Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) offer a monthly Guide Dog Benefit for routine care of a guide dog. Those on social assistance could receive $84 per month only if the dog can be trained and certified by an accredited facility. The problem is that finding an accredited facility is tough. For some people with disabilities, no facility in Ontario can certify a service dog for their specific disabilities. This benefit is routinely denied for persons with service animals who cannot access an accredited facility but who rely on their service animal for challenges and difficulties resulting from their complex disabilities.
Recently, in Robinson-Cooke v. Ontario (Community and Social Services), 2023 HRTO 1133, Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Ontario’s Guide Dog Benefit is discriminatory. The Tribunal noted that the Guide Dog Benefit Policy Directive is so restrictive that persons with mental health disabilities (except veterans and first responders) cannot obtain an accredited service dog in Ontario.
In this case, the Applicant had multiple physical and mental disabilities. Her doctor recommended that she would benefit from a service dog. However, she could not access an accredited service dog that would qualify under the narrow ODSP Policy Directive on Guide Dog Benefit eligibility. This was because there is no facility that will certify a service dog for persons with the Applicant’s multiple disabilities in Ontario.
As a result, the Applicant arranged training for her dog and had the dog accredited by the Public Access Test, which had similar requirements to Guide Dog Benefit accreditation set out in the Directive. The service dog helped her– she spent less time in the hospital and started studying and working. However, ODSP denied her request for the benefit because her dog did not meet the stringent accreditation requirements set in the Directive.
Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal held that refusing the Guide Dog Benefit was discriminatory. It ordered the Ministry to compensate the Applicant $20,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect, and $5,040, as compensation for the denied access to the Guide Dog Benefit over the relevant period.
Importantly, the Tribunal required the Ministry to update the Directive in accordance with the Human Rights Code by the end of the year.
ISAC’s client communities have highlighted the problems with this benefit in the past. It is unfortunate that it took a human rights complaint that lasted over five years to prompt OW and ODSP to change this discriminatory Directive. We applaud the Tribunal’s decision, and we look forward to seeing an updated Directive that can ensure broader access to this important benefit as soon as possible.
FALL 2023 UPDATE: The Ontario government is appealing the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s decision, which means that the old policy remains in force for the time being.