Kitchener-Waterloo

Fight 'far from over:' father of autistic boy who lost service dog fight

Even though Craig Fee and his family lost their human rights challenge against the Waterloo District Catholic School Board, he says the fight is "far from over" and he hopes to put pressure on the provincial government to change the law.
Kenner Fee is seen here with his autism service dog, Ivy. Fee's father, Craig Fee, said he will continue to fight for all people who need service dogs to be able to have them in the classroom, but will focus on getting the law changed rather than stage a legal battle. (provided photo)

Even though Craig Fee and his family lost their human rights challenge with the Waterloo District Catholic School Board, he says the fight is "far from over."

"This is something I am not letting go of. This is far from over," said Fee in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo on Wednesday.

The Fees have been fighting for the past three years with the board to allow Kenner Fee, now in Grade 4, to bring his service dog Ivy to class.

Last week, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal sided with the school board, ruling it had done everything required to evaluate if the dog is needed by Keener in class. 

The problem, said his father, is the people making those decisions didn't have the experience necessary to make an informed assessment. 

"The tribunal overruled the Lion's Foundation, Dog Guides of Canada — which is an internationally recognized guide dog program — they overrulled doctors, they overruled therapists, psychologists who had actually worked with Kenner for 20-plus hours a week, in favour of a decision made by a group of people who had observed Kenner for 90 minutes, and had admitted to us, in a meeting, that they had never seen a working service dog of any variety," he said.

Adding insult to injury, Fee said, is the fact that a special education resource teacher at his son's school testified at the tribunal that he would now be open to allowing the service dog to go to class with Kenner. 
Fee received his service animal with the support of The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. The animal had been with him everywhere except for the classroom. (www.facebook.com/VoteAmyFee/)

Focus on changing law

The WDCSB has said it will not comment specifically about this case but said in a statement to the CBC on Aug. 31 that "student success is of paramount importance to us and we strive to bring each one to their fullest potential."

Fee said he's exhausted his finances taking the case before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and doesn't plan to appeal the decision.

Changing the legislation, that's what has to be done.- Craig Fee, father of son with autism who has been told he cannot bring his service dog into the classroom

"There comes a point where I have to start looking at what's the financially-responsible thing for me to do for my family," and estimates appealing the case would cost over $100,000. "Legal costs are so far beyond my means, I can't even entertain the idea."

Instead, the Fees are turning their focus to changing the legislation.

"Changing the legislation, that's what has to be done. Our local MPP Michael Harris has the Ontario Service Dog Act that he has been trying for years to get our provincial government to back and support," Fee said.

In a statement last week, Harris said he was disappointed to hear the decision not to allow Fee's son to have his service dog in school.

"It is frustrating that those requiring service dogs are continuing to face further hurdles to be allowed the public accommodations they deserve," Harris said.

He said when he reached out to Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter for help, he received a "form letter" response. Premier Kathleen Wynne did not respond to him at all.​

Fee said Harris's party, the Progressive Conservatives, as well as the NDP have told him they're on board with the bill.

"They realize that this is what school boards are going to continue to do across the province until they're stopped," he said.


More stories from CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the story used the incorrect acronym for the school board. It has been corrected to read "WDCSB."
    Sep 07, 2017 8:42 PM ET

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now