MONTREAL – