A Trip To Leader Dogs for the Blind

In early 2018, Jean M traveled to Rochester Hills, Michigan to obtain a new guide dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind. At the time, she wrote a series of Facebook posts about her experiences, providing information for her friends and neighbours about what is involved in getting a guide dog. Her posts were popular around her community.

Unfortunately, that dog didn’t work out for Jean. The dog was returned to the school and is now happily and successfully working for someone else in a different community. In February 2019, she made another trip to Michigan to get a new dog.

Jean is now back home, going through the new-dog experience once more. Several people have expressed an interest in reading her 2018 posts again. Some new-comers to Jean’s community and some new readers of the Canadian Guide Dogs blog want to know more about the guide dog school experience, some of the issues related to having a guide dog, and what sighted people should expect when encountering a new user / guide dog team. So, in response to this popular demand, Canadian Guide Dog is proud to welcome Jean as a guest blogger, and we are re-posting her 2018 articles (edited for privacy and context).

Enjoy reading about her journey at the following link:

A Trip to Leader Dogs for the Blind

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 National Standard for Service Dogs Has Been Withdrawn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“After careful consideration, CGSB has withdrawn its intent to produce a National Standard of Canada for Service Dogs and as a result, ongoing technical committee work is not anticipated at this time.”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

What Have We Been Doing? An Activity Report

Because we have been silent on this blog for a couple of months, you might think things have been quiet at Canadian Guide Dog; but we have not been idle. Once our report, Canadian General Standards Board Service Dog Team Standard: A Failed Process, was complete, we shared the information with key decision-makers and influencers. For the record, here is a run-down of what we have been up to.

Government of Canada

We wrote letters to ministers within the Government of Canada to share A Failed Process, and to express our concerns with the CGSB process. Specifically, we wrote to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Public Service & Procurement (PS&P), Veterans’ Affairs (VAC), National Defence (DND), and Sport & Persons with Disabilities (S&PD). We wrote to the leaders of both opposition parties and the specific critics from both opposition parties for each of the affected ministries. We also wrote to staff within PS&P and CGSB.

We received responses from the Prime Minister and the Ministers of DND and VAC, as well as staff from PS&P.

Overall, the message we received is that our letters and our report, along with those of many others, are being considered in the preparation of the next draft of the service dog team standard, which will be released for public comment sometime in 2018. Not very earth-shattering messages to receive from our government! The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, Seamus O’Regan, seems to be the most responsive on the issue, and has encouraged continued engagement.

Of note, there was no response from Minister of PS&P, Carla Qualtrough, who is probably bogged down by the crisis with the Phoenix Pay System. Nor was there a response from the beleaguered Minister of S&PD, Kent Hehr, who is intent on either ignoring or actively snubbing all his stakeholders since being demoted to this portfolio.

Interestingly, we received no responses from any member of the opposition parties, despite sending letters and A Failed Process to ten of them.

In addition to correspondence, we had an interesting conference call with staff from the Office of Disability Issues within the Ministry of Employment and Social Development. They were polite and listened carefully to our concerns, promising to take them into account in any future interactions on the CGSB file, but we were disappointed by their strong defence of CGSB’s process, despite the evidence of process failure that was included in our report.

Provincial and Territorial Governments

We wrote letters to all premiers and related ministers within the ten provincial and three territorial governments to share A Failed Process, and to express our concerns with the CGSB process and how a national standard could impact the provinces and territories.

Setting aside the inevitable “auto responses” and polite acknowledgements, we have received responses from all provinces except Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, and we have not yet heard from the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

The provincial responses fall into two camps. Mostly, they indicate that existing provincial legislation will continue to prevail, and if they use the CGSB work, it will only be as one piece of a broader consultative process. A couple of provincial responses indicate a lack of understanding of the issues – a willingness to adopt a national standard as a matter of course, simply because it is a national standard, and not recognizing that standards do not hold the force of law.

Other Correspondence

We also shared A Failed Process and had productive interactions with the International Guide Dog Federation. We believe they used the report in their subsequent participation on the CGSB committee.

During the preparation of A Failed Process, we made two “Access to Information” requests to the Government of Canada. We received a voluminous response from VAC (542 pages), and are beginning to work through it now. We still have no response from PS&P, which puts them in violation of the Access to Information Act – we will be following up shortly.

