After months of waiting, Chris Trudell-Conklin finally got to meet her new guide dog Cody last week.
“He’s the sweetest boy,” said Trudell-Conklin, who’s visually impaired. “He’s got my heart.”
The Windsor, Ont., woman met Cody and her CNIB instructor at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Kitchener, Ont., where they planned to stay while she became acquainted with her new service animal.
But Trudell-Conklin says not long after they arrived, it became clear she was not welcome to access areas of the hotel outside her room with her dog.
When she and her instructor were sitting with Cody to do basic training in one of the public areas of the hotel, they were told they weren’t allowed to be there, according to Trudell-Conklin.
‘Asked us to leave’
“In 2020, we shouldn’t have to deal with this still,” said Trudell-Conklin. “One incident is more than enough.”
It wasn’t a COVID-19 restriction. Rob Cramer, the CNIB guide dog mobility instructor who was with Trudell-Conklin, said he specifically asked management if they would be allowed to sit in that area if they didn’t have a service animal and was told yes.
“We laid out our rights as a guide dog team, but they still asked us to leave the area and we didn’t feel comfortable or welcomed in that hotel,” Cramer said.
“So we ended up leaving the hotel to go somewhere else where we were very much welcomed.”
Manoj Nair, the general manager at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Kitchener, says the issue was the pair was doing training with the guide dog in a walkway. He also said they couldn’t be near the hotel’s food and fitness area.
“I said ‘Sir, I understood [having a] guide dog in the hallway, you can walk through it. But doesn’t mean you can sit over there and have a meeting,'” said Nair.
“I have to protect my staff and guests over here,” Nair told CBC.
Trudell-Conklin says she understands asking somebody to leave with a guide dog if the dog isn’t acting appropriately or is dirty, but stresses that wasn’t the case.
“My dog was well-maintained, in his harness, quiet and doing everything he’s supposed to be doing,” she said.
Trudell-Conklin, who’s also the president of the non-profit group Guide Dog Users of Canada, points out that September is also guide dog awareness month.
Violates provincial law: lawyer
The incident is a violation of provincial law, according to lawyer Shannon Down, who is the executive director of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.
“That sounds like a clear contravention of the act that would apply, which would be the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,” Down said.
“It means if you’re a hotel or restaurant or business providing services to the public, you need to make sure that a person who has a service animal can access your business and can access your services.”
She says these types of situations happen more often than they should.
“People who live with disabilities often have to work hard to assert their rights and educate the public unfortunately,” Down said. “The onus should be on businesses providing services to the public to be aware of what their obligations are.”
Trudell-Conklin plans to file a complaint through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It’s not the first time she’s done so. She also filed a complaint three years ago after she says she was denied access to a taxi because of her service dog.
“I’m doing this for all guide dog people — for our right to travel independently,” Trudell-Conklin said.