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Judy Haiven: Going with the dogs

Warren (Gus) Reed, Paul Vienneau and Gerry Post, some of the folks who filed the Human Rights complaint . Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Gordon Stewart, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Restaurant Association, likes it. Premier Ian Rankin loves it.

And restaurant owners and managers, notably those on the Halifax waterfront, think it’s a super idea.

Nova Scotia has just agreed that dogs can visit restaurant patios with their owners when they stop by patios for dinner or drinks this summer.

So for everyone, it seems to be a win-win.

But it’s not. It seems people who use wheelchairs or walkers are not as welcome as dogs are on Halifax patios. While dogs are permitted to drink water on the decks, Gerry Post, a wheelchair user and disability rights advocate said, “I’d probably have to restrict myself to one beer because I can’t go to the bathroom.”

Indeed, he’s got a point. In 2016, Warren Reed a wheelchair user in Halifax, filed a similar complaint at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. But the Commission refused to accept it. Reed had to push for a judicial review, and a provincial supreme court judge ruled that Reed’s complaint had to be heard. Reed along with four other complainants, including Gerry Post, initiated a second complaint. In September 2018, in what is known as the “Wheelchair case,” a Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry ruled that restaurants and bars with patios discriminated against wheelchair users. Halifax’s dozens of patio restaurants have not been subject to sanctions for not accommodating them.

Now another Covid summer is upon us and handwashing is especially important to public health. However, the province has not said boo about enforcing the law; but it’s giving a bow-wow welcome to pet dogs.

Like seven to nine percent of the population, I am afraid of dogs. Since I was a child, I’ll cross the street if I see one coming toward me, especially if it is not on a leash. And, thanks, but I’ve had enough dog owners swear at me when I ask them to hold their dog back from me. I won’t have drinks or dinner on a commercial patio deck—if dogs are present.

Clearly this is all about money. The Liberal government doesn’t want to cause any problems for the hospitality sector —even if it means violating human rights. Three in ten (32.7%) Nova Scotians between the ages of 45 and 64 years, report having a disability. Despite the fact that mobility issues account for 43.8% of all disabilities, it seems wheelchair users are not going to spend as much money at restaurants and bars as those with Fido in tow.

First it was Stephen McNeil who ignored the law, now it’s Premier Rankin who waxes on about attracting more dog owners if their pets can accompany them to the bar. Ca-ching – that translates into more money from patio customers, who are encouraged to sit and drink for longer spells, with Fido lying at their feet. This is at the cost of all our human rights.

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

See also: Fight for what’s right, disability activist tells Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

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