New rules to ensure access for guide dogs

Provincial legislation includes housing rights for service dogs, stiffer fines for violators who deny access

Vancouver Island resident Barb Moody with her new guide dog Sky last April

People with disabilities who use guide dogs or service dogs are being promised equal access to public places such as restaurants and the transit system under planned provincial reforms.

New legislation introduced Thursday would guarantee them the same access rights and privileges as anyone else, and ensure those rights override any pet restrictions imposed in housing complexes by landlords or stratas.

Retired guide and service dogs will also be protected under the housing rules so they don’t have to be separated from their owners even if a new dog has taken up their old role.

“With these changes we can make sure that a fully certified dog will be appropriately recognized and won’t result in someone with a disability being turned away from a service,” Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell said.

Violators such as stores and restaurants who refuse entry to service dogs will also face stiffer fines of as much as $3,000.

Disability Alliance BC executive director Jane Dyson said tougher penalties were long overdue and the current maximum fine of $200 was “grossly inadequate.”

She said complaints from service dog owners are rare in Vancouver, but said it can be a bigger problem in other parts of the province.

“Hopefully fines will be a last resort,” she said.

The new legislation would require guide and service dogs to be trained by an accredited facility, or to get certified to those standards if they are brought in from outside B.C.

Certified service dogs will have to wear visible standardized ID tags or cards to make their status clear to business owners, landlords and transit staff.

Dyson said the consistent identification – replacing various methods used to date – should help ensure businesses and other service providers understand their responsibilities.

Certified trainers will also be able to take dogs and puppies-in-training into any public place a fully certified dog is allowed. That’s intended to give them more exposure to new and diverse environments before they go into actual service.