Service dog refused entry into Bradford restaurant; incident leads to education around legislation

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“We tried to explain it to him, but he just didn’t want to listen,” says Pastor, whose dog handler was turned away; Business owner apologizes

“Any dog ​​is not allowed,” repeated Ganesh Ponniah, owner of the Golden Taste of Asia restaurant in Bradford, while denying entry to his home to a local pastor and his service dog last week.

Lily, the two-year-old purebred golden doodle, belongs to Cory Kostyra, Bradford Community Church interim pastor.

Lily completed her medical service dog training with the Citadel Canine Society in June 2020 under the Ontario Accessibility Act (AODA) and the standards of the Canadian Association of Service Dog Trainers.

When Kostyra walked into the restaurant with Lily and her boyfriend Martin Lim last Wednesday, he was shocked when the owner told him that his service dog was not allowed in the facility.

“We tried to explain to him, but he just wouldn’t listen,” said Kostyra, adding that other customers within earshot of the disagreement also intervened to explain to the owner why the dog was allowed inside.

Kostyra, Lim and Lily left the premises as directed by Ponniah and ended up on the street to eat.

The incident at the Golden Taste of Asia was immediately brought to the attention of the city’s accessibility advisory committee. BradfordToday called the restaurant for comment and spoke briefly to the staff before the calls abruptly ended. It took BradfordToday three tries to speak directly to the owner.

“This is the first time this has happened. I didn’t know about it, but I’m so sorry, ”said Ponniah. “In my five years here, nobody has ever come here with a dog, so I ask so kindly, I’m sorry.”

Lily’s certificate, which Kostyra always carries with her, requires that “… individuals, business owners, facility managers and others grant Lily and her supervisor, Mr. Cory Kostyra, appropriate privileges and reasonable physical access to the public.”

“They have to train their staff and allow someone with a service dog into their premises,” said Kostyra. “If the dog is wearing a service vest, that’s more than adequate evidence, but we also have the paperwork.”

The AODA puts it this way: “If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or another service animal, the provider (owner) has to ensure that the person is allowed to enter the premises with the animal and keep the animal with him or she, it unless the animal is otherwise legally excluded from the premises. ”

The “Staff Training” section states: “Each Supplier shall ensure that the following individuals are trained in the provision of the Supplier’s goods, services or facilities to people with disabilities … (including) any person who is an employee or volunteer of the Provider is “, whereby owners are responsible for checking with their employees the purpose of the law and the requirements for ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities.

There are penalties for disregarding the law. According to the AODA, if the incident is classified as “major” or a repeat violation, a daily fine of up to $ 100,000 in the case of a corporation and $ 50,000 in the case of a natural or unregistered organization may be imposed.

“It is imperative that he trains his employees (and himself) to understand the accessibility standards,” said Kostyra of the restaurant owner.

The Ontario government website states that “one in seven people in Ontario has a disability,” that is approximately two million Ontarians. Over the next 20 years, as the province’s population ages, people with disabilities are expected to make up about 40 percent of total Ontario income, or $ 536 billion.

“People with disabilities are a growing market that companies cannot overlook,” the website says.

“Ontario has laws that ensure that all Ontarians have access to your company’s goods, services, or facilities. The law requires your organization to identify and remove these barriers in order to provide customer service that is more accessible to people with disabilities, ”the government website states.

“This is an opportunity to educate businesses in our community on AODA law,” said James Leduc, Deputy Mayor of Bradford West Gwillimbury, chair of the local Accessibility Advisory Committee. “As you can see in Section 80, businesses should be aware that service dogs are an important part of the needs of people with disabilities and that they are allowed in any store to support the owner.”

Leduc added: “I think we can do a better job here as a municipality to educate entrepreneurs about their obligations towards residents with disabilities. We are working on a strategy to educate business owners about the law and the roles and responsibilities of those owners. We have to get better. “

According to the law, in addition to guide dogs, there are different types of service animals that support people with different disabilities. The four most common disabilities a service animal is used for are visual impairment or loss, epilepsy, autism, and anxiety disorders.

There are no restrictions on the type of animal that can be used as a service animal, as long as the animal is wearing a certified harness or vest to indicate this, or the person with a disability provides appropriate evidence from a licensed healthcare professional.

According to Caleigh Clubine, community relations officer for the community, “the city was keen to learn that there may be a lack of awareness of the laws surrounding service dogs.”

“Although this is a province’s jurisdiction, the chairman of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee has stated that he will encourage the committee to consider an opportunity to educate and inform business owners and the public,” she added.

The Citadel Canine Society where Lily was trained has the highest standards of basic obedience and training for service animals. They are a CRA-registered charity that specifically trains medical service dogs for military veterans and first aiders after Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Operational Stress Injury (OSI).

“The moment you put the vest on, (Lily) knows that she is working,” said Kostyra.

Lily’s training with Citadel is described as “intense” and involves taking service dogs into training through rooms full of toys and treats where the animals are trained not to touch anything.

“It’s really neat. I would drop her food straight on the head and she won’t touch it, ”said Kostyra about the training.

Citadel also trains the service animals in a variety of environments, including hospitals and airplanes, where different noises can be heard.

“The hardest part is making them ‘bombproof’ from outside noises and distractions,” added Kostyra.

When he had a panic attack in a store, he said Lily had proven her worth.

“Lily once dragged me out of a Walmart,” said Kostyra. “I could not move. I was in the middle of the aisle with my car. “

Although the owner of Golden Taste of Asia eventually offered Kostyra and his service dog a free supper meal, Kostyra declined the offer but will not bring charges.

“Service animals have a job, they are not pets,” he said, adding that there is a difference between a well-trained service dog and a therapy dog. “If I had gone to this restaurant and had an attack, someone would have had to come and get me.”

To learn more about Ontarians’ accessibility laws and regulations, click here. Business owners who want to make their services more accessible can click here.