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FAQ: Service animals and the law

Visually impaired man crossing a street with his guide dog.
Visually impaired man crossing a street with his guide dog. Westend61/Getty Images

It’s become fairly common to hear of service animal-owners getting barred or kicked out of some restaurant or business because their animals aren’t welcome. But whether they want them or not, businesses generally can’t say no.  Here are the basics of service animal laws in Ontario.

What is a service animal?

A service animal is any animal trained to assist a person with a disability. That typically means a guide dog for the visually impaired, but can includes may other roles, like alerting persons of an oncoming seizure.

Where can I bring a service animal?

A service animal is not a pet. While businesses can say “no pets allowed,” they can’t deny you service because of your animal.

READ MORE: Mother claims daughter’s service dog was not welcome in Toronto restaurant

Someone with a service animal is entitled to enter any space accessible to the public or a third party.

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Both the Ontario and federal Human Rights Codes prohibit discrimination based on disability, and rejecting a service animal definitely fits that category. It’s also prohibited in the Ontario Blind Person’s Rights Act.

Are there any exceptions?

Laws forbid service animals from certain premises, typically where food is processed manufactured, or sold.

Guide dogs are allowed into places where food is served or sold, but other animals are excluded by law.

Do I need to show some licence or ID for my animal?

Service dogs typically wear some sort of vest or harness and are easily identifiable as such, but many businesses reserve the right to ask for some proof – a letter from a doctor or nurse – indicating that you genuinely need the animal.

READ MORE: Advocates calling for official government ID for service dogs

Unfortunately, fake service dogs aren’t unheard of. B.C. is considering changing its own service dog laws to tackle the problem of people slapping fake vests and harnesses on their dog.

What can I do if a business turns me away?

You can file a human rights complaint with the appropriate tribunal, either Ontario or federal.

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Also, you can pursue charges under the Blind Person’s Right Act, which fines any offender a maximum of $5,000 if convicted.