Passenger 'humiliated' after guide dog barred from Edmonton airport restaurant

A Calgary man who is legally blind said he was “humiliated” after being told to leave a restaurant at Edmonton International Airport because he had his guide dog with him.

'It's a fundamental human rights issue,' says Phil Bobawsky

Finnegan, a guide dog, was at the centre of a dispute at an Edmonton airport restaurant Friday. (Twitter)

A Calgary man who is legally blind said he was "humiliated" after being told to leave a restaurant at Edmonton International Airport because he had his guide dog with him.

Phil Bobawsky was at the airport about 6 p.m. Friday.

He was flying back to Calgary with his guide dog, Finnegan, who wears a harness with a sign saying, "Guide dogs for the blind."

Bobawsky said he was early for his flight and decided to get something to eat at the Edmonton Eskimos Sports Bar.

"My dog took me to a spot that I usually sit in," he said.

That's when a server and someone Bobawsky said he assumed was in charge approached him.

"They told me I couldn't be served there because pets were not allowed in restaurants for Health Canada regulations," he said.

Staff at the Edmonton Eskimos Sports Bar ordered Phil Bobawsky, who is blind, and Finnegan his guide dog, to leave the restaurant. (Twitter)

Bobawsky explained the dog was not a pet but a service animal and that he was allowed access based on the Blind Persons' Rights Act in Alberta and the Service Dogs Act.

He said he was told he couldn't eat there.

"So I said, 'I suggest you get a manager or somebody who can make the proper decision that understands the rules,' " he said.

RCMP officer arrives

Bobawsky said about five minutes later a person came up to him without identifying himself and said he would have to leave.

Bobawsky later found out that person was an RCMP officer.

"I said, 'You realize this is a violation of human rights?' and he had no idea what I was talking about," Bobawsky said.

The officer asked to see Finnegan's certification papers but Bobawsky refused.

"At that point, they had already gone way over the top so I wasn't going to co-operate with them," he said. "I faced it too many times. If someone comes in with a wheelchair, do you ask them for proof they're disabled?"

Bobawsky left the restaurant to go to the gate to wait for his flight.

He said that while he was waiting, the RCMP officer, along with another officer, approached him and asked for his boarding pass and identification.

They again told him Health Canada regulations prevented him from being in the restaurant with Finnegan.

"I said, 'Can't you see that this is a certified service dog and that it's a guide dog and I'm blind?' and then the second officer said, 'Oh I didn't see that,' " Bobawsky said.

They returned his documentation and told him to have a nice day, he said.

The officers never asked Bobawsky to leave the restaurant, said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Laurel Scott.

"There are often contradictory versions of events," she said. "Our members are aware that a service dog or guide dog can be in the restaurant."

Previous problems at EIA

Bobawsky said this is not the first time he's had problems at Edmonton International Airport.

In the past year, he's been refused service three times at restaurants there, he said.

Bobawsky said he complained after an earlier incident and the general manager of the restaurants at the airport phoned him to apologize.

"He said all their employees are trained and this shouldn't have happened and sent me $30 in gift vouchers," Bobawsky said.

Bobawsky said Friday's incident was the "tipping point" for him.

"When I'm humiliated and not spoken to respectfully, that put me over the edge," he said. "It's a fundamental human rights issue."

A spokesperson for the restaurants at the airport called the incident "a misunderstanding."

"There was a lot of confusion in the staff, what they should and shouldn't do," said Atousa Ghooreichi.

Ghooreichi said she called Bobawsky on Monday and apologized.

She said they are going to work with him on how to educate the airport community about the rights of people with service animals.

Bobawsky said although the words and intent are there, he's reserving judgment until he sees "tangible tactics and results."

About the Author

Nola Keeler

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.