Discrimination Against Hearing Ear Dogs


Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

On Thursday April 18th at around 12:30 p.m., I attempted to go for lunch with my two work colleagues at a restaurant called Spring Rolls.  When we arrived, the manager told us we could not bring my Hearing Ear Dog in.  We immediately informed him that this was not a pet but a Hearing Ear Dog and as such was legally entitled to come into the restaurant.  He still continued to refuse to seat us, telling us first that Health Code laws prohibit this.  We told him this was nonsense and in fact the law allows me to bring a Hearing Ear Dog into the restaurant.  He still refused, saying that we cannot have a dog near other customers.  Again, we pointed out this was nonsense as well and the law allows us to be served.  He then proceeded to suggest we sit on the patio or in an upper area of the restaurant that was closed, but he would reopen so we would not be seen near anyone else.  We rejected those two options.  First, it was not warm outside and did not want to sit on the patio.  Second, segregation is also a form of discrimination.  We don’t segregate on the basis of skin colour, gender, or anything else, so why should I be segregated because of reliance on a Hearing Ear Dog?

After about 5 minutes of arguing, and his continual refusal to serve us, we were forced to leave.  We then proceeded to be served without any problems whatsoever at Jack Astors.

Lets review what the Ontario Human Rights Code says.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code  is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in the social areas of:

  1. employment
  2. accommodation
  3. goods, services and facilities
  4. contracts
  5. membership in vocational associations and trade unions

The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of many areas (race, gender, age sexual orientation etc.), including disability.  Section 10 (1) of the Code defines “disability” as follows:

“because of disability” means for the reason that the person has or has had, or is believed to have or have had,

  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
  2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
  3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
  4. a mental disorder, or
  5. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under theWorkplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

The two relevant themes are that I was discriminated in the social area of “goods and services” due to a “disability“.

Through various contacts, two media outlets were contacted and agreed to do a story on this issue.  The Toronto Star published an excellent article.  Here are the contents of the article.

Interesting how the manager has modified his story to the Toronto Star reporter.  The article states the following.

“At the Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W., Rupinder Bahl told the Star the reason Stelmacovich and his friends were offered seats upstairs or outside was because the tables at the front were either occupied or reserved. Stelmacovich, however, says many of the tables up front were empty.

When the restaurateur was asked if he understood that under Ontario’s Human Rights Code Stelmacovich cannot be refused proper service, Bahl said the dog didn’t need to be inside because he had friends who could help. Asked if he refused proper service he said, “Of course not.””

Point of clarification.  The restaurant was almost three quarters empty.  He never mentioned the need for reservations, this is something he made up after our incident.  The only reason he offered the upstairs area was to segregate us.  This was a special area used for parties and events and was not open to the public.  There was absolutely no reason that we could not have been seated in the normal part of the restaurant.

In addition to this article, the CBC also sent a camera crew to interview us.  This segment appeared on CBC on Saturday April 20 on the local Toronto 6 p.m. news.  Here is a link to the story of the CBC website.

Again, he brings up the lie about reservations.  Here is the relevant quote:

“The manager of the Spring Rolls restaurant didn’t want to appear on camera — but over the phone he told CBC News it was never his intention to offend anyone. He said the empty tables were for other patrons with reservations and he offered to welcome Stelmacovich back with a free meal.”

I told both reporters from the CBC and the Toronto Star that I will not file a Human Rights Complaint under the following conditions:

  1. That he acknowledges that he made a serious mistake by discriminating against me.
  2. He apologizes for this error.
  3. That he guarantees that it will not happen again not only to myself, but to anyone who relies on a service dog.

He failed to do that.  As such, I will be forced to proceed with a formal Human Rights Complaint.

Some may wonder, why bother with the hassle? My experience recently in Ottawa is the reason.  Before, when I had Amie, my previous Hearing Ear Dog, I had some incidents with taxi cab drivers.  However, when I went again to Ottawa with Flora, all the taxi cab drivers were excellent.  I asked one driver what he knew about the rules on service dogs  and he replied “Yes, we have be clearly instructed we must take people with service dogs”.  Obviously someone took a stand, and by doing so, made my life easier.

Now it is time for me to return the favor.  So this is not about me, or Flora, and a free meal.  This is about all people who rely on service dogs and face this kind of discrimination every day.

Keep your free meal buddy.

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30 thoughts on “Discrimination Against Hearing Ear Dogs

  1. Peter, you are a class act. You’re educating all of us about our rights and responsibilities. I think it would be wonderful to organize a mass “Woofstock” in Toronto to draw attention to this.

    Thanks for doing this. It’s really important.

    Bruce

  2. Sorry this happened Peter. Thanks for standing up so that when our daughter is old enough to be out in the world alone she will hopefully have less of this type of discrimination to deal with.

    • Thank you Tracey. This is what this is all about. I am not looking to personally gain in any way from this. What this is about improving access to all people with disabilities. I would like to see the day in which we no longer have to fight to get our service animals accepted.

  3. Sorry to hear you had to go through all this hassle, Peter, but if it makes it easier for people with service dogs to gain entry to restaurants just like everyone else, it will be a gift to the rest of us. Thanks for doing this!

    p.s. Had trouble accessing the Star article; could be this computer but thought I’d let you know.

  4. Well done Peter! Mocha, my hearing ear dog gives you and Flora a ‘high paw’! Woof! Good luck with the process, keep us updated!

  5. Hi there,

    As an Ontarian who hopes to get a service dog myself (for reasons other than hearing loss), I am greatly disappointed that you and Flora were denied your rights. Thank you for standing up for those who are partnered with service animals.

    I don’t know if it would help you or not, but I plan to carry a copy of the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) as well as the Human Rights Code when I get my dog. There is also a specific clause in the Health Protection and Promotion Act that is an exemption allowing service dogs access to restaurants/grocery stores, although pet dogs would not be allowed in places where food is served or sold.