We also shared A Failed Process with Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California, since they had expressed an interest in the CGSB issue and were looking to make more information available to their Canadian graduates.

Where To From Here?

Although we have been quiet on the blog, we feel that progress has been made in raising awareness of our concerns and in preparing the ground for responding to the next draft of CGSB’s service dog team standard. We are not sure when that will happen; we will let people know as soon as we hear something.

For your reference, this is the link that Minister O’Regan gave us for when the next draft becomes available: Public Services & Procurement Canada – Draft Documents Available for Public Review .

The Fragility of Human Rights

In many parts of the world, especially for those who are impoverished or disenfranchised due to their ethnicity or other factors that make them “different” from the majority, basic human rights are only a dream. Just as frightening are those countries where a minority holds power and denies rights to those in the majority. Those of us who live in western democracies can be forgiven for thinking with self-satisfaction that our rights are secure and protected under law. Actually, most Canadians don’t think much about human rights on a day-to-day basis. However, even within our own country, human rights laws can be contentious, and those in positions of power can take advantage of others.

The important thing to understand is that, despite our rhetoric that human rights are fundamental, inalienable, and transcendent, they still boil down to the expression of a power relationship. Those who have power enshrine in law how those without power will be treated. Those who have power police themselves, and set up commissions or tribunals to adjudicate situations where self-policing breaks down. However, penalties for breaching Canadian human rights legislation are typically weak or non-existent. We rely very heavily on the honour system – we Canadians are a polite people, after all.

I am thinking about human rights today for two reasons.

The first reason relates to a news article. Earlier this week, a woman in Regina who uses a guide dog was denied service at Chuck E. Cheese (you can read about it here). The restaurant chain has apologized and says that staff training will occur; however, such an apology does not take away the humiliation that she must have felt while her kids watched their mother arguing and ultimately being forced to leave. The lesson learned by her children is that some teenage kid has more power than their blind mom – reinforcing the diminished role that our society offers to those with disabilities. I can guarantee that the corporate apology was not given in front of her children with enough fanfare and ceremony to erase this lesson from their minds. A human rights complaint has been filed, and we will see what those in power (Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Commission) decide to do about those others in power (corporate executives at Chuck E. Cheese). Meanwhile, guide dog users keep trying to inform, educate, convince, and cajole people about the law, one bad encounter at a time. Sadly, this woman’s experience is all too common.

Those who require protection through human rights legislation must rely on those in power (our government) to enforce the laws, weak as they may be. But what happens when it is the government that is violating the rights of guide dog users? This brings me to the second reason for writing about human rights.

I have written extensively about the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and their ill-conceived efforts to create a service dog team standard. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has become involved with CGSB’s service dog team standard process. The CHRC says:

“The CHRC has concerns that the process the CGSB has undertaken has not sufficiently consulted, included, and considered the views of those persons with disabilities affected by the standard, and will not produce a standard that protects human rights. Further, we are concerned that the process so far, and the draft standard – especially if implemented widely – could create, rather than remove, barriers for persons with disabilities.”

The CHRC goes on to make eight recommendations to CGSB. I encourage you to read the full statement, which can be found at the “Hands Off Our Harnesses” blog (you can read it here).

Two examples; one where corporate Canada fails to properly prepare their staff to meet the public, and another where the Government of Canada fails to meet the test of its own Human Rights Commission. Without thought or consideration for vulnerable Canadians, those in power continue to violate human rights. It is tiring – indeed, exhausting – yet, we must stand on guard, oh Canada, and take every opportunity to highlight for Canadians how fragile our human rights remain in this country. And, how weak is our human rights legislation when the CHRC can make recommendations, yet CGSB continues to plow ahead with their process.

On the topic of “standing on guard”, because CGSB is continuing their process and plans to release another draft of their service dog team standard, all affected guide dog users, allies, and organizations must begin preparing to respond to draft two. In our next post, we will consider what questions might be important for you to ask yourself in preparing to comment on the pending second draft.

Until then, travel safely, and give your pooch a pet from me.

