Tenants and their service animals

by Patricia Knipe
A best friend. A comfort animal. A service animal. Does anyone really understand the difference and, more importantly, is there a difference? 
Property owners and managers are often told that a new tenant has a service animal due to a disability and requires accommodation to allow that animal into the building. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission receives many inquiries as to how to determine if the animal is a service animal.  At times, it is obvious, while at others times, it is not so obvious.   
 The definition of a service animal is evolving in Canada. Currently, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission considers a service animal to be a dog or other animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability that relates to that individual’s disability.
Examples of work or tasks are: guiding an individual who is blind; alerting an individual who is deaf; retrieving dropped objects; opening doors and retrieving the phone for those requiring physical assistance; warning and protecting an individual who is having a seizure; and reminding an individual with a mental health disability to take prescribed medication. 
Service animals are sometimes identified by a specific type of harness or vest. 
Dogs and other animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support are not considered to be service animals.  
Like many other provinces and territories, our human rights laws (The Human Rights Code) prevent discrimination against service animal users. In most situations, landlords, employers or service providers realize they have an obligation to accommodate a service animal user. 
In a recent human rights public hearing, however, the adjudicator ruled that a $5,500 settlement was not sufficient when it came to discriminating against a person with a service animal.  In this case, the user of the service animal has post-traumatic stress disorder, which is referred to as an “invisible disability.” He filed the complaint after he had been ordered to leave and was escorted out of a restaurant by law enforcement officers. Other examples of invisible disabilities are epilepsy, brain damage or loss of hearing.  
Unlike some other provinces, Manitoba does not have any laws which provide for certification or identification of animals deemed to be service animals.  In both B.C. and Alberta, a person can apply to the government for a certificate/identification indicating the dog is a service animal, if it has been trained by an approved school.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission is considering what, if anything, it can do to increase awareness of rights and responsibilities regarding the use of service animals and to re-visit what is considered a service animal.  Its new policy and guideline will reflect decisions made after the discussion and the subsequent recommendations.  
To help with this work, the commission needs input and will be holding a discussion on service animals. The discussion will be held on Wednesday, September 24, from 2 to 4 p.m., with the location to be determined.  This is an important issue for both users of these animals and those providing a service such as rental housing.  
To register for this meeting, and ensure your input is counted, you can register for this discussion by e-mailing hrc@gov.mb.ca In the subject line, write service animal discussion. You will be contacted once registered.
Also, visit the commission’s website www.manitobahumanrights.ca to read the consultation paper on service animals. 
(Patricia Knipe is the communications director for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.)