A Canadian Paralympic rower says her family were denied service at a Vancouver Island hotel because of her guide dog.
Victoria Nolan hadn’t seen her family in months – she trained in Victoria for the Tokyo Paralympic Games while her family stayed at home in Toronto, unable to travel for a visit due to the pandemic of COVID-19.
Before leaving for Tokyo, Nolan’s family had planned to visit him and take a short getaway to a beachfront hotel. Her husband, Eamonn Nolan, tried to book a room in Ucluelet, BC, for the couple, their daughter and Nolan’s guide dog.
Nolan says her nine-year-old black lab, Alan, helps her stay safe and calm as she navigates the world without her vision.
“He really calms me down when I’m in a stressful situation. He’s a great guide,” Nolan said.
But the hotel they tried to book with denied the family the option to bring the dog. They said the owner had severe allergies.
Once they realized their mistake, the hotel staff apologized and offered the family a room, but the Nolans didn’t want to stay there anymore.
By law, anyone with a guide dog must be allowed in any location where anyone without a guide dog is.
“The [hotel] Fully supports the right of blind people to be accompanied by a specially trained guide dog in all public facilities, ”the hotel owners said in a written statement to CBC News.
“Initially, due to a misunderstanding on the part of our new staff member, incorrect information was provided to Mr. Nolan.
“We are a small company that prides itself on going above and beyond for our customers and we would never intentionally deny anyone accommodation.”
Nolan, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games, says it’s far from the first time she’s had to fight for her right to have her guide dog by her side. It’s happened so many times that she’s lost track, she says.
“It’s restaurants, taxis, hotels, grocery stores, medical facilities – honestly the list goes on and on,” she said.
She said she always tries to explain the laws to staff, but it usually doesn’t work. Nolan has filed human rights complaints, BC Guide and Assistance Dog Act complaints, and police reports.
“There are so many feelings when this happens,” she said.
“Frustration that in our time people do not know this law. It is shocking to me. There is a feeling of humiliation, as if you are told that you are not welcome and that you are distinguished you as unacceptable.
“I don’t know if I want to bother trying to go somewhere because I don’t want to feel like that all the time.”
Nolan said she plans to take legal action against the hotel.
British Columbia Guide Dog Guidelines
A guide dog is defined as a dog trained to act as a guide for a visually impaired person, while a service dog is trained to help perform specific tasks for a person with a disability. Both require certification under the British Columbia Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs Act.
The law provides that a person with a guide dog, an assistance dog or a dog in training can have access to any public place, housing, building or public transport in the same way as a person who does not use guide or assistance dog, provided the dog is kept on a leash or harness and does not occupy a seat in a public vehicle or a place where food is served to the public.
In addition, a person or business cannot charge a fee for the dog.
Anyone who breaks these laws is subject to a fine of up to $ 3,000.
Lawyer Victoria Shroff said she was disappointed some people are still unaware of the laws regarding guide dogs and assistance dogs, as language surrounding discrimination against people based on their abilities is included in the Human Rights Code for decades.
“I’m really disappointed to hear that things like this are still happening today,” she said.
“It sounds like something from the Dark Ages, frankly.”
Shroff, who has practiced animal law in British Columbia for more than 20 years, said while she appreciates the hotel’s apology, it’s not enough.
“There was a lot more than just annoyance,” she said.
“There can be a loss of dignity. There can be a feeling of shame, there can be all kinds of different emotions and other ways the person has suffered that is not covered by an apology.”
She advises anyone in such a situation to seek legal advice, either through a lawyer or a free legal clinic.