My dad let me know about a story I missed last week, about a Toronto couple being turned away from a bed and breakfast in Prince Edward County, Ontario because of the service dog traveling with them. The owners of the Sunrise B&B in Bloomfield, Ontario are, according to CBC.ca, “upset about what happened,” but stand by their decision to insist that Jill Greenwood, her husband David (who is visually impaired), and his guide dog Romy, find alternate accommodation.
I have thoughts.
Content Note: Ableism, human rights violation, expectation of accommodation
Image Description: Golden labrador guide dog lies on the grass, alert with head up. Dog’s black harness is visible. Just off to the side, we see the ower’s legs in blue jeans, and their white cane.
John and Joan Stenning, the proprietors of the Sunrise B&B, say that the Greenwoods didn’t tell them them that they’d be coming with a service dog. They say that had they been told, they would have informed the Greenwoods that their “no pets” policy includes service animals.
That set off alarm bells in my head (as I’m sure it does for many readers) because most businesses know better than to try and bar a service animal. However, in Ontario, a number of factors have collided to make the bed and breakfast industry a strange little pocket of the hospitality industry where lawyers can apparently argue that the Stennings didn’t break the law by denying service on the basis of a service animal:
- The Stennings apparently feel quite strongly that they don’t want the pet allergens that come with service dogs in the house, as they are difficult to remove with general cleaning methods and might make guests with allergies and other breathing difficulties uncomfortable. The Stennings’ lawyer argues that the couple lives in their home, even if they’re renting rooms, so it’s a private space with “limited accommodation for the public”, and they’re not required to provide accommodation to people with service animals if they don’t want to.
- The AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) guidelines around accommodating people with service animals only apply to businesses with one or more employees. The Stennings are apparently are not considered employees, and there doesn’t appear to be confirmation of whether they have any employees.
- Ontario’s specific legislation around businesses and service dogs (beyond the AODA’s service animal legislation) is not yet law.
- Although Doug Frost of the Ontario Bed &Breakfast Association suggests that bed and breakfast establishments be prepared to handle service dogs, that’s just a recommendation, and not based on legal advice.
However, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario did confirm that denying service to some because of their service animal violates the Ontario Bill of Rights, so I can’t see how how the Stennings or their lawyer can argue that they’re in the right.
Let’s unpack this a little more.
Public vs Private Space
I don’t know what the law has to say the status of your house as private space once you decide to rent rooms in it. But it seems to me that once you decide to open a business that lets the public into your life like that, you give up some of the right that you have to pull the “private space” card. I presume that no one held the Stennings at gunpoint and demanded that they open a B&B. Anyone going into that business has to know that while they definitely have the right to set boundaries (within reason) about what guests can do, they also can no longer do exactly as they want in their home, all the time.
They may have to change behaviour to reflect that other people are in the house (keeping music and TV volume low, shorter showers, ensuring public gathering areas are always tidy.)
They may have to meet safety standards that they didn’t before.
Human rights standards need to be met. The Greenwoods aren’t interested in taking this to court, but maybe the next people with service dogs will be. The Stennings were just a step from violating the law under the AODA, and, if I understand the pending legislation correctly, would be in the wrong were it currently law:
(2) No person, directly or indirectly, alone or with another, by himself, herself or itself or by the interposition of another, shall,
(a) deny to any person occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit; or
(b) discriminate against any person with respect to any term or condition of occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit,
for the reason that he or she is a person with a disability who is keeping or is customarily accompanied by a service dog, or who requires the accompaniment of a support person or the use of an assistive device to assist them with their service dog.
(Lawyers can feel free to tell me how I’m wrong, because the Stennings’ lawyer thinks I am…and Lord knows I’m no lawyer…)
And let’s not forget, they apparently violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If you don’t want to keep your home space private and not have business law affect it, don’t choose to run a business in your home.
And even if they weren’t in the wrong, or their behaviour had little chance in the near future of putting them in the wrong if repeated…what has refusing the Greenwoods service at the SunRise B&B got them? A bunch of negative publicity all over the internet – at least four different news articles, not including my blog post, plus the bad reviews on Facebook and the B&B listing sites.
I wonder if it was worth it.
Best for the Stennings and all other B&B owners who’d prefer to discriminate against those that use service animals to start thinking about how they’re going to deal with this issue, because mark my words…it won’t quietly go away.
