An Orillia man is calling for new transit guidelines after he was denied access to a city bus when he tried to board with his psychiatric support dog.
In a cellphone video recorded June 10, Stefen Myles, a 30-year-old former member of the Canadian military, is shown being barred from a city bus.
The driver, after calling her superior to ask about the policy, is shown politely stating to Myles that “only seeing eye dogs are allowed” on city buses without being in a carrier case.
According to Myles, that rule discriminates against people who need service animals for other types of disabilities.
Tok Transit, the company which operates Orillia’s transit system, told Myles in an email their policy is to only allow service animals which assist people who are visually impaired.
The company’s general manager, Dan Valley, told OrilliaMatters the issue is “under review.” He declined to comment on the specifics of Myles’ situation and would not provide any other comments.
“They have to realize there’s more than one type of service animal,” argued Myles.
He said he’s approached the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, who told him a service dog only needs to be clearly marked and accompanied by a doctor’s note.
That’s a position backed by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which states service animals must be allowed in most public spaces. Click here to read their service animal laws.
However, emotional support animals don’t require the same type of allowances.
But since his doctor wrote a note outlining how his service dog provides psychiatric support for his anxiety and depression, and his dog wears a specially marked vest, Myles said he should qualify as a service animal.
Myles said his nine-month-old Great Dane, Lucifer, is more than emotionally supportive, he’s an integral part of his mental health strategy.
“He’s meant to distract me, or pull me away from that (stressful) situation,” said Myles.
At other locations around Orillia, like Staples and Home Hardware, Myles said staff welcomed his dog after seeing a doctor’s note and a clearly marked service dog jacket.
Currently, the City of Orillia has few specific guidelines for service animals.
Jeff Hunter, the city's manager of construction and transit, said in an email that Tok Transit is responsible for service dog guidelines. Those guidelines, he wrote, are in place because of safety concerns.
“The safety of the public is the utmost importance, and with a bus being a confined area, there is greater risk with untrained emotional support animals,” wrote Hunter.
Myles says his dog has behaved well on all his public trips so far, and is just about to start an intensive training program with Unleashed K9 performance facility.