Thoughts About “Voluntary”

Voluntary: done, acting, or able to act, of one’s own free will; not constrained or compulsory; intentional. From the Latin, voluntas: will, free will, choice.

When someone says, “I volunteer in my community”, you might not know the specifics, but there are five concepts embedded in that simple statement. First, they are taking some form of action. Second, it is a positive thing they are doing. Third, they are acting of their own free will. Fourth, they will not be paid. Fifth, they are in control.

When someone says, “It will be voluntary for my community”, you might not know the specifics, but again, there are five concepts embedded in the statement. First, some form of action is happening to them. Second, it is not universally seen as a positive thing. Third, they only have two choices – either do the thing, or don’t – so they are not acting of their own free will. Fourth, there will be a cost. Fifth, they are not in control.

Volunteer and voluntary; two similar words with the same Latin derivation, but having very different meanings. One is universally positive, the other is often a trojan horse designed to be readily accepted while hiding ill intent or negative consequences.

The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is developing a service dog team standard that could become a National Standard of Canada. (Refer to our report entitled “A Failed Process” to learn more about the process that was followed up to September 2017). They have emphasized that the standard would be voluntary. In a recent conversation with officials from the Accessibility Secretariat (a unit within Employment and Social Development Canada), they emphasized that CGSB standards are voluntary. This has become the panacea with CGSB’s standard, but the word, “voluntary”, puts me on edge.

Let us suppose that the voluntary service dog team standard is implemented in the form that was published in the spring of 2017. Let’s follow a typical guide dog user over the course of a day.

Our hero, Ms. X, has a trip planned this weekend. We first learn that a restaurant in Ms. X’s home town has decided to adopt this national standard. On her way to the airport, she enters the restaurant and is turned away because she has no evidence that she and her guide dog comply with the National Standard of Canada. Then, on arriving at the airport, we see that the airline has decided to implement the voluntary standard. Ms. X and her guide dog are not allowed to board the flight because she has not allowed an assessor to enter her home, examine her financial records, and test her dog. She calls for a taxi to take her home, but the cab company has implemented the voluntary standard and each driver at the airport says, “no paperwork, no ride”.

Canadian guide dog users should not be comforted by the idea of a national standard being voluntary. As you can see, the voluntary standard might be voluntary for many, but it would certainly be mandatory for those who sit at the end of the power continuum. And if someone tries to tell guide dog users that the standard would be voluntary for them too, we need a clear and strong indication of what will be the penalty against those who refuse to honour each guide dog users’ choice, and what will be the training process for all police forces in Canada so we can call upon them to enforce our rights.

The CGSB service dog team standard is the result of a failed process. It is ill-conceived, ill-informed, and fraught with problems, not least of which is the claim that it will be voluntary. The standard must be stopped.

Canadian General Standards Board Service Dog Team Standard

A Failed Process – Executive Summary

Now that we have completed all six chapters of our report, “A Failed Process”, we are providing this executive summary for ease of reference. We understand that the CGSB and its Committee on Service Dogs is meeting this week to consider feedback that they have received. However, it is important for advocates to keep this issue in the public eye, keep in touch with your Member of Parliament, the Ministers responsible, and the Prime Minister’s office to ensure that this failed process is stopped.

Executive Summary

Key Topics:

  • Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB)
  • Service dogs, guide dogs
  • Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Assistance Dogs International (ADI)
  • International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF)

Issue:

CGSB was asked to develop a standard related to PTSD dogs; however, they expanded their scope to include all guide dogs and service dogs in Canada. They released a draft standard for public comment and there was a significant negative response. Advocates want the draft standard withdrawn and the standard development process stopped.

Background – Chronology of Events:

Starting in 2005, American service dog schools started placing dogs with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many found that their dogs not only mitigated physical disabilities, but were also helping them cope with PTSD.

Since that time, ADI, the global service dog accreditation organization, spearheaded efforts to develop standards and accreditation processes specifically for PTSD dogs. Once the standards are ratified by the ADI membership, any service dog organizations seeking accreditation for programs to place dogs with handlers who have military-related PTSD will have to meet these standards. This includes the eight ADI-accredited schools in Canada.

In Canada, beginning in 2013, VAC began responding to advocates regarding PTSD dogs for Canadian veterans. At the same time, a private sector organization asked CGSB to develop standards in this area.

