WATCH ABOVE: After being pushed by Global News, Toronto Police admit they should be investigating allegations of blind people being denied service because of their guide dogs. At first police insisted that it was not their job. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO — Imagine being kicked out of a business for having a service dog. Who do you call to intervene? Well, not the police, according to the Toronto Police Service.
Multiple times, over two days, Toronto police told Global News they do not have the authority to investigate.
Now the TPS is backtracking, and have confirmed they have the authority to investigate allegations that business owners are denying service to customers with service dogs.
The admission comes after Global News proved to police they have this responsibility.
Tuesday evening, Karoline Bourdeau called the police non-emergency line. She had been prevented from bringing her guide dog inside a local sushi restaurant.
She said the call taker’s response left her stunned.
“She (the call taker) said it’s a private establishment, they have a right to choose who to serve and not serve. Big myth,” explained Bourdeau. “The second thing she said is it is not the police’s job.”
However, identification cards for people with guide dogs, issued by the Ontario Attorney General, instruct, “alleged violates of the Act should be referred to your local police service.”
“The police have the authority to investigate alleged violations under the Blind Persons’ Rights Act and determine whether to lay charges,” wrote spokesperson Brendan Crawley in an email to Global News. “Crown counsel prosecute cases after the police lay charges.”
After Global News sent police a copy of the act and the statement, they checked with their legal department and confirmed that in fact they should investigate such cases.
They claimed that they get so few calls on the issue that they were not aware of their responsibility to do anything. However, when asked if there was any way to determine the actual number of calls, they admitted there was not.
“I wouldn’t say all police don’t know,” said Const. Victor Kwong, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service. “When you contacted me, it is something that none of my office knew about because simply it’s not something that we deal with.”
“Once you had something real to put forward to me to investigate, I did. We were wrong in this.”
Toronto police have promised they will be making sure all staff are informed of their part in protecting the rights of people with service dogs.
However, as of Friday, they still hadn’t talked to the call taker about why she told Bourdeau that a private establishment could refuse to serve her.
In addition to police, the city and province have roles to play in this situation. The city can address it through licensing and the province through a human rights complaint.
Toronto police said they will be offering an apology to Bourdeau.
“It was a very alarming experience because police being ignorant is scary,” said Bourdeau.
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