A late night stop for a coffee in Kamloops, B.C., last month quickly got out of hand when a gas station attendant refused service to a blind man because he had his guide dog in the store.
Ben Fulton, a law student from Ontario, was arrested on June 16 for causing mischief after getting into an argument with a gas station employee over his guide dog, which the employee said was not allowed in the store.
“I explained to the clerk that it was a guide dog and by law we were allowed to be in the store,” Fulton told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce. “He insisted that his manager had given him very strict instructions that no dogs at all were allowed.”
Fulton said the conversation escalated, when the attendant asked if he should call the police.
Cpl. Jodi Shelkie with the Kamloops RCMP said the attendant told police that when he asked Fulton, his travelling companion and the dog to leave the store, that they became “very verbal and made physical gestures,” which the attendant interpreted as threatening.
Fulton called the RCMP’s comments a “gross misstatement of the fact.”
“I was telling the clerk that the dog was a guide dog, so I was being verbal in that I was explaining the situation,” he said. “I held my card out so the clerk could see the card. That’s the only gesture that I can imagine he’s talking about.”
When officers arrived at the gas station, Fulton expected they would tell the gas station employee that the law does allow guide dogs in public places.
Instead, RCMP handcuffed him, put him in the back of a police car and arrested him for causing mischief.
“The male was unco-operative and began yelling at the officers and, at this time, the man was arrested to prevent continuation of the offence,” Shelkie said.
After 20 minutes of speaking with Fulton and his travelling companion, RCMP released Fulton with no charges.
B.C.’s Guide Dog Service Act says a guide dog team (the dog and the individual that needs its assistance) can access public spaces just like a person without a guide dog might, providing that the dog does not take up a seat meant for public use and that dog must be on a leash or harness.
The Human Rights Code in B.C., says a person cannot be denied access to a service on the basis of a number of things, including physical disability. Fulton, being a law student, was aware of this and plans to file a complaint with B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal.
“I will be pursuing whatever measures are necessary to make sure that these rights are being enforced and upheld in the province and indeed the country.”
In addition, Fulton wants the gas station employee and the RCMP officers involved to do some sensitivity training.
“I think it might behoove them to do a little work in the community with disabled people,” he said.