WATCH ABOVE: A former Paralympian says a Tim Hortons employee ordered her to remove her guide dog from one of their restaurants. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO – Victoria Nolan and her husband Eamonn were at a Tim Horton’s in Toronto on Friday, when they say a staff member informed them Victoria’s service dog had to be left outside.
“I explained it was a service dog and he still didn’t seem to get it. I said it’s a guide dog, I’m blind and he told us we could leave it outside,” said Victoria.
The couple decided to remain in the restaurant, despite stares from other customers.
“It was sort of like our Tim Hortons sit in. We had our doughnuts and our coffee,” said Eamonn.
They said after about ten minutes the Tim Hortons employee came back and told them he was sorry and they could stay, but the damage was already done.
“Everyone around us heard the confrontation and I still feel embarrassed to be there and uncomfortable,” said Victoria.
Despite being an accomplished author and Paralympic rower, she said she dreads that kind of situation so much she sometimes she lacks the confidence to go somewhere new.
The Nolans don’t want other people encountering the same barrier so they contacted Tim Hortons’ head office, but did not receive a response.
Global News reached out to Tim Hortons for comment and in an emailed response they called the incident “unfortunate” and said the staff member was unaware it was a guide dog.
“This was an unfortunate incident in which a Team Member addressed another guest’s complaint before realizing the dog in question was a service animal,” said Michelle Robichaud, director of public affairs for Tim Hortons. “Once he was informed that it was a service dog he did personally apologize.”
According to Tim Hortons’ policies, posted online, every staff member who deals with the public gets training in accessibility issues and it specifically says service dogs are welcome
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) points out there are three separate pieces of legislation protecting the use of service dogs.
“We are equal citizens deserving of equal access and opportunities,” said Yin Brown, accessibility manager for CNIB.
Victoria said some people don’t seem to grasp how significant guide dogs are, like her lab Alan.
“He’s my eyes, but he does so much more than that. He’s given me independence, freedom and confidence. There was a time when I was afraid to leave my house,” said Victoria.
She said she’s encountered similar problems at other businesses and worries Toronto is not ready to host the Parapan Games this summer.
Meanwhile, she said she is most comfortable sticking with tried and true restaurants she is familiar with, like their neighbourhood hang-out Jawny Bakers, where all customers are welcome, including those with service dogs.