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FORSETH – Mental health minister is wrong about the role of support dogs

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy in the Legislature

THE GOVERNMENT OF British Columbia has stated it is committed to accessibility legislation that meets the unique needs of British Columbians and will also seek to learn from the experiences of provinces that have legislation in place already.

I for one, however, do not believe that new legislation, when enacted, will meet the needs of one segment of our province’s citizens. This despite the apparent goal(s) of B.C. Premier John Horgan who said:

… our government is putting British Columbians first. We are focused on creating opportunities for people now, while also meeting the challenges of tomorrow.

Accessibility for all British Columbians, including persons with disabilities, means full and equal participation in our communities, with the physical, information, attitudinal and systemic barriers removed so people can participate in day-to-day activities, or take part in opportunities that are available to all citizens.

Accessibility legislation will help build an inclusive British Columbia that cares for and protects all British Columbians for generations to come.

Your feedback and input into the Framework for Accessibility Legislation will help our government develop laws, standards and policies, which will support people with disabilities to be truly included in the life of their communities …

Sadly, however, it appears the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, when it comes to the premier, his ministers and their ministries.

On Aug. 9, I contacted the Hon. Judy Darcy (Minister of Mental Health and Addictions) with concerns surrounding assistance dogs. Now for clarity, emotional and support dogs ARE NOT the same as a service dog. These animals have specifics needs — they are trained for assisting those with blindness, hearing loss, etc.

My email, to her, indicated that … we need to have a change to recognize the importance of Support Dogs, for those impacted by, and diagnosed with, depression, anxiety, and stress.

It also asked that she … consider what you might be able to do to assist in changes being made to the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act [SBC 2015] CHAPTER 17.

Continuing my email I went on to say:

I, like many others, have a dog that is used for support against re-occurring problems around depression, anxiety, and stress.

Because he has not been officially trained at an authorized center (cost $15 to $20+ thousand dollars) he doesn’t qualify.  However, it should be noted that dogs costing $15 to $20+ thousand are used for different purposes, and therefore do indeed cost large amounts of money for their training.

A dog like Finnegan (a four-pound purebred MiKi) on the other hand is for emotional support — and brings a calming influence to me, and thousands of others, when depression, anxiety, and stress may strike.

While there is a document that can be filled out by a doctor or medical nurse practitioner (for those dogs without the 15 to 20 thousand dollar cost (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/human-rights/guide-animals/spd0803-medical-form.pdf) it FAILS to recognize the needs of those suffering from depression, anxiety and stress — an obvious human rights violation.

There is a need for me (and heaven knows how many others) to have a dog for support — it has been recognized and recommended by a qualified government recognized medical practitioner, and yet this need is not being filled through government licensing.

Hopefully, you will be able to see the importance and need of this to change, and perhaps you can lead the charge?

Two days ago, I received a response from the Minister, in which she stated to me:

“I appreciate you reaching out and sharing with me your concerns regarding changes to the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act (the Act) and impact that the Act has had on you personally …

Specific to your concerns, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act certification does not apply to emotional support or therapy dogs as they do not necessarily perform specific tasks to assist with daily living.”

She they went on to say that, “… emotional support animals are not covered under the Act. However, that does not detract from the positive impact he has on your life, and I hope he continues to bring you comfort in times of need.”

Then she went on to say, “The Guide Dog and Service Dog Act is intended to complement the B.C. Human Rights Code, it does not affect rights which exist under the Code” … and then concluded with these words:

I hope you and Finnegan are able to find a solution that works to meet your needs.”

I want to be clear that she is wrong … and wrong for a number of reasons, and if those reasons are not recognized, then their efforts to create a Framework for Accessibility Legislation will FAIL DISMALLY!

I say this not only because Emotional Support dogs do unquestionably perform specific tasks to assist with daily living … but also because of the Accessible Canada Act.

Page 17 of the ‘Framework’ document states:

… a disability is defined as any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment — or a functional limitation — whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.

It also quotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … disability is described as an evolving concept which results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Then, page 20 of the BC government’s ‘Framework’ document says the principles that guide the development and implementation of accessibility legislation could include … all British Columbians, including persons with disabilities, being able to participate fully and equally in their communities.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy basically indicated to me that issues I was having regarding an Emotion Support dog, rather than a Service Dog, did not contravene the Human Rights Code.

AGAIN, SHE IS WRONG.

Under the section 3, “Purposes”, the BC Human Rights Code (current as of Sept. 25, 2019) states it is to:

(a) to foster a society in British Columbia in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of British Columbia;

Under section 8, ‘Discrimination in accommodation, service and facility,” it states that a person must not, without a bona fide and reasonable justification,

(a) deny to a person or class of persons any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public, or

(b) discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public

FURTHERMORE, several areas of Canada’s Bill C-81 would disagree with her assessment given the following information from the bill itself:

(the act is to) enhance the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons with disabilities, in society. This is to be achieved through the realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers, particularly by the identification, removal and prevention of barriers

… the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, discrimination on the basis of disability

… the Canadian Human Rights Act recognizes that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated without discrimination and, in particular, discrimination on the basis of disability

… barrier means anything — including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice — that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation. (obstacle)

This Act is to be carried out in recognition of, and in accordance with, the following principles (under section 6):

(a) all persons must be treated with dignity regardless of their disabilities;

(c) all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of their disabilities;

(e) laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account the disabilities of persons, the different ways that persons interact with their environments and the multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination faced by persons;

AND SHE IS STILL WRONG, given equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be treated with the same respect, dignity and consideration. This means that governments must not discriminate on any of these grounds in its laws or programs.

It is clear (based on the B.C. Human Rights Code, Canada’s Bill C-81, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), that individuals with any combination of medically recognized depression, stress, and anxiety cannot, and should not, be discriminated against by anyone – including through policies and legislation of the government.

Having a ‘registered service dog’ should NOT be a requirement for, as the B.C. government itself has stated, being able to participate fully and equally in their communities.

The B.C. government must ensure there is respect for the rights of all individuals, something not currently being done under the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

With that in mind, it is time to begin a process to put policies in place — which will  recognize ‘emotional support dogs’ — for those of us with ‘hidden’ disabilities such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Respect for human dignity requires nothing less.

Alan Forseth is a Kamloops resident and former member of the Reform Party of Canada and the B.C. Reform Party, and a past and current member of the BC Conservative Party. His blog is My Thoughts on Politics and More.

About Mel Rothenburger (7572 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on FORSETH – Mental health minister is wrong about the role of support dogs

  1. Although I am 100% in agreement with your position, and commend you for having the courage to freely admit your mental and emotional circumstances and needs in a society that still ( despite some attitudinal awakening) stigmatizes those with mental or emotional conditions, I believe you are simply expecting too much humanism from the Corporation we call our government.

    As a former lawyer, and sometimes advocate for those with different abilities, I realize that your objective, while laudable, clashes with the “status quo” and the interests of the “entitled” class of society to such an extent that you face a steep uphill battle, even with a left leaning government in power.

    If government was to accept your position, it would mean that almost any tenant, with a supportive doctor, could demonstrate the legal need, and right, to bring a dog into rental premises. Those of the “entitled “ class, who own rental property, object to the recognition of this right, as they perceive it ( perhaps accurately) to impose an additional strain on the “wear and tear” of their rental property. It is also a right that has been, and will be, abused by those who don’t typically demonstrate the responsibility or care, when the rental property they occupy is not their own.

    Keep up the fight. It is only when the voices for change are so loud, and so persistent, that they are difficult for governments to ignore that we stand some chance of moving forward toward a more human and compassionate society.

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