In May 2014, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates was advised of CGSB’s intention to pursue a standard for PTSD dogs. By the Spring of 2015, after a series of meetings and consultations, CGSB and VAC had signed an agreement for CGSB to develop a National Standard of Canada for service dogs. It is not clear why VAC and CGSB chose to ignore the relevant developments in the United States.

In October 2015, CGSB held the first meeting of its newly-formed Committee on Service Dogs to develop the standard. During this first meeting, the scope of the project was changed from a focus on PTSD dogs to include all guide dogs and service dogs in Canada. No effort was made to retain the existing scope, nor was an effort made to advise additional stakeholders of the change, or to reconstitute the committee to reflect the new interests that had been incorporated.

From May to June 2017, CGSB’s Public Enquiry stage for the draft service dog team standard was opened. However, there was no broad public announcement, so those additional Canadians who had been incorporated into the scope remained largely unaware of the draft standard. It was only when two American guide dog schools alerted their Canadian graduates that alarms were raised.

To make matters worse, appeals needed to be made through the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Members of Parliament to force CGSB to make their documents and processes accessible to blind Canadians who were being impacted.

Concerns Expressed by Advocates:

CGSB and its Committee on Service Dogs started with a mandate to address issues related to PTSD dogs, but quickly changed the scope to incorporate all guide dogs and service dogs in Canada.

They ignored existing international accreditation and standard-setting bodies. On the PTSD front, they ignored significant developments and progress regarding PTSD dogs in the United States, resulting in PTSD dog standards in Canada being delayed years longer than they needed to be, more veterans suffering longer, and more unaccredited trainers victimizing veterans and funders.

CGSB and its Committee on Service Dogs did not merely intend to develop a voluntary standard, as they have stated to the public; they intended to develop public policy that would become mandatory. In this effort, CGSB failed to apply good public policy principles, failed to use good public policy processes, and did not develop any implementation plan.

CGSB and its committee ignored existing provincial laws and federal government initiatives; they strayed from statements made before a committee of Parliament, and ignored broad policy direction from the Prime Minister.

Their policy has been positioned in a way that would violate the human rights of vulnerable Canadians.

CGSB has no legal jurisdiction to make public policy related to human services, and they proceeded to develop the draft standard without the participation of those who hold responsibility – the provinces.

The process that CGSB and its committee followed lacked transparency and accountability, and the committee itself was constituted in a way that severely under-represents impacted people, and over-represents organizations and individuals who have conflicts of interest.

To make matters worse, each committee member and all participants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement that places the proceedings in a state of secrecy. Even now, advocates are reticent to meet with the committee because their subsequent advocacy efforts would be hampered by the secrecy oath they are required to sign.

Recommendations:

Stop the Current Process

Stakeholders have lost trust in both the process and the participants; no amount of fixing will win that trust back. So, the most effective first step to get back on the right track is for the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and the Minister of Veterans Affairs to withdraw the draft standard and abandon the current process.

Introduce Accountability and Acquire Policy Development Expertise

Stakeholders have lost faith in both the process and the participants; it is not possible for CGSB to continue to lead. It is also difficult to provide a recommendation to the Government of Canada when they do not have jurisdiction for this policy area. If policy work continues at the federal level, it must be led by the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities. Whatever processes unfold in the future at any level of government regarding guide dog and service dog issues, it is recommended that clear accountability for policy development and implementation be established at the beginning of the process and communicated publicly. Further, the policy development must be undertaken by those with appropriate expertise.

Introduce Transparency and Open Up the Process

Because of a lack of communication, many affected stakeholders are still unaware that this draft standard was developed and would have affected their lives. Again, it is difficult to provide a recommendation to the Government of Canada when they do not have jurisdiction for this policy area. Whatever processes unfold in the future at any level of government regarding guide dog and service dog issues, it is recommended that users are placed in a strong position to influence policy outcomes, those who might experience cross-impacts or unintended consequences are engaged, and existing accreditation organizations are represented (ADI, IGDF) so that existing accreditation and standards are used. Parties must ensure there is open communication to all those in the public that are interested at every step of the process.

