passengers”. On the following CTA webpage titled Air Passenger Protections, the CTA launched a consultation and it outlines a few different ways to provide input.
While the Act did not specifically mention the rights of persons with disabilities, when the Senate passed the bill the sponsoring Senator made the following remarks: “The committee heard witnesses from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities who discussed the barriers that people with disabilities face when accessing air transportation services. For example, people with disabilities may face particular challenges with long tarmac delays as well as with the carriage of their mobility equipment and service animals. The committee would therefore encourage the Canadian Transportation Agency to include stakeholders representing people with disabilities in its public consultations regarding the development of regulations to implement an air passenger bill of rights.”
Click here to read the consultation paper on air passenger protection regulations.
These consultations are open until the end of August.