Human rights complaint filed against cab company over guide dog

Saskatoon man files human rights complaint; says cab drivers are turning away his guide dog due to their religious beliefs. File / Global News

SASKATOON – A man who says he and his guide dog have been having trouble with a Saskatoon cab company has filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

Mike Simmonds says the problem started two months ago when a dispatcher for Comfort Cabs told him he would need a pet-friendly taxi.

He says he’s been told twice since then that drivers weren’t comfortable with his seeing-eye dog because of their religious beliefs.

He called the manager to complain and received an apology.

Simmonds says the manager suggested there must have been a misunderstanding.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination against people with service animals.

“It baffles me that in this century people have such problems with guide dogs,” Simmonds said Friday.

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“If you’re driving a taxi in this country, you have got to know that you’re open to service dogs.”

Cliff Kowbel, operations manager at Comfort Cabs, said that the company continually informs its drivers that working dogs are not pets. He said the company has a policy that the dogs are not to be refused.

Simmonds said he was on his way to the airport two weeks ago when he was turned away by a driver who said a larger cab was needed.

“I said, ‘Here, the suitcase goes in the back or in the trunk and he’s designed to go under my feet. We’ve got to get to the airport.”‘

Simmonds said he could tell the driver was obviously uncomfortable, so he asked him if he had a problem with dogs. The driver replied that associating with dogs was against his religious beliefs.

It was the third time Simmonds was refused a ride that pushed him to file the human rights complaint.

He had called ahead for a taxi to pick him and his dog, Graham, up at a bus stop. When the cab didn’t show up, he called the dispatcher again.

He said she told him she was having a hard time finding a cab for him because of the drivers’ religious beliefs. Simmonds had to wait an additional 20 minutes outside for a taxi to come from across the city.

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“That’s where I said, ‘Enough is enough. Three strikes, you’re out,’ and I’ll make my pitch.”

Simmonds said he has never filed a human rights complaint before, but feels he needs to this time to make sure guide dogs are welcome.

“I find great offence in people not wanting to let him – and therefore me – into their business. That’s wrong.”

The issue of service dog owners being refused taxi rides came up recently in Regina. Kelly Scherr, the city’s director of construction and compliance, says the city is making changes to its taxi bylaw.

“We’re told that there are some challenges with people being refused trips when they have a service animal with them,” Scherr said. “Although there is provincial legislation … we are bringing our bylaw into line with the provincial legislation just to provide some additional support.”

The proposed bylaw amendments are to come before Regina council in February.

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