Create a Three-Pronged approach to Reflect the Three Policy Problems

Recognizing there are three distinct policy problems at play, there will be different needs and different participants for developing a solution to the problems associated with 1) addressing the growing demand in the new field of PTSD dogs, 2) ensuring access rights are addressed, and 3) dealing with the variety of legal approaches across Canadian jurisdictions. It is recommended that no jurisdiction attempt to address all three issues together in one process.

In Addressing Growing Demand, Seek to Regulate Industry, Not Individuals

CGSB’s draft service dog team standard would have required assessments of every dog user in the country; this runs counter to the precepts of human rights. It is recommended that any regulatory approach focuses on regulating the dog training industry through existing, established accreditation bodies. For those who find that training their own dog is best for them, and thus there is no third-party accreditation to ensure quality, there needs to be an appropriate assessment that gives legitimacy for these dog / handler teams.

In Addressing Public Access Concerns, Build on Success

It is recommended that there be two areas of focus to enhance public access rights. First, all governments, dog users, trainers, schools, advocates, and allies have a shared responsibility within their own spheres of influence to educate the public. Second, there are jurisdictions in Canada that already have successful legislation, and policy developers must build on those approaches, rather than inventing new ones.

In Addressing Differences Across the Country, Strong Advocacy Will Win the Day

It is recommended that the Government of Canada encourage and facilitate individual Canadians, advocacy organizations, and provincial governments to work together to harmonize provincial requirements for guide dogs and service dogs to ensure legal protections are in place in every province, that those protections are consistent, and that each province recognizes dog / handler teams from other provinces without creating hurdles that become barriers to travel.

James L Menzies

September 2017

The views contained in this report are those of the author, who is responsible for and owns the content. If there are material errors or omissions, the author would appreciate hearing from you, and will make every effort to issue corrections. This report may be shared in whole or in part, but credit must be given to the author. (Contact the author at www.canadianguidedog.wordpress.com/)

A Failed Process – Moving Forward (Finding Some Wins with a Different Approach)

Canadian General Standards Board – Service Dog Team Standard

A Failed Process

Chapter 6: Moving Forward – Finding Some Wins with a Different Approach

In this final chapter, we will summarize the concerns we have covered in previous chapters. Then, in the interest of turning to a more positive tone, we will provide a very brief analysis of the original policy problem as we see it, and offer recommendations for how to find some “wins” with a different approach.

Summary

The goal we set ourselves at the beginning of this report was to mostly set aside the content of the draft service dog team standard, and instead to focus on the processes that were followed in its development. It was felt that this would help us to more deeply understand why the draft standard is so flawed.

The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and its Committee on Service Dogs started with one mandate – to address issues related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) dogs – but quickly changed the scope to incorporate all guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs in Canada. They ignored existing accreditation and standard-setting bodies in favour of developing a made-in-Canada solution. And on the PTSD front, they ignored significant developments and progress regarding PTSD dogs in the US, resulting in PTSD dog standards in Canada being delayed years longer than they needed to be, more veterans suffering longer, and more unaccredited trainers victimizing veterans and funders.

CGSB and its Committee on Service Dogs did not merely intend to develop a voluntary standard, as they have stated to the public; they intended to develop public policy that would become mandatory. In this effort, they failed to apply good public policy principles, failed to use good public policy processes, and did not develop any implementation plan. They ignored existing provincial laws and federal government initiatives; they strayed from statements made before a committee of Parliament, and ignored broad policy direction from the Prime Minister. They positioned their policy in a way that would violate the human rights of vulnerable Canadians. All this in an area where they have no legal jurisdiction, and without the participation of those who do hold responsibility.

The process that CGSB and the Committee on Service Dogs followed lacked transparency and accountability, and the Committee itself was constituted in a way that severely under-represents impacted people, and over-represents organizations and individuals who have potential conflicts of interest. To make matters worse, each committee member and all participants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement that places the proceedings in a state of secrecy. Even now, advocates are reticent to meet with the Committee because their subsequent advocacy efforts would be hampered by the secrecy oath they are required to sign; thus, the Committee is working in an echo chamber of their own opinions, not hearing voices of dissent.

Is there any wonder that stakeholders have reacted negatively?

