“Santa didn’t even talk to me and he made jokes about me.”
A trip to see Santa Claus turned into a heartbreaking experience for nine-year-old Taite Jefferson from Durham Region.
“We were discriminated against and I suspect it was to do with our service dog,” Taite’s mom Christa Jefferson said.
Taite has a rare medical disease called Mastocytosis. It occurs when too many mast cells accumulate in the skin and/or internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, bone marrow and small intestines. She has a service dog named Quinn to help.
Stress and anxiety are among the triggers for Taite and she experienced both when she visited Santa at Upper Canada Mall.
Christa said the visit could have had devastating consequences on Taite’s health.
“Santa didn’t even give her the time of day, he didn’t look at her, he didn’t talk to her, he didn’t ask her any questions,” she said.
It started when Santa’s elves told the family to keep Quinn away from Santa’s set.
Christa Jefferson explained that he is a service dog and by Ontario accessibility law, he is permitted to accompany Taite.
That is when things turned sour, she said.
“He made a joke about her medical condition to her face and laughed, and that’s the first time he actually had eye contact with her,” Christa said.
When Taite and Quinn walked away, she told her mother she must be “on the naughty list.”
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“It killed me because I was like, girl, this is nothing to do with you, absolutely nothing to do with you, she’s an amazing kid, she’s so kind, so giving I didn’t want her to internalize it,” Christa said.
In an effort to make things right, the family reached out to Upper Canada Mall management and Cherry Hill Photo, who are behind the Santa experience.
Cherry Hill Photo offered Taite a VIP visit with Santa Claus at another mall, with Quinn by her side.
Upper Canada Mall refused an interview with Global News, but sent this statement.
“All staff have been trained on ‘The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,’ and Upper Canada continues to work with Cherry Hill, the photo company provider, Santa and the team. As always, our shoppers are of utmost importance to us.”
The Jeffersons hope a lesson was learned so that another child won’t experience the same devastation that Taite did.
“She wanted a normal Santa experience and even when we’re walking through the mall, she wants to fit in.”
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