Victory! National Standard for Service Dogs Has Been Withdrawn

On March 27th, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) quietly withdrew their plan to develop a national standard for service dogs. It was not until April 17th that the CGSB confirmed this action in an email to members of its technical committee on service dogs, saying:

“After careful consideration, CGSB has withdrawn its intent to produce a National Standard of Canada for Service Dogs and as a result, ongoing technical committee work is not anticipated at this time.”

With that, the massive lobbying effort against these standards reaches a subdued but satisfying point of success.

There have been so many people involved in lobbying against these ill-conceived standards. We at Canadian Guide Dog wish to offer our sincere thanks to guide dog users from across the country, guide dog training schools from across North America, the accrediting bodies (International Guide Dog Federation, and Assistance Dogs International), the good folks over at Hands Off Our Harnesses who created and spearheaded the lobbying effort, and the many, many allies who worked on this in big ways and in small. Every voice had a positive impact.

We have been advised that CGSB is now under review by the Standards Council of Canada (the body that provides accreditation for CGSB to develop standards in Canada). We should not read anything into this review; it is normal for an accrediting body to conduct periodic reviews for organizations to maintain their accreditation.

While guide dog users may celebrate a success, it should be a muted celebration for three reasons.

First, these standards were originally started to help veterans who suffer from PTSD. The process was hijacked by a small group and veterans are the ones who will suffer further delays. We support veterans and the efforts of Veterans Affairs to ensure those who suffer from PTSD can access well-trained service dogs that meet their unique needs. As we have said throughout our lobbying effort, dogs trained by ADI-accredited schools are the best solution. Funders such as Veterans Affairs and the Royal Canadian Legion should keep this in mind and more effectively manage their charitable giving to help eliminate financial malfeasance from the industry.

Second, we must remain vigilant. This episode illustrates how fragile human rights can be. It is incumbent on all those who became involved in this lobbying effort to continue being watchful, as new efforts might emerge to undermine the rights of guide dog users in Canada.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, our work is not done. In Canada, guide dog access rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Some provinces have addressed this through specific legislation, while many others have not. Although some of the existing legislation could be improved, our biggest concern is for those provinces who have failed to legislate. Reliance on a code of human rights is inadequate, as the recent CGSB experience has shown. Had the CGSB standards been approved, those who live in provinces with specific legislation would have had some legal recourse. Those in other provinces would have been subsumed under the badly-flawed standards. It is up to guide dog users in each province to lobby their elected officials, raise awareness, and build support in their communities to enshrine appropriate access rights protection in specific provincial legislation. Although this must be a provincially-focussed effort, it would benefit from national visibility and reporting.

For now, however, we will file the massive stack of CGSB-related papers, notes, and news clippings into a drawer for safekeeping, and raise a glass of wine to all of you for your efforts and support. The next battle can wait a day or two…

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