Two visually-impaired Toronto women will have their complaint investigated by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal more than three years after they were removed from a flight at Pearson airport because of their service dogs.
Friends Amal Haddad and Nayla Farah and Farah’s daughter had booked a round trip to Stockholm on Jet Airways, departing July 1, 2015, with a stopover in Brussels on the way over.
Farah, who has been travelling the world with a seeing-eye dog for years, said she and Haddad made sure they had all their papers in order before arriving at the airport.
“We came prepared with way more documents than they required,” Farah said.
But after they and their dogs boarded the first leg of their flight, the crew demanded that they muzzle the animals which, the passengers said, were sleeping at their feet.
Haddad and Farah, who had no muzzles with them, refused.
“Muzzling service dogs affects their ability to function as service dogs, and it’s not warranted,” said air passenger rights advocate Gábor Lukács, who is representing the women.
“For passengers who have vision problems or are visually impaired, their guide dogs are their eyes. The same way that you cannot be expected to board an aircraft without your eyes, those passengers cannot be expected to board an aircraft without their guide dogs.”
Haddad and Farah claim the flight crew then continued to harass them, and the party of three asked for police to intervene in a last-ditch effort to be allowed to stay on the plane.
The pilot told Peel police to remove the passengers as they weren’t complying with airline policy to muzzle dogs.
According to the police report, Jet Airways made arrangements for the passengers to fly on Lot Polish Airlines and make their connection to Stockholm.
“It was harassment. It was humiliation. All the passengers were seated,” Farah said.
“Till now I still think about it. Three years and four months and a day have passed.”
Although the flight was destined for Belgium, Mumbai-based Jet Airways argued it had to comply with Indian law and consider the safety of the other passengers. They also claimed the passengers were “unruly.”
Later, Jet Airways also said the crew only asked Haddad and Farah to muzzle their dogs temporarily, while other passengers were boarding.
“The whole argument has no legs,” Lukács said. “It’s really a bogus argument because there is no link to India other than the company being registered in India.
“But even if it were true, the fact that the foreign country makes a law requiring you to discriminate does not allow you to discriminate in Canada.”
After reviewing Haddad and Farah’s complaint, the Canadian Human Rights Commission concluded Jet Airways’s arguments were inconsistent and last week asked the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to conduct an inquiry and determine whether discrimination has occurred.
If the two sides can’t agree to sit down with a mediator, a hearing will take place.
“This will be a test case for the rights of visually-impaired passengers who travel with guide dogs,” said Lukács.
The complainants are asking the tribunal to order Jet Airways to amend their policy and to stop asking passengers to muzzle service animals. They have also requested up to $40,000 each in compensation due to any pain and suffering experienced and the “wilful and/or reckless” nature of the alleged discrimination.
Jet Airways has not yet responded to a request for comment.