[nfbwatlk] please support justice for people who use guide dogs

Mary ellen gabias at telus.net
Sun Nov 8 02:35:55 UTC 2015

Dear friend,


Without your immediate help, three quarters of a century's work
establishing the access rights of guide dog teams may be casually swept away
in British Columbia!

Discrimination by the taxi industry is just fine, a minor inconvenience, no
more, according to Jacqueline Beltgens of the British Columbia Human Rights

We need your help to raise fifteen thousand dollars to fight for legal
redress of a Tribunal decision that gives more credence to hearsay about a
taxi driver's unproven dog allergy than to the rights of a person with a
guide dog.

Please go to 



to make your cry for justice heard.  As you read Graeme McCreath's story,
consider the implications for guide dog teams everywhere.


Graeme McCreath just wanted to go out for a casual evening with a few
friends on July 15, 2014.  He never intended to walk into a humiliating
bureaucratic nightmare.


The story is all too familiar to anybody who cares about guide dogs and
human rights.  A friend phoned a taxi.  When it arrived, the driver, Bruce
MacGregor,  announced, "I can't take the dog. I'll get you another cab." 


The refusal of service was a public humiliation.  It was also a direct
violation of British Columbia's Guide Animal Act.


British Columbia has two laws that are supposed to protect people who travel
with guide dogs. The Guide Animal Act says: "A person with a disability
accompanied by a guide animal has the same rights, privileges and
obligations as a person not accompanied by an animal." The British Columbia
Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.


The law seemed extremely clear.  Graeme McCreath sought justice from the
Human Rights Tribunal.  After a year of filings and discussions, the matter
finally went to hearing on July 14, 2015.  Graeme McCreath, Bruce MacGregor,
and Sean Convy the manager of Victoria Taxi had nearly a year, more than
ample opportunity to produce evidence.  The only documentation the taxi
company produced was a vaguely worded slip from a walk in clinic that didn't
mention allergies and an internally produced document noting that MacGregor
had been given an "exception."  Both were dated months after the 2014


Graeme McCreath and three witnesses to the event testified at the hearing.
Bruce MacGregor didn't even bother to attend.  Sean Convy, the manager of
Victoria Taxi, represented his company, since the human rights complaint
named Victoria Taxi because the company's policies allow MacGregor and other
drivers to refuse service.


The facts are undisputed.  Graeme McCreath is blind and was accompanied by
his certified guide dog.  Bruce MacGregor gave no reason for refusing to
transport Graeme when the event occurred, but Sean Convy later claimed that
MacGregor has both a dog phobia and a dog allergy.  Since MacGregor wasn't
there, he never verified Convy's claim.


This is how the tribunal described Graeme McCreath's assertion that he had
suffered discrimination.

"[28] Mr. McCreath has established a prima facie case of discrimination. He
has a physical disability, he suffered an adverse impact when he was denied
a ride by the Taxi Driver, and he was denied the ride because he was
accompanied by his guide dog."


Yet the tribunal dismissed Graeme McCreath's case!


The tribunal ruled that denial of service by one driver was a minor
inconvenience since another cab arrived within a few minutes.  One wonders
how the tribunal would have responded to Rosa Parks. After all, it is  also
only slightly more inconvenient to walk a few extra steps to the back of the


Since MacGregor didn't bother even to appear at the hearing. He never had to
explain his actions or answer a single question about his reason for
refusing to transport Graeme McCreath.  Nevertheless, the tribunal ruled
that MacGregor had a "disability" that entitled him to an "accommodation"
from the company.  , Beltgens referred repeatedly to MacGregor's
"disability" as an allergy based on hearsay testimony from Sean Convy.
Without documentation, Beltgens voided MacGregor's responsibility to obey
the law.  No proof was required; a claim with no substantiation of the
severity of the alleged allergy was enough.  


We've all met people who say they have a "vision impairment" when what they
mean is that they wear reading glasses.  Their "impairment" exists, but it
doesn't constitute a disability as the term is generally understood.  Anyone
who wants to establish blindness medically must be seen by an
ophthalmologist, a physician with the highest available credential for
treating eye conditions.  The tests are exacting; all available corrective
measures must be undertaken before certification of blindness can be made.


The word "allergy" also has variable definitions, ranging from mild sniffles
to anaphylactic shock.  Clearly anaphylactic shock is disabling.  Sneezes
are not.  Yet the tribunal did not require that MacGregor's claim of a
disabling allergy be documented by a physician specializing in the diagnosis
and treatment of allergic conditions.  She specifically and categorically
ruled out any finding that anyone claiming an allergy exemption from
transporting guide dogs should undergo treatment, calling the suggestion


Ms. Beltgens writes: "The Tribunal has determined that an allergic reaction
to animals can constitute a physical disability under the Code."  She
behaves as if it not only can, but that merely asserting the presence of an
allergy is sufficient to claim disability status, even though the presence
and severity of the allergy is unproven. 


Graeme McCreath's case uncovered disturbing evidence of systemic
discriminatory practices on the part of Victoria Taxi.  Beltgens writes: "He
(Mr. Convy, the manager of Victoria Taxi)says that, in addition to taxi
drivers, the owners of a particular taxi are also entitled to place an
exception to having animals in a car. He says that five of the owners of
taxi cabs have also placed exceptions on their cars preventing the transport
of animals."  Refusing to take pet dogs is an owner's right.  However, the
tribunal never raised any issue concerning the legality of applying a "no
animals" policy to guide dogs, even though failing to make that distinction
is a clearly discriminatory practice.


Unless we challenge this decision, the British Columbia human Rights
Tribunal has written a manual on how to discriminate and get away with it!
You drive a taxi and don't want to vacuum dog hair?  No problem.  Just file
an exemption so that no dogs can ride in your cab.  If you want to be really
sure that you can get away with denying service, go to a walk in clinic and
ask the doctor on duty to give you a note that says you have "medical
reasons" for not transporting dogs.


With only a little creativity, Ms. Beltgens reasoning can easily be extended
to include restaurants or other businesses.  "I can't serve you because I'm
allergic.  It's only slightly inconvenient to go next door."


We do not want to deny the legitimate claims of taxi drivers and other
workers who genuinely suffer with disabling allergies.  They should be
accommodated by their employers.  We know what genuine disability means and
we're passionate about protecting all people with disabilities.  That is why
we are passionate about not wanting  disability to be trivialized by those
who frivolously and fraudulently seek to claim disability protection.


We urge you to go to




and contribute what you can.  Graeme McCreath was victimized twice - once
when he was refused service and again, in an even more profound manner, when
a tribunal set up to protect his rights actively engaged in denying them.
If people who care about guide dogs and human rights don't stand together,
British Columbia may lead the way in erosion of our rights.  If we stand
alone here, we may fall separately all across North America.



Mary Ellen Gabias, President

Canadian Federation of the Blind


P.S.  We realize this story seems nearly impossible.  Human Rights tribunals
were set up specifically to put an end to unfair treatment on the basis of
characteristics like disability.  With that mandate, how could a tribunal
rule the way this tribunal ruled?  If you doubt this decision was based on
hearsay and that the facts were massaged to permit a preordained conclusion
in favor of the business interests of Victoria Taxi, we invite you to read
Ms. Beltgens ruling, with all its tortured reasoning, on the BC Human Rights
Tribunal web site.


More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list