Valerie Hauch, The Toronto Star , Sept. 14, 2011
In just over a week, Victoria Nolan has gone from winning silver at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia, to being told she and her
guide dog weren’t welcome at an Esso station.
The 36-year-old, who has lost all but three per cent of her vision to a degenerative eye disease, was with her guide dog and following her husband,
Eamonn, into an Esso station with a coffee outlet at O’Connor and Coxwell
Aves. on Sunday when she heard a man shouting at her to leave.
“He started yelling, saying ‘You can’t come in here, there’s no pets allowed in here,'” recalled Nolan, who is a member of the adaptive or Paralympic
Canadian rowing team that won a silver medal at the world championships that ended Sept. 4.
She says she told the Esso employee, “This isn’t a pet, it’s a guide dog and he said, ‘I don’t care'” and told her to get out.
“This is a regrettable incident,” said Laura Bishop, a spokesperson for Imperial Oil, which owns Esso. “This matter was brought to our attention
today and we are taking action to review the matter with the retailer, his employee and others involved. At this time, what I can tell you is our
retailers are instructed to allow service dogs on our retail sites and in our convenience stores. We cannot allow animals that are not service animals
into our stores due to health regulations.”
Nolan and her husband Eamonn, along with daughter, Ceilidh, 6, had been on their way to take their 8-year-old son, Tarabh, to his soccer team’s awards
ceremony when they stopped for gas and coffee. But the incident so rattled and incensed them, they decided they couldn’t just leave and explained to
their son why it was important.
They called Toronto police and two investigating officers arrived and listened to their complaint and spoke with the Esso employee. Nolan said one
police officer then accompanied Nolan inside and she paid for the gas. At the same time she could hear the Esso employee saying something to her. “I
couldn’t understand what he was saying but it sounded like he was apologizing. Of course, the police officer was standing right there.”
The family left after that and were too late for Tarabh’s ceremony.
Nolan said she could complain to the city’s bylaw enforcement office but has done that in the past with other discriminatory incidents, unrelated to this
This time she and her husband have spoken to lawyers and will be pursuing some sort of legal action.
“I feel like I should take this to another level. My frustration is growing. It doesn’t take much, or a whole lot of training, to tell people this is the
law. My main goal is to educate people, make it easier for others who travel with service animals.”
In 2009, a municipal tribunal revoked the licence of a cab driver who refused Nolan and her dog.