On January 18, 2016, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act came into force in British Columbia, replacing the former Guide Animal Act and clarifying and expanding the rights of disabled persons using service dogs to assist them in their day-to-day activities. Business owners, employers, landlords, and strata corporations should be aware of the Act and its provisions.

The new Act defines two kinds of certified assistance dogs: guide dogs that provide guidance to the visually impaired; and service dogs, which provide specific services to persons with other kinds of disabilities, including “invisible disabilities” such as mental or psychiatric disabilities. Dogs may provide services that are not obvious to the public, such as performing advance detection of seizures or reminding handlers to take medication.

Certification means that the dog and handler team have passed a rigorous test proving that the handler has a disability, and that the dog and handler team is public-ready. Dog and handler teams must show that they can calmly handle crowded spaces, be polite and unobtrusive in restaurants and other businesses, and generally behave appropriately in public. Once certified, service and guide dog teams are issued government ID.

Under the new legislation, guide dog teams, service dog teams and dog-in-training teams may go anyplace, unrestricted, that the public can access, including private businesses, restaurants, public transit and airplanes. Businesses that refuse or restrict access to certified dogs and their handlers can be fined up to $3000.

The Act also makes it illegal for landlords and strata corporations to refuse to accommodate guide or service dog teams, dogs- in-training and retired guide or service dog teams, or impose fees or conditions on such accommodation. Strata corporations and rental landlords should review their policies and update staff accordingly.

With these changes, the public can expect the following from service and guide dog teams:

  • On inquiry, handlers should identify their dog as a certified guide or service dog. The Act does not require a service or guide dog team to present its government ID in order to gain access to any public space, and businesses should not require ID—such a policy could lead to fines. If you are concerned about a dog, you can query, but in many cases discretion may be the better part of valour.
  • Certified dogs are not required to wear vests or harnesses identifying them, but many do. The Act prohibits service and guide dogs from sitting in seats in restaurants or on public transit. Dogs must be on a leash or harness at all times.
  • Certified dogs can be expected to not be disruptive.
  • Service and guide dogs can be expected to be clean.

Service and guide dog teams can expect the following from businesses and the public:

  • Unrestricted access to all public places and buildings, including restaurants, public transit, stores and other places available to the public.
  • Dignified treatment, including polite inquiries regarding whether a dog is a service or guide dog.
  • Disabled persons using service dogs should not be asked questions about the nature of their disability or the services the dog provides. Such inquiries can be discriminatory and intrusive.
  • Service and guide dogs should not be petted or fed.
  • Staff should be educated on how to deal with service and guide dogs. The best approach is to ignore the dog and treat handlers like any other customer or member of the public.

The new Guide Dog and Service Dog Act has clarified the rules around certified dogs. However, the Act does not limit the application of human rights legislation in the context of disability. This means such legislation may protect disabled persons using non-certified dogs, and discrimination against such persons may generate human rights complaints. When in doubt, businesses and employers should proceed with caution, and treat all persons with dignity.

For more information on disability-related compliance, contact Claire.