British Columbia

Cabbie lied about why he refused blind man's ride, admits 'I don't like dogs' to tribunal

A taxi driver in Victoria has admitted he lied about family obligations to avoid picking up a blind man with a guide dog, a decision that will cost his employer more than $8,500.

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal orders Yellow Cab of Victoria to pay $8,500 in damages

Oriano Belusic's guide dog is a yellow lab named Birch, similar to the pooch shown here. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A taxi driver in Victoria has admitted he lied about family obligations to avoid picking up a blind man with a guide dog, a decision that will cost his employer more than $8,500.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ordered Yellow Cab of Victoria to pay damages to Oriano Belusic after the lie was revealed, and said the taxi company will have to post notices on all its vehicles making it clear that guide dogs are welcome.

Belusic believes it was only through luck that he was able to prove the lie and win his case.

"It's a step in the right direction, but the problem is still very, very pervasive in B.C. and probably all over North America," he told CBC News.

Yellow Cab of Victoria will have to pay Belusic $8,500 in damages, plus interest. (CBC)

Belusic and his wife were wrapping up a visit at a friend's house on Dec. 29, 2016 when they called Yellow Cab, according to the decision.

They say they were waiting outside with Belusic's guide dog, a yellow lab named Birch, when they got an automated phone call to say their taxi had arrived.

Belusic testified that he heard a car pull up, then drive away.

In his defence, driver Gurdeep Dhesi maintained that he cancelled the ride because his son had called and needed to be picked up.

That story was enough to convince the ministry of public safety, which dismissed a separate complaint from Belusic, about the incident.

Lie revealed

In the beginning, Yellow Cab was using the same excuse in its defence against Belusic's human rights complaint.

But just one day before the scheduled tribunal hearing, Yellow Cab's lawyer revealed he'd discovered Dhesi's story was a lie.

Dhesi had claimed his son contacted him by cellphone, but when he was ordered to produce call records to prove that, it turned out his son didn't even own a cellphone.

In a letter to the tribunal earlier this year, Dhesi admitted, "I chose not to pick up Mr. Belusic in the afternoon of December 29, 2016 because I don't like dogs."

He acknowledged he had discriminated against Belusic, and defied company policy on picking up passengers with guide dogs.

"I apologize to Mr. Belusic for cancelling his trip. I was selfish and wrong to do that," Dhesi wrote.

Call for more enforcement

Belusic believes this case should serve as a wake-up call for those tasked with protecting the rights of blind people and enforcing B.C.'s Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

"The enforcement is extremely lackadaisical, or almost non-existent, from the government and other authorities that should be making sure that guide dog access rights are respected," he said.

A spokesperson for the public safety ministry told CBC News that in light of the new evidence, staff will reach out to Belusic to see if he wants to reopen his complaint there.

The tribunal decision grants Belusic $7,500 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, $1,000 in compensation for expenses, and post-judgment interest. Belusic had asked for the money to be directed to a charity of his choice, but that request was denied.

One of Belusic's friends has been less successful in proving discrimination in a similar case.

Fellow guide dog owner Graeme McCreath pursued a complaint against Victoria Taxi all the way to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but the justices there unanimously upheld decisions from the human rights tribunal and a B.C. Supreme Court judge to dismiss the complaint.

In that case, the taxi driver had a medical certificate proving he has an allergy and is exempted from accepting rides from passengers with guide dogs — although the certificate presented to the tribunal was only filed after he refused McCreath's ride.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is an experienced B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.