William Webb, right, a retired army sergeant who suffers from post-traumatic stress, is pictured with his service dog Jessie. At left is MP Gord Johns. Photo supplied

Courtenay man with service dog wants level playing field

Retired army vet says legislation one-sided

William Webb has had trouble bringing his medical service dog, Jessie, into public places because the B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act doesn’t recognize the organization that trained the animal.

Jessie was trained by Winnipeg-based Meghan Search and Rescue (MSAR.ca), which is not an accredited school in B.C. The provincial government recognizes five other schools, two of them outside B.C.

“There is no certification process,” said Webb, a Courtenay resident and retired army sergeant who suffers from post-traumatic stress. “Each company certifies their own dogs. My dog’s recognized by the federal government, and a number of different agencies in the federal government.”

Webb has been denied service by BC Ferries, which allows certified guide/service dogs in passenger areas. However, it’s the province that determines which animals are certified.

The Ministry of Justice website says guide dogs help people with visual impairments while service dogs help those with visible or non-visible disabilities, such as PTSD or epilepsy. It also says therapy and emotional support animals, including dogs, are not eligible for certification.

“The act is in conflict with its own BC Human Rights Code,” Webb said.

But according to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, it’s intended to complement the Human Rights Code.

“The current act is a certification statute that does not affect rights which exist under the Human Rights Code,” a statement says. “Guide dogs voluntarily certified under the Act are to be permitted entry to public places in the same manner as anyone else, as long as the dog does not occupy a seat, and is held by a leash or harness.”

The Province does not accredit service dog organizations. The ministry relies on Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) for accrediting training schools for B.C.’s guide and service dog program.

“Training schools may seek accreditation from ADI or IGDF. For dogs from other schools, an assessment is offered by the Justice Institute of British Columbia. This ensures dogs have the opportunity to be tested when seeking B.C.’s certificate, regardless of where they were trained.”

The Canadian Foundation for Animal-Assisted Support Services (CFAS) claims this is not a third-party accreditation. A position paper posted on its website says ADI is not an accreditation body, but a coalition of organizations and programs.

“Their governing body is comprised of fellow service dog organizations,” the paper states.

The CFAS says a growing number of people with service dogs are facing barriers to public access and accommodation. One barrier is the need for a common national standard to “prevent the exploitation of service dog teams within the emerging unregulated multi-million-dollar service dog industry.”

Webb has filed complaints with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, the Attorney General, Solicitor General, the Canadian Transportation Agency and with Transport Canada.

“We (he and other advocates) are not against the legislation, we’re against the way that it’s one-sided,” Webb said. “They’ve given the exclusive rights to one organization, excluding everyone else, which is against the Competition Act in Canada.”

He claims three MLAs who advocated and helped implement the act are personal members of an ADI organization.

“We want the consultation process re-opened,” Webb said.

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