Kitchener MPP's service dog bill unlikely to pass this session

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris says his private member's bill to allow service dogs in all public places likely won't pass until after Queen's Park adjourns for the summer break.

Bill would extend the same accommodation currently given to blind people to anyone with a service dog

A private member's bill from Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris would extend the same rights currently given to blind people to other people with disabilities who depend on service dogs, such as people with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

A Kitchener MPP says his private member's bill to allow service dogs in all public places likely won't pass until the fall. 

Lawmakers at Queen's Park adjourn for the summer break at the end of the day Thursday and Progressive Conservative Michael Harris said it doesn't give his bill enough time to become law. 

Harris' proposal seeks to extend the same accommodation given to blind people to people with other disabilities, such as autism or post traumatic stress. 

"We shouldn't have to have legislation like this," Harris said. "It should be customary that people recognize the important value that service dogs bring to people with disabilities and we shouldn't be preventing access to our schools."

Bill would crack down on fake service dogs

The bill would also crack down on people who attempt to pass off a pet as a service dog, which Harris said is becoming increasingly common in the province. 

Under the proposed legislation, people found guilty of pretending they need their animals for medical reasons would get a $500 fine.

Harris said his bill would also give legitimate owners of registered service dogs provincially issued identification, similar to a driver's license, so that the dog could not be turned away in any circumstance. 

Harris said with the summer break looming, the bill will remain on the order paper until Queen's Park resumes sitting on Sept. 12 and will likely be dealt with by politicians sometime in the fall. 

Local mother anxious see bill become law

Harris, the MPP for the riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, said he decided to introduce the legislation after receiving a number of complaints from Waterloo region parents who said the Waterloo District Catholic School Board would not allow their service dogs in the classroom. 

Donna Baldwin's nine-year-old son Jack has autism and he depends on a registered service dog named Jensen to calm his anxiety in upsetting situations. 

"Jensen helps Jack stay in check, come back to focus, come back to a reasonable state," she said, noting Jack is very upset by the school board's decision not to allow his service dog on the grounds of St. Theresa Catholic Elementary School.

"He doesn't understand why," she said. "He can go everywhere else. He just can't have Jensen on school property and he does not understand that." 

Baldwin said she has met with board officials on numerous occasions and that they've told her that there are a number of children who have "phobias" of dogs and would feel uncomfortable with Jensen at school. 

John Schewchuk, the chief managing officer at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board wrote in an email to CBC News that he could not discuss the specifics of this case due to privacy concerns, but the board's policy "very clearly does allow service dogs in schools," but it is decided on a case-by-case basis. 

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