British Columbia

Paralympic rower denied hotel reservation because of guide dog

By law, anyone with a guide dog must be allowed in any place anyone else would be allowed into, but some businesses and individuals seem unaware of that.

Victoria Nolan says she felt humiliated — and that she's been denied service many times, despite what law says

Victoria Nolan requires her guide dog Alan to keep her safe. Nolan said he has pulled her out of the way of quiet cars, quite literally saving her life. (Submitted by Eamonn Nolan)

A Canadian Paralympic rower says her family was refused service at a Vancouver Island hotel because of her guide dog.

Victoria Nolan hadn't seen her family in months — she's been in Victoria training for the Tokyo Paralympic Games while her family stayed home in Toronto, unable to travel for a visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Before she took off for Tokyo, Nolan's family planned to visit her and take a short getaway to a beachside hotel. Her husband, Eamonn Nolan, tried booking a room in Ucluelet, B.C., for the couple, his daughter and Nolan's guide dog. 

Nolan says her nine-year-old black lab, Alan, helps keep her safe and calm as she navigates the world without her vision.

"He really calms me down when I'm in a stressful situation. He's an excellent guide," Nolan said.

Victoria Nolan, left, with her daughter and guide dog Alan. (Submitted by Eamonn Nolan)

But the hotel they tried to book with denied the family the option to bring the dog. They said the owner had severe allergies. 

Once they realized their mistake, hotel staff apologized and offered the family a room, but the Nolans no longer wanted to stay there. 

By law, anyone with a guide dog must be allowed in any place anyone without a guide dog would be.

"The [hotel] is fully supportive of the right for blind persons to be accompanied by a specially trained dog guide in all public accommodations," the hotel owners said in a written statement to CBC News. 

"Initially, due to a misunderstanding on the part of our new staff member, incorrect information was given to Mr. Nolan.

"We are a small business that prides itself in going above and beyond for our guests and we would never intentionally refuse accommodation to anyone."

Nolan, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympics, says it's far from the first time she has had to fight for her right to have her guide dog by her side. It has happened so many times she has lost track, she said.

"It's been restaurants, taxis, hotels, grocery stores, medical facilities — honestly, the list goes on and on," she said. 

She said she always tries to explain the laws to staff, but it usually doesn't work. Nolan has filed human rights complaints, complaints under the B.C. Guide and Service Dog Act, and police reports. 

"There are so many feelings when that happens," she said. 

"Frustration that in this day and age, people don't know this law. It's shocking to me. There's a feeling of … humiliation, like you're being told you're not welcome and you're being singled out as somehow not acceptable.

"I don't know if I want to bother trying to go places because I don't want to feel like this all the time."

Nolan said she plans to take legal action against the hotel.

B.C.'s guidelines for guide dogs

A guide dog is defined as a dog trained to act as a guide for a visually impaired person, while a service dog is trained to help with specific tasks for a person with any disability. Both require certification, according to B.C.'s Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

The act states that a person with a guide dog, service dog or dog in training may have access to any public place, accommodation, building or public transportation in the same way as a person who doesn't use a guide or service dog, provided that the dog is held on a leash or harness and doesn't occupy a seat in a public conveyance or a place where food is served to the public.

Victoria Nolan's guide dog, Alan, a nine-year-old black lab. (CBC News)

Furthermore, a person or business can't charge a fee for the dog.

Anyone who breaks those laws could face a fine of up to $3,000. 

Lawyer Victoria Shroff said she is disappointed some people still aren't aware of the laws around guide dogs and service dogs, because language around the discrimination of people based on ability has been included in the Human Rights Code for decades. 

"I'm really disappointed to hear things like this are still happening in this day and age," she said. 

"It sounds like something from the dark ages, frankly."

Shroff, who has practised animal law in B.C. for more than 20 years, said while she appreciates the hotel apologized, it's not enough. 

"There's been a lot more than just mere inconvenience that's happened," she said. 

"There can be a loss of dignity. There can be a feeling of shame, there can be all kinds of different emotions and other ways that the person has suffered that is not covered by an apology."

She advises anyone who runs into such a situation to obtain legal counsel, either through a lawyer or a free legal clinic. 

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