From navigating streets to helping with post-traumatic stress disorder, guide and service dogs are crucial for many British Columbians who live with a disability.
Starting today, stronger rules supporting better access to public spaces and strata properties for people with guide and service dogs come into effect.
The rules will essentially streamline the ones already in place by increasing penalties for denying a certified guide or service dog user their rights, and protect the public at large.
They will also include new identification and a higher training standard for certified guide or service dogs. The regulated certification program B.C. and Alberta Guide Dog Services and Autism Support Dogs CEO Bill Thornton says, “will provide a comfort level for users and the public” and that it “will go a long way to eliminate any questions of legitimacy.”
Under these new rules, restaurants, transit or other businesses that deny a certified guide or service dog their rights are open to receiving fines, if convicted. And the fines have been boosted to reflect the seriousness of the new rules.
The fine has gone up from $200 to a new maximum of $3,000, which makes B.C.’s penalties among the highest in the country and in line with Alberta.
“Many of us cannot imagine some of the extra challenges that people living with a disability face on a daily basis. Beyond providing a crucial service and a true lifeline, these dogs become members of people’s families,” Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said in a statement.
“These changes mean guide dogs and service dogs will be certified to the highest standard. This will help protect dog users and the public, and it will provide clarity and certainty for other businesses on what their responsibilities are when it comes to allowing these dogs on their premises.”
Moving forward, the new rules mean residents with service or guide dogs (including retired dogs)will not be denied a place to live, regardless of strata boards or landlords with a no-pets policy.
“As an advocate for people with sight loss and a guide dog user, I can attest to the importance of these changes adopted by the province firsthand,” said Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s access for sight-impaired consumers representative Rob Sleath.
“This will ensure a person with a disability is treated fairly and is privy to the same access as all other members of the public.”
The service or guide dogs will also be looking at a higher standard of training and certification and those not certified through an accredited organization, handlers can now have them tested by a “neutral third party” to ensure the canine meets the new standard.