    Best wishes to you and Flora (she is lovely, by the way!)

  6. Best wishes to you in sueing them. They need to accept they were in the wrong, as it was discrimination. You gave them the chance. But they decided to lie even further.

    • I am not sure what my next course of action will be. I am not looking for any personal gain. Rather, I simply want to make life easier to all persons with Service Dogs. I hope am already doing that.

      • Hey Peter..i admire you for standing up for what is right but also for advocating for those with disabilities.It is infact not only discrimination but also demeaning as a human being.Lets rally “Woofstock” i’m all for it and will be there giving high five to all those paws with tails waggling…Pat

      • Wel if it did end up where you had to sue for them to accept responsibilty, the money could always be put to good use, like to hearing dogs for example. All the best in raising awareness which ever path you take.

  7. I am sorry you felt discriminated against by that restaurant. But as many people have expressed in the Star article comments, I do not think they were trying to discriminate against you, nor should you lose any sort of dignity over the situation. You wanted to be treated as any other customer, while they did not want to a)scare off customers, b)make life unnecessarily difficult to other people, c)maybe were scared themselves. The law is on your side because those are silly reasons compared to a disability.

    But the essence of rights is to make the world more harmonious. And for situations where someone seemingly has to lose, it takes both parties to sacrifice something. When my mother had my baby brother (he was a noisy one), she often suggested to waiters for us to sit in a booth away from the crowd. That way the restaurant is not in a bad spot, and waiters would stay extra long to implore how cute my brother was. I’m not saying you should feel obligated to request a farther seat, because unlike a baby you can’t stop being deaf one day. I guess I’m only writing this because this situation is not wanted by either you or the restaurant, and the problem just needs a little more from everyone.

    • Actually they did discriminate. They initially outright refused my entry. The offer to sit upstairs came as we were leaving. By then it was too little too late. But I have reached out to the management of Spring Rolls and want to discuss it with them further to see if we can work out a solution.

      • You misunderstood me. I’m not saying their actions were not discriminating – I’m sure they made you feel unwelcome due to your disability.

        From your account and what was in the news, it looked like at the very least that the management was ultimately trying to ‘accommodate’ you and your dog. Obviously the manager fell short of expectations, but by offering solutions showed that it wasn’t his intention to treat you “in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated,” (definition of discrimination from Cambridge) even if the treatment seemed to treat you worse.

      • I beg to disagree. Segregation is wrong most of the time, but other times it’s a solution to accessibility. Disabilities come with inconveniences that sometimes necessitates segregation (used in its loosest sense), for example wheelchairs on a bus or in a movie theatre.

        I’m trying to make the point that the management was trying to find a solution that worked for everyone, just like movie theatres and buses. Based on your updates, the restaurant is working hard, spending lots of money, to make sure that people like you don’t feel discriminated against in the future. They are good people with good intentions, so I thought it was premature for you and the media to portray them as human rights violators that need to be hung up by the OHRC. I think it would be nice if you can publicly accept their apology, publicly thank them for their effort to better their services, and accept their free meal offer. Good people deserve a second chance.

      • We need to agree to disagree on the segregation point. As for publicly thanking them, l already have done that here on this blog, on their Facebook page and on mine as well.

  8. So sorry Peter, that you and your service dog had to experience such rude, abusive and discriminatory behaviour from the staff of Spring Rolls Restaurant in Toronto.
    My husband is Jim Brown. He is a paraplegic in a wheelchair and has a hearing dog by the name of Daisy, as he suffered a stroke which left him deaf in his left ear and he had 30% hearing left in his right ear. We have experienced similar discrimination. Our last incident was at The Blue Nose Restaurant in Markham, where our service dog was repeatedly hit by a waitress refusing us entry. The police were called to educate the restaurant owner. And they refused for similar reasons quoting it was against the Health and Safety code. CITY T.V. Did a five minute news clip to expose the restaurant.
    I took the liberty of sharing both articles and posting them with the AODA Whistle Blowers and posted a link to People First – AODA Compliance & Accessibility Resource’s timeline.
    My question is why does each individual who has been discriminated against have to fight on their own. It is like saying to a person who is blind “Leave your cane at home!” Or like saying to a person who is paraplegic “Leave your wheelchair at the door.” A service dog is on duty 24 hours a day and stays by his patron to assist at all times.
    Who will make these restauranteur accountable? They are breaking the law. And they are aware they are. And once caught they lie their way out of the mess. They are not sorry for discriminating they are sorry they got caught and that the press is exposing their bad, rude illegal behaviour.
    Keep fighting for your rights and for the rights if others.
    Feel free to call us. 416-452-7687
    Or email us.
    I also commented in both papers and on my Facebook page.
    Colette Brown
    Jim Brown
    Daisy (Jim’s hearing dog)
    Shep ( Jim’s special skills dog)

  9. Well done, Peter. I remember being in Chicago with you and Amie years ago and we went out for dinner. The restaurant gave you a hard time for having Amie with you and it took some convincing for them to let you in, but they eventually did. It’s unfortunate that you have to go through this discrimination and if suing the group at Spring Rolls is the way to educate the public about service dogs, then go for it! You have a lot of support.

    A few years ago I participated with George (my Bernese Mountain Dog) in a walk to raise money for service dogs. He had a ball socializing with all the dogs and people, but he wasn’t really interested in walking properly. I wish he was as well behaved as Flora!

    Best of luck,
    Marlene

    • Thanks Marlene. No plans to sue. We have come to an amicable resolution. Spring Rolls Management has apologized and I accept their apology. They are also planning to add signs in their stores that Service Dogs are welcome. Finally, they will enrol their staff in sensitivity training and comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

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