Right to Service Animal is not Absolute

Employers are often faced with questions regarding the scope of their duty to accommodate persons with disabilities; either in the context of employing individuals or providing services.

Recently, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released its decision in J.F. v. Waterloo Catholic District School Board, 2017 HRTO 1121. In that decision, a pupil’s parent (“CF”) alleged that the School Board had failed in its duty to accommodate his autistic son when it refused him permission to attend class with his autism assistance guide dog (“guide dog”).

In September 2014, JF was enrolled in grade two and his father requested that he be allowed to be accompanied by his guide dog while at school. His father explained to the school that his child had been running away from the house and bolting during outings. According to the family’s research, the guide dog would assist in remedying JF’s bolting behaviour, help him regulate his mood, calm him, and help him sit still. The Board considered the request, but ultimately denied it, finding that it had suitable accommodations in place for JF. In short, the guide dog was not necessary for his success at school. The father filed a human rights application on behalf of JF.

Firstly, the parent asserted that by virtue of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the school was a public place and as such, JF was allowed to attend it with his guide dog. The Tribunal rejected this assertion in finding that the school was not open to the public. Secondly, his father claimed that the Board had violated the Ontario Human Rights Code because JF had a disability, the dog had been recommended as an accommodation measure, and the dog was a qualified service animal.

The Tribunal dismissed JF’s application in finding that although it had denied JF the right to bring his guide dog to class, it had met its obligations to accommodate him. Cognizant of JF’s learning needs, the Board had already implemented supports and strategies to accommodate his disability related needs. The Tribunal also found that these measures were inclusive and dignified insofar as his classmates also used the learning tools. This way, JF would not be singled out because of his disability. In short, the Board did not violate the Human Rights Code.

Respondents, be they employers or service providers, need not take accommodation requests at face value. This case underscores the fact that accommodation is not a matter of providing a specific type of accommodation requested. In order to meet their duty to accommodate, respondents must undertake inquiries and assess the appropriate form of accommodation (commonly known as the procedural component). Thereafter, suitable measures must be implemented (substantive component). If a respondent has satisfied both components, a violation of the Code will not be found.