Breaking down Ontario’s service animal laws after violent dispute at Kitchener restaurant

Waterloo regional police have launched an investigation into a video that appears to show a man living with disabilities being aggressively kicked out of a Kitchener restaurant after an apparent dispute over his service dog.

A shocking video that appeared to capture a recent violent dispute over the presence of a service dog at a Kitchener restaurant is bringing forward renewed attention to Ontario’s laws governing service animals.

“Everyone in Ontario deserves to live and work in accessible and inclusive communities that are open to everyone,” a statement to CityNews from the Ontario Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility Friday afternoon said after officials were asked about the incident and the laws giving protections for service animals.

“A service animal can make a major difference in a person’s quality of life and ability to be independent.”

It was on Wednesday at around 6:40 p.m. when a man who has disabilities was in the restaurant and was aggressively kicked out seemingly over a dispute about his service dog, prompting a Waterloo Regional Police Service investigation.

“You see both owners refusing and throwing out this paying customers (sic) because they refused the service dog,” Jeff Roy, who posted the four-and-a-half-minute video on Facebook, wrote in the caption.

CityNews wasn’t able to verify what transpired before the recording began or what caused the situation to escalate. Inquiries to the restaurant by CityNews weren’t responded to as of Friday.

RELATED: Violent dispute at Kitchener pub over service dog

What are the rules in Ontario for residents with service animals?

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code, service animals are allowed in a variety of public settings, including restaurants, grocery stores and taxis, unless animals are specifically banned by law.

However, even in the instances where animals are prohibited, officials said businesses and groups “should provide another way for the person to access their goods, services or facilities.”

In order to meet the Ontario government’s definition of a service animal, guidelines stated it must be “easily identifiable as relating to [a person’s disability] (the noted example included an animal wearing a vest that identifies it as a service animal).

Alternatively, a document from a regulated health professional (e.g. audiologist, physician, surgeon, psychologist, psychotherapist etc.) outlining how the animal is needed because of a disability can also be used.

Certificates and identity cards aren’t required.

According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission spokesperson, the body issued a policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability in 2016 and as part of its guidance on making accommodations to respond to the needs of people with disabilities, rules on guide dogs and service animals are among the options.

“People with disabilities who use service animals to assist them with disability-related needs (such as anxiety) are also protected under the definition of ‘disability’ in section 10 of the [Ontario Human Rights Code]. Service animals do not have to be trained or certified by a recognized disability-related organization,” the policy said.

“However, where it is not immediately obvious that the animal is performing a disability-related service, a person must be able to show evidence (such as a letter from a doctor or other qualified medical professional) that they have a disability and that the animal assists with their disability-related needs.”

— With files from Michael Talbot

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