Blind woman files complaint after she says cab drivers reject her and guide dog

A woman who only has about five per cent vision has filed a complaint with a Toronto taxi company and the city after she alleges she was rejected by a cab driver.

City bylaw says taxis must accept guide dogs and other service animals unless driver has allergy

Renee Savoie says she has filed a complaint with Co-op and the city after she says a driver refused her and her guide dog. (CBC News)

A woman who only has about five per cent vision has filed a complaint with a Toronto taxi company and the city after she alleges she was rejected by a cab driver.

A few weeks ago, Renee Savoie was in a hurry to get somewhere so she asked a passerby for help flagging a taxi for her and her guide dog, Freedom.

"I approached the taxi and reached for the door and at the same time he decided to spin off," Savoie said.

"He just figured I wouldn't see the car."

She could make out that it was a Co-op taxi, and asked a bystander to mark the plate.

Debbie Gillespie says she long ago stopped hailing taxis, but that in 2016 "we shouldn't have this issue anymore." (CBC News)
Savoie said similar things have happened to her before, despite a city bylaw that requires taxi drivers to accept a customer who has a guide dog or other service animal.

Drivers can be fined $500 for refusing a fare and can also have their licence revoked.

"I've had it happen to me at Billy Bishop (Airport) returning from a trip, and an entire taxi stand were standing there not wanting to take me," she said.

Co-op sent a note of apology to Savoie, but added the company has proof that the cab in question was actually on a call at the time of the incident but only appeared to stop for her because it was at a red light.

The company also said that while it's against policy, it has had previous situations with drivers who refuse dogs for cultural or religious reasons.

City still investigating complaint

Some cab drivers dispute Savoie's story.

"This is a public taxi," one driver told CBC News. "There is no religion, only persons and money."

Another driver noted that "it's compulsory" for them to accept service dogs.

The current bylaw does allow one exception: if the driver has an allergy, and in that case he or she must have a medical note explaining that they cannot have a dog in their car.

The city is still investigating Savoie's complaint.

'In 2016, we shouldn't have this issue'

Debbie Gillespie, who also gets around with the help of a service dog, said she stopped hailing cabs ages ago.

But when she is in a cab, drivers sometimes ask if she can keep her dog off the seat and she complies.

Typically, once she's in the cab, the driver gets more comfortable with the animal, Gillespie said.

"A lot of it is education on everyone's part," Gillespie told CBC. "But honestly in 2016, we shouldn't have this issue anymore."


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