Victoria Nolan says she feels humiliated – and has been denied service several times despite what the law says
A Canadian Paralympic rower says her family was denied service at a Vancouver Island hotel because of her guide dog.
Victoria Nolan hadn’t seen her family in months – she has been in Victoria training for the Tokyo Paralympic Games while her family stayed at home in Toronto, unable to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before flying to Tokyo, Nolan’s family plans to meet her and move to a hotel by the beach. Her husband, Eamon Nolan, tried to book a room for the couple, their daughter, and Nolan’s guide dog in Euclilet, BC.
Nolan says that her nine-year-old Black Lab, Alan, helps keep her safe and calm as she navigates the world without her sight.
Nolan said, “He really calms me down when I’m in a stressful situation. He’s an excellent guide.”
But the hotel they tried to book denied the family the option of bringing the dog. He said the owner had severe allergies.
Once he realized his mistake, the hotel staff apologized and offered the family a room, but Nolan no longer wanted to live there.
By law, anyone with a guide dog must be allowed to visit any place anyone without a guide dog can be.
“The [hotel] Fully supports the right of specially trained dog guides with blind persons in all public accommodations,” the hotel owners said in a written statement to Granthshala News.
“Initially, due to a misunderstanding on the part of our new staff member, Mr. Nolan was given incorrect information.
“We are a small business that takes pride in going above and beyond for our guests and we will not intentionally refuse to offer accommodation to anyone.”
Nolan, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympics, says this is not the first time she has struggled for the right to have her guide dog with her. There have been times that he has lost track, she said.
“It’s restaurants, taxis, hotels, grocery stores, medical facilities — honestly, the list goes on and on,” she said.
She said she always tries to explain the law to employees, but it usually doesn’t work. Nolan has filed human rights complaints, complaints and police reports under the BC Guide and Service Dog Act.
“There are a lot of emotions when this happens,” she said.
“Desperate that in this day and age, people don’t know this law. It’s shocking to me. There’s a sense of humiliation, like being told you’re not welcome and excluded in any way being acceptable.
“I don’t know if I want to try to go places because I don’t want to feel like that all the time.”
Nolan said she plans to take legal action against the hotel.
BC’s Guidelines for Guide Dogs
A guide dog is defined as a dog trained to act as a guide for a visually impaired person, whereas a service dog is trained to help with specific tasks for any disabled person. . Both require authentication.
BC’s Guide Dog and Service Dog Act states that a guide dog, service dog or dog in training may have access to any public place, housing, building, or public transportation in the same manner as a person not using a guide or a service dog, provided that the dog is kept on a leash or harness and does not occupy a seat in a public vehicle or a place where food is served to the public.
In addition, no individual or business may charge for a dog.
Anyone who breaks those laws could face a fine of up to $3,000.
Lawyer Victoria Shroff said she is disappointed that some people are still not aware of the laws on guide dogs and service dogs, as the language surrounding the discrimination of people based on ability has been included in the Human Rights Code for decades.
“I’m really disappointed to hear that things like this are still happening in this day and age,” she said.
“It clearly sounds like something from the dark ages.”
Shroff, who has practiced animal law in B.C. for more than 20 years, said he apologizes while appreciating the hotel isn’t enough.
“A lot has happened besides just inconvenience,” she said.
“There can be a loss of respect. There can be a sense of shame, there can be all kinds of different feelings and there can be other ways that the person has to suffer that is not covered by an apology.”
She advises anyone who comes across such a situation to seek legal advice, either through a lawyer or a free legal clinic.