The Law Regarding Service Animals [Video]
Date: November 20, 2018
Failing to accommodate guide dogs or service animals is potentially a failure to accommodate a disability. There may also be competing rights or obligations to consider when such situations arise in your organization. In this video, Elizabeth Winter takes us through the law regarding service animals – an important area of human rights law – with a focus on best practices for identifying a service animal and your organization’s responsibility to accommodate staff and clients.
For more information on Human Rights Law in Canada, please visit our dedicated Human Rights Page.
Hi, I am Elizabeth Winter and I’m here to talk to you about an important area of law within human rights: the law regarding service animals.
We’ve all become familiar in recent months with the headlines regarding individuals requesting access to their service animals, or “therapy pets”, or “compassion pets”.
This presentation will focus on your organization’s responsibility to accommodate staff and clients who require the use of a guide dog or service animal in the course of accessing services or their employment with you.
Before I go on, it is important to note that I am using the term “service animal” in this presentation, and unless I specifically advise otherwise, this will include guide dogs. This distinction is important to be aware of, as the legislation which provides individuals with a right to use a service animal may differ slightly depending on the animal and / or its purpose (although all are covered by the Human Rights Code).
Service Animal Legislation
To start off, service animals are governed by various pieces of legislation, and I will cover three pieces of legislation now.
First, the Blind Person Rights Act specifically pertains to guide dogs used for blind persons.
“Guide dog” means a dog trained as a guide for a blind person and having the qualifications prescribed by the regulations. Under the Act, no person shall deny accommodation, services or facilities to a person accompanied by a guide dog or shall discriminate against any person for the reason that they are accompanied by a guide dog.
Guide dogs, unlike other service animals, can be identified by an identification card from the Ministry of the Attorney General. Note, there is a $5,000 fine under this Act for failing to accommodate or provide services for the reason that the individual is accompanied by a guide dog.
Second, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) states that where a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, a provider of services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and keep the animal with him or her (unless otherwise excluded by law).
For the purposes of the AODA, an animal is a service animal if the animal can be readily identified as one that is being used by a person for reasons related to that person’s disability. This is usually as a result of “visual indicators” for example a vest or a harness worn by the animal.
A service animal is also any animal confirmed as such by a letter from a qualified “regulated health professional”. This is quite a broad category. Regulated health professionals include, among others, physicians, nurses, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists.
The third piece of legislation is the Ontario Human Rights Code. “Disability” under the Code includes “physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal.” So this captures guide dogs, but like the AODA, it is also much broader and includes all types of dogs as well as other animals used for support purposes.
Failing to accommodate guide dogs or service animals is therefore potentially a failure to accommodate a disability. That being said, liability under the Code for failing to accept an accommodation request is not automatic. Simply because a person is accompanied by a service animal does not mean the service animal is necessary for the enjoyment of services. There may also be a competing right or obligation to consider when such situations arise. Finally, as in all cases of accommodation, the request could be necessary for the individual but the accommodation could amount to an undue hardship for your organization.
As you may have experienced, determining what service an animal is performing can be difficult. As such, I will review some best practices for identifying a service animal and responding to request for accommodation.
The first step requires you to look very critically at whether or not the service animal is actually required to address a disability related need that is acting as a barrier to accessing the service.
In many cases, the first step of the inquiry is easy. For example, in the case of a blind individual, the first step is straightforward because the guide dog is clearly addressing a disability related need as the eyes of the individual.
However, not all cases as straight forward. Service animals are not necessarily the same as therapy dog or companion dog and therefore the same considerations for accommodation do not necessarily come into play. While organizations are well within their rights to request supporting documentation with respect to an animal not clearly identifiable as a service animal, this should be done as soon as possible. Even short delays can give rise to liability in relation to the person requesting accommodation.
In addition to the normal operational considerations, accommodating service animals can raise difficult questions about competing rights between the person requesting accommodation, other customers and staff. For example, your other employees or customers could be allergic to the animals. All competing rights should be considered in accommodating service animals in your organization.
Finally, if you find that there is a need for the service animal and it can be accommodated without undue hardship, there may still be additional work to be done in implementing that accommodation. It can require careful planning and careful preparation. For example, there are circumstances where you should give notice of the animal’s presence to the other employees, customers or third parties in your organization. Additionally, where appropriate, you may want to consider re-evaluating the need for the service animal periodically.
With that, I hope your found this session today informative. Thank you very much for listening.
The content in this video provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This footage is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©