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BC Government moves to introduce new Guide Dog and Service Dog Act

Early during the week of March 9 2015, the Public Affairs Department of the BC Government circulated a news release inviting media outlets to attend an announcement regarding a significant change to the current BC Guide Animal Act. If you are interested, you may review the news release currently posted on the government newsroom site.
 

On the morning of Thursday March 12, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton rose in the BC Legislature to move the introduction of a new and revised Guide Dog and Service Dog Act. (Note: The video associated with the previous link highlights the introduction of working committee members at 6 minutes 30 seconds and Minister Anton's introduction of BIll 17 at the 12 minute 20 second mark.)  This new Act, if passed, will repeal the current BC Guide Animal Act and expand the rights of access for people with disabilities who are accompanied by a certified guide dog or service dog. Members of the Legislature unanimously approved Minister Anton's motion which called for first reading of Bill 17. The bill will then move to second reading where it will then be referred to a Committee of the House. There is no way of knowing how long the Committee will take to debate the bill; however, Minister Anton doubts there will be little if any pushback from the Opposition. Once it clears the Committee, the bill will receive third reading in the Legislature and the House will then vote to pass or reject Bill 17. We have been assured the vote will take place before the House rises in May 2015 and it appears there will be little opposition when the question is called.

 
The Working Committee, under the leadership of Jane Dyson - Executive Director, Disability Alliance BC - submitted a comprehensive proposal to then Solicitor General Michael De Jong in 2010. Staff members within the Minister of Justice met and worked with the Working Committee during the past two years to fine tune and better understand the proposal. Following is a summary of changes that have been incorporated into Bill 17. The summary is intended to show what will be in legislation and what will be developed later in regulations. This proposed legislation reflects ongoing feedback Minister of Justice staff have received from stakeholders since 2012. If it is passed, it will replace the current Guide Animal Act. The proposed Act and the yet-to-be-developed regulations will safeguard access rights for individuals who rely on guide dogs or service dogs, while ensuring clarity and safety for businesses and other members of the public. In particular, the Act and regulations will:
  • Include definitions for guide dogs, service dogs, dogs-in-training, guide dog teams, service dog teams, retired dog teams, registrars, dog trainers, persons who are blind, and persons with a disability. NOTE: Additional definitions may be required in the regulations.
  • Limit certification to dogs and no other animals. Recognize both guide dogs for people with vision loss and service dogs for individuals with other disabilities.
  • Require a high training standard for certified dogs. Provide an option for dogs to be tested by a designated third party if they were not trained at a facility that is accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation.
  • Bring forward current privileges for certified teams to access a public place. Extend access privileges to dogs-in-training; this does not apply to retired dogs. 
  • Continue prohibiting denying tenancy or imposing a term or condition on tenancy - this does not apply to dogs-in-training. As before, this does not apply if tenancy involves shared sleeping, bathroom or cooking facilities with another family. This does, however, extend tenancy rights to include strata properties and retired certified dogs that continue to reside with their handlers.
  • Provide Strata Property Tenancy for Certified Dogs and amends the Act so that strata bylaws that prohibits pet or other animal do not apply to:
    - a guide dog or service dog or
    - a dog that is a member of a retired guide or service dog team if the person who is a member of the team is an owner, tenant or occupant. Enforcement and offence will be under Strata Property Act. 
  • Create a standard application process for all types of dog teams to be certified. This allows the Registrar to determine the form and manner of application, while the type of information to be submitted will be set in regulations.
  • Give the Registrar authority to set a fee in regulation - no fee is contemplated, but it is possible in the future there could be a fee (e.g. for a replacement card).  
  • Specify what must be submitted with an application for a certificate, such as written attestation from a physician or nurse practitioner that the applicant has a disability and needs a guide/service dog for daily living.
  • Provide for a maximum $3,000 fine in a prosecution for contraventions of the Act. Contraventions include denying access or tenancy, falsely representing a dog, and refusing to surrender a certificate. Violation Tickets will be established for contraventions (separate from prosecution of offences). Ticket amounts to be determined - anticipated to be $200-$500.
  • Grandfather guide dogs and service dogs previously certified under the Guide Animal Act. For transition, the Registrar can set terms and conditions, including an expiry date on a certificate under the new Act.
  • Not change the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act - there is no change to this Act as there are already strong powers in this Act prohibiting interference with a guide dog or service dog. The Act provides up to $75,000 fine or 2 years imprisonment in a prosecution. The Act’s authority will be used to create a penalty for harming or interfering with a certified guide or service dog and to establish a Violation Ticket for this offence.
If the proposed legislation is passed, regulations will be developed during the summer months to implement the new program. Regulations do not require approval in the House but rather can be approved by an Ordering Council. In other words, a signature of the Minister is all that is required. Ministry staff continue to welcome all comments, feedback and/or questions during that process. Both Access for Sight Impaired Consumers and Disability Alliance BC will respond to all questions received and serve as conduits for any comments or feedback that organizations or individuals wish to have passed along to the Corporate Policy and Planning Office, Ministry of Justice.

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