The Way Forward – A Problem Redefined

In looking for a positive path forward, we must return to the original problem that gave rise to all this activity. As mentioned earlier in this report, problem identification, definition, and analysis is at the heart of policy development. So, before offering recommendations for how to move ahead, we will provide a short beginning to a new problem analysis.

Returning to the specific issues presented to CGSB related to PTSD dogs, we see there are three related public policy problems that require different solutions.

Growing Demand in a New Field

A growing number of people who suffer from PTSD are realizing they can experience a better quality of life by having a specially-trained dog to assist them. This is a new and developing field, and experience in the US is showing good results, thus increasing the visibility of dogs as a potential aid for PTSD sufferers.

The growing demand in Canada led to a shortage of well-trained dogs from accredited training schools. This shortage had three results, each of which presents its own set of impacts. To meet the demand for PTSD dogs:

  • Unaccredited trainers entered the industry,
  • Unscrupulous trainers entered the industry, and
  • People trained dogs themselves.

No doubt, the increased demand and emergence of unaccredited trainers also created organizational stresses among accredited schools.

Funders have played a major role in exacerbating the problem by not distinguishing between accredited and unaccredited training options, facilitating the growth of unacceptable dogs in the PTSD community, and moving badly-needed financial resources away from accredited organizations.

Contrast this with the history of guide dog training, where a process over many decades has seen schools almost universally choose accreditation as the path to quality, driven by discerning funders who have almost exclusively restricted funding to accredited schools. Further, users have been very careful in choosing almost exclusively accredited schools. In the case of guide dogs, accreditation equals success.

So, the policy problem is a question of how to support the growth of a successful industry that produces quality dogs so those with PTSD can achieve positive outcomes. How can accredited schools be better supported financially? How can unaccredited schools / trainers be moved into accreditation, and unscrupulous trainers be frozen out of the industry? For those dogs that continue to be trained by individuals or unaccredited trainers, how can users, funders, and the public be assured that they are going to fulfill their role successfully?

Public Access Concerns for a New Type of Dog / Handler Team

Relatively, there is good public awareness about guide dogs, and their rights and responsibilities for public access are legally entrenched. This is the result of decades of hard work conducted by schools, advocates, and individual blind people to educate and advocate for rights. Access rights for service dogs are not as mature, but jurisdictions are beginning to provide legal backing in this area as well.

With the burgeoning PTSD dog environment, handlers have an expectation that the same access rights as other service dogs and guide dogs will be provided. However, service dog access, being newer, is not as well-understood by the public as guide dog access. In addition, service dog organizations, advocates and users have not done the same amount of on-the-ground legwork as has occurred with guide dogs.

The proliferation of poorly-trained service dogs has created a backlash against public access rights. Making matters worse, those who claim that their pet provides them with needed emotional support are trying to claim public access rights. This undermines the acceptance of all legitimate guide dog and service dog users in the public arena and gives rise to the “fake dog” problem. How can the public effectively differentiate “fake dogs” from legitimate guide dogs and service dogs?

While there are generic public access issues, some industries present specific or acute issues. Such industries as food services (restaurants, bars), transportation (taxis, airlines, trains, buses) and accommodations (hotels, motels, bed and breakfast) have all been at the centre of access-denial concerns. There are some spaces where access denial arises because they sometimes claim to not be “public” – examples include schools, rental apartments, and hospitals. Often, members of these organizations or owners of these spaces claim that the rules and expectations for access rights are not clear.

Dog users diverge on the topic of carrying and showing identification cards. Some feel this is a reasonable expectation to prove they are legitimate users with the right to access public places with their dog, while others feel they ought to be free to travel in public without being asked for an identification card to show their dog is a legitimate guide dog or service dog.

In cases of access denial, there are often legal remedies, but these require processes that are financially or procedurally onerous, or otherwise not easily available to disabled individuals. Often, in Canadian jurisdictions, remedies rely on human rights complaints, which are neither timely, nor effective in addressing the underlying humiliation and stigma that results from a case of access denial. Police officers, who are usually the only authority figure available to a dog handler during an access denial dispute, are often uninformed in this area of law, as it is a low priority for them.