Business Needs to be Business at the SunRise B&B
And if the Stennings and other B&B proprietors don’t like that idea…well, it’s really too bad.
People who rely on service animals aren’t doing so to be difficult. They have the animals because they’re disabled and the service animal helps them to function in society. Guide dogs in particular (like Romy) are expensive, highly trained, and they have papers to show they’ve been trained.
Denying someone service because of their guide dog is as bad as denying service (in an accessible building) to someone who uses a wheelchair, over concerns about the dirt that the chair will track in or that other guests will be disturbed by the sound of the elevator or find the electronic doors to be too slow to open and close, etc.
I admit that I don’t know what it takes to clean up a B&B thoroughly after a service animal has stayed there for a night or two. But obviously other B&Bs manage it , because there are plenty of them in the US, and its Americans with Disabilities Act *does* require many B&Bs (there are exceptions, based on number of rooms to rent and whether the proprietor lives on premises) to accommodate people with service animals. If a proprietor can’t manage whatever cleaning needs to be done, or can’t afford to hire help or someone to do it for them, then instead of painting disabled people and their service animals as a burden they shouldn’t be expected to shoulder, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the B&B business.
No other business owners in Ontario gets to pick and choose which pieces of accessibility legislation they feel like following – they have to accommodate disabled people. If added cost is involved, it’s a cost of doing business in Ontario.
Expectation of Accommodation
David Greenwood says he can’t remember whether he told the Stennings that he’d be traveling with Romy. Over and over again in the comments sections on media accounts of this story, I saw people saying that he should have made sure the the Stennings knew, in part because the “No Pet” policy for the SunRise B&B was posted on their website. To them I say:
- The SunRise B&B doesn’t have a website that I can find. It has listings on several B&B directories, yes, and a listing on Trip Advisor (where you can see a review written by the Greenwoods), but no website. I could only find reference to a pet policy on their B&B Canada listing, and it isn’t clear – an icon of a dog has a small x in the right bottom corner, to indicate that the B&B doesn’t accept pets, yet another icon seems to indicate that the owners have pets in the house themselves. Depending on the site they visited, the Greenwoods may not have known the SunRise B&B’s policy.
- The SunRise B&B’s pet policy is irrelevant – legally, the owners have to accept service dogs (according to the Ontario Bill of Rights)
“It’s bad enough that systems aren’t in place to accommodate disabled people without advance warning (thus giving people an excuse to fall back on when a space isn’t accessible) but to suggest that we should have to announce our presence in situations we weren’t even expecting to require accommodations is absurd.”
Perhaps (and I realize I’m only speculating) that’s why David Greenwood can’t remember whether he mentioned he had a service animal when he made a reservation at the Sunrise B&B: it’s relatively difficult in 2017 to find a business that won’t accommodate a guide dog like Romy, that provides support because of a documented disability and has all the papers to prove it.
Perhaps he wasn’t thinking that much about it because he assumed that the Stennings, like most business owners in Ontario, know that you can’t deny service based on use of a service animal, and didn’t expect to have to identify himself in advance as disabled in order to receive accommodation. After all, it’s also just a bad business decision to get embroiled in this sort of thing. When business owners try to bar people on the basis of needing a service animal – surprise! – it often makes the news.
As blatant ableism sometimes does.
This was an unfortunate situation all around. Here are the takeaways as I see them:
- As David Greenwood said, the rules around B&B establishments and service dogs need to be clarified and B&B proprietors need to know them. I am confused myself, because right now there seem to be two laws in place regarding service animals that allow for different interpretations of whether the Stennings are in the wrong – the AODA law and the Ontario Bill of Rights – with a piece of third legislation in the works regarding service dogs specifically. People who need service animals and B&B proprietors need clear guidance on which piece of legislation applies and in what circumstances.
- As accessibility lawyer and AODA head David Lepofsky said, the Ontario needs to start cracking down on AODA offenders (for a variety of reasons – blog post for another day)
- All business owners need to realize that meeting accessibility standards is a cost of business that they’re increasingly not going to be able to avoid, especially as 2025 approaches. And if you’re a business owner in Ontario and you don’t know why the year 2025 is important…you’ve got a lot of work to do!