Sandy Bolan | Nov 23, 2012 – 4:40 PM
Jim Brown, his wife Colette and two service dogs, Daisy (on his lap), a hearing alert dog and Shep, special skills dog were forced to leave the Bluenose Fish and Chips eatery in Markham. The owner later apologized. Staff photo/Steve Somerville ‘We made a big mistake’ restaurateur says
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in 2005 to ensure everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in daily life.
The goal is to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.
There are currently 1.85 million disabled Ontarians. That is one in seven.
By 2036, that number is anticipated to increase to one in five people.
The disabled will represent 40 per cent or $536 billion of total income in Ontario.
By the end of this year, Ontario businesses with 20 or more employees must provide accessible customer service.
Improved accessibility within the province can generate up to $9.6 billion in new retail spending and $1.6 billion in new tourism spending.
“Ontario’s Accessibility Standard for Customer Service is not about physical changes to your premises. It’s simply about providing good customer service to everyone,” according to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services’ website.
“For organizations that persist in not meeting their obligations, the government has the power to conduct inspections, assign monetary penalties and prosecute through the courts,” according to the website.
source: Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services’ website
The Ontario Human Rights Code defines discrimination as “unequal or different treatment or harassment that causes harm.”
The provincial legislation covers services/goods/facilities and the disabled, among others.
All Jim Brown wanted to do was get something to eat.
But now, his wife Colette, after nine years on the Whitchurch-Stouffville accessibility committee has resigned. And the couple is deciding whether or not they should file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission after being kicked out of a Markham restaurant because Mr. Brown was accompanied by his service dogs. He is paraplegic.
“If you have a law, it should have bite,” Mrs. Brown, 68, said of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
For years, the couple believed the act would punish those who do not comply with it. But that is not the case, they said.
“I’m quitting because the system is really re-abusing the people,” she said.
“It’s pretty ridiculous when you look at the person who’s the offender. There’s no consequence. It’s all up to the victim,” Mrs. Brown said.
Around noon Nov. 16, the Stouffville residents entered Hwy. 7’s Bluenose Fish and Chips restaurant, along with Mr. Brown’s two service dogs. They had just come from a medical appointment next door.
When they entered the restaurant, Mr. Brown said they were verbally assaulted and told to leave by the waitress as well as the owner because of the service dogs.
Under the AODA, service dogs are allowed to go virtually everywhere their human companions are allowed. Exceptions include food preparation areas of restaurants.
The Browns thought contacting York Regional Police could potentially lead to charges.
But according to Const. Andy Pattenden, the Trespass to Property Act supersedes the AODA, therefore, the restaurant owner’s request for them to leave his property, no matter the reason, was acceptable.
“I’ve got to think it wouldn’t be good for business,” Const. Pattenden said.
According to the AODA, “If a provision of this Act, of an accessibility standard or of any other regulation conflicts with a provision of any other Act or regulation, the provision that provides the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation, buildings, structures or premises shall prevail.”
“The Trespass to Property Act is not applicable,” said Charlotte Wilkinson, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
“It’s a human rights issue,” she said, noting the AODA’s purpose is to help organizations comply with the regulations, not enforce them.
Mr. Brown’s doctors, according to his wife, have advised against filing a human rights complaint due to his poor health.
“We need to listen to his doctors. There’s other ways we can fight. There’s other ways we can advocate,” Mrs. Brown said.
Mr. Brown told The Sun-Tribune, just a few hours after the incident, he tried explaining to the restaurateur and waitress they were service dogs, but it was to no avail.
Since then, the owner has had a change in attitude.
“We erred in judgment. We made a big mistake,” Bluenose Fish and Chips owner Nick Kiriakou told The Sun-Tribune this week.
Mr. Kiriakou said he was more concerned about appeasing the six customers who complained to him and the waitress about the dogs, than acknowledging Mr. Brown’s rights.
He said four of the six customers left.
“We’re sorry for the incident,” Mr. Kiriakou said, noting in the 20 years the business has been operating, this was the first time service dogs have tried to enter the eatery.
“It’s embarrassing and I wish we focused more on their needs,” he said.
Mr. Kiriakou may be remorseful, but it does not mean the incident is over.
York Regional Police is still investigating, as is the City of Markham’s bylaw department.
Bylaw officers do not have the authority to lay charges against Mr. Kiriakou under the provincial legislation, according to Chris Alexander, the city’s supervisor of licensing and animal services.
But the business licence can be revoked.
“This is not the right behaviour we want or expect from our licensees,” Mr. Alexander said.
“We’ll give him one opportunity and he’ll be cautioned,” he said.