So, the public policy problem is a question of how to ensure public access for legitimate dog / handler teams while eliminating those who illegally claim access rights, and reducing instances where members of the public seek documentary evidence of the legitimacy of the team. How can access rights be made clear for both the public, and for those specific industries and spaces where problems most often arise? How can access rights be most effectively enforced?

Differences Across the Country

Canada is a federation where responsibility for the laws governing guide dogs and service dogs resides with the provinces. Dog users sometimes struggle when travelling across the country because the laws they have at home do not necessarily apply where they are visiting, and rules for how they may identify themselves as legitimate guide dog or service dog users are different, or might not be accepted in different provinces.

Some provinces have laws and regulations in place, while others rely on their respective human rights commissions or tribunals to adjudicate disputes. Some have had open and transparent policy development processes, while others have remained conspicuous by their lack of attention to public access issues.

So, the public policy problem is a question of making provinces aware of issues and concerns related to the guide dog and service dog problems described above, and actively and aggressively advocating for improved and consistent approaches across the country. How can the provinces best be brought together in this area of public policy that is important to a relatively small, but determined group of Canadians? What role can the Government of Canada play in bringing the provinces together?

A New Beginning for Problem Analysis

This forms the beginning of a thorough public problem analysis. Much more ought to be done to flesh out quantitative issues (how many guide dogs, service dogs, PTSD dogs are there in Canada by province? How many people are waiting for each type of dog? How many trainers are there who are within accredited environments versus unaccredited? Etc.). Much more needs to be done to document impacts. In short, reference should be made to the good public policy principles and processes that were described earlier in this report.

That all being said, the problems that are described above, in concert with the many issues with CGSB’s draft service dog team standard that we have identified throughout this report, are sufficient for us to make some important recommendations for getting onto a winning path.

Recommendations

While most of these recommendations are directed to government, there are also important aspects that are directed to users, advocates, trainers, and schools.

1. Stop the Current Process

The preponderance of evidence from this review shows that it is a failed process. Stakeholders have lost trust in both the process and the participants; no amount of fixing will win that trust back. So, the most effective first step to get back on the right track is to withdraw the draft standard and abandon the current process.

In government, it is often easier to let an existing process run its course, even if it becomes evident part way through that the results will not be useful – in the end, the results get buried in a report that is simply never actioned. However, in some cases it is important to take the more difficult decision, which is to actively stop a process in mid-stream, admitting that mistakes were made. This is one of those cases.

In the medical profession, there is the concept of primum non nocere – “first, do no harm”. The concept holds that an existing problem might be better left alone if the solution is going to cause more harm elsewhere. In the case of this standard development process, in the drive to solve a problem related to PTSD dogs, the approach that has been chosen will do significant harm to guide dog, hearing dog, and other service dog users across the country. Surely not a reasonable trade-off, and certainly a process that must be stopped now.

2. Introduce Accountability and Acquire Policy Development Expertise

Because stakeholders have lost faith in both the process and the participants, it is not possible for CGSB to continue to lead any efforts in this policy area. We have shown that they do not have the appropriate expertise to carry out human services policy development.

A decision must be made about which area of government is responsible to lead the policy process. The answer to this is not easy, nor clear. Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) seems to have the impetus to move forward, but the provinces hold jurisdiction, and the issue affects many more PTSD sufferers than just veterans. For this reason, to the extent the Government of Canada wants to move in this policy area, it is recommended that the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities (SPD) be given the lead role, with a firm mandate to involve VAC and the provinces at the outset and throughout the process.

The idea would be to appoint a lead minister who would be accountable for the policy process, recognizing that implementation responsibilities will shift to the appropriate jurisdictions once policy solutions have been developed.

Ensure there are clear reporting requirements to the Minister so progress can be monitored and reported to stakeholders and the public. The objective is to ensure that good policy development principles and processes are followed, the project is maintained within scope, and completed in a timely manner.

3. Introduce Transparency and Open Up the Process

Because of a lack of communication, many affected stakeholders are still unaware that this draft standard was developed and might have affected their lives. Whoever is accountable for the new process must be mandated to ensure it is open and transparent to all stakeholders.

Ensure users are in a strong position to influence policy outcomes. Ensure those who might experience cross-impacts or unintended consequences are engaged. Ensure existing accreditation organizations are represented (Assistance Dogs International, International Guide Dog Federation), so that existing accreditation and standards are used, rather than reinvented. Ensure there is open communication to all those in the public that are interested at every step of the process.

4. Create a Three-Pronged Approach to Reflect the Three Policy Problems

There will be different needs and different participants for developing a solution to the problems associated with addressing the growing demand in the new field of PTSD dogs, compared to ensuring access rights are addressed, and dealing with the variety of legal approaches across Canadian jurisdictions. It would not make sense to have one process try to address all these areas; however, by making all the processes accountable to the same minister, there should be assurance of a coherent policy response across all three areas.

It will be up to the those with policy development expertise within SPD to develop and oversee the three processes, but it would be recommended that stakeholder input be acquired in developing these solutions to ensure public buy-in for each process.

5. In Addressing Growing Demand for PTSD and Service Dogs, Seek to Regulate Industry, Not Individuals

The CGSB’s draft service dog team standard that requires assessments of every dog user in the country runs so far counter to the precepts of human rights that it is necessary that we make a specific recommendation against this idea being raised again. It comes from two factors: 1) unaccredited producers being in control of the standard development process, and 2) a lack of understanding of the policy problem. As we illustrate above, the problem is not users. The problem is unaccredited and unscrupulous trainers and a lack of funding for accredited schools. The solution lies in the industry, not with the users. The solution lies in a focus on accreditation for schools and their trainers.

For those who find that training their own dog is best for them, and thus there is no third-party accreditation to ensure quality, there are solutions already in place in some jurisdictions that provide for a provincially-mandated assessment that gives legitimacy for these dog / handler teams.

6. In Addressing Public Access Concerns, Build on Success

It is recommended that there be two areas of focus to enhance public access rights.

First, all governments, dog users, trainers, schools, advocates, and allies have a responsibility within their own spheres of influence to educate the public. Most importantly, it is the exercising of the personal responsibility of the user and their dog in every-day interactions with the public to always educate and always portray a positive image of the dog / handler team so that people learn to respect them, and the next handler who comes along can benefit from an improved reception. These rights are not simply handed out to a dog user for free – there are responsibilities that go with the rights.

Second, there are jurisdictions in Canada that already have successful legislation. Build on those approaches, rather than inventing new ones.

7. In Addressing Differences Across the Country, Strong Advocacy Will Win the Day

The Government of Canada can attempt to pull provinces together to address this policy issue, but stakeholders need to be realistic – this is not an area of significant concern in federal / provincial relations; there is some skepticism that federal / provincial discussions can have any impact here.

What will have an impact is the strong and coordinated advocacy from citizens at the provincial level. Consideration needs to be given to creating a coordinated advocacy effort whereby a coalition of users and their allies can work together towards ensuring legal protections are in place in every province, that those protections are as consistent as possible, and that each province recognizes dog / handler teams from other provinces without creating hurdles that must be surmounted by users.

For advocacy to be most effective, guide dog, hearing dog, service dog, and PTSD dog users need to work together and support each others’ efforts to further the provincial consistency agenda. There are currents of dissention within each of these groups and among them, and the more people work together towards a common goal, the less these tensions will rule the day.

Conclusion and Comments from the Author

Throughout the six installments of this report, I have done my best to use publicly available material to draw a clearer picture of what happened, and why the CGSB draft service dog team standard feels so wrong to so many people. The greatest tragedy in this whole affair is that it has resulted in delays for many people who desperately need the support of a service dog to help them address the issues they face from PTSD. The solution seems so clear and close, yet years have been lost in a failed process. I know that many from the dog-user community, regardless of their specific disabling condition, are ready and anxious to help move a new process forward. The sad reality is that a solid solution that focuses on building a sustainable, high-quality PTSD dog industry that focuses on quality outcomes for people is still years away, and the years wasted on this process could have been put to much more productive use.

Although my focus is in the area of guide dogs, I will continue to advocate on behalf of all dog users. Our goals should be to ensure a healthy accreditation-based industry, to develop and sustain funding streams that make sense and support quality outcomes rather than profit motives, to ensure laws are in place that support public access and help everyone distinguish fake dogs, and to help attain consistency across the country.

–James L Menzies