The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recently awarded an Ontario lawyer, Andrew Sprague, $1,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, as a result of his being stopped from entering the Riocan Empress Walk mall with his service dog. At the time, the dog, Flicka, was wearing a blue vest, which identifies her as a services animal and which carries her certification information. Nevertheless, Sprague was stopped at the entrance to the mall, on the basis that the dog may not be allowed to enter.
Factoring into Sprague’s human rights complaint was the fact that he was accompanied by his wife, who was nine months pregnant. They were required to stand in the entrance to the mall while security watched them on the video camera, supposedly “seeking clarification” from a supervisor. During this time, Sprague grew concerned about his wife, who was in physical distress, and ultimately had to go speak with a supervisor himself in order to be permitted to enter the building.
In the end, the couple was allowed to enter the mall on the basis that the dog was, in fact, a service dog, but the circumstances of this short but unpleasant delay cost the mall’s owner, Riocan, $1,000 in damages. The security officers’ failure to recognize the legitimacy of the service animal and their public embarrassment of the couple who were stopped for this reason and made to wait in view of the other shoppers, constituted a breach of Sprague’s protected rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
By Marty Rabinovitch and Michelle Stephenson, Student-at-Law, Devry Smith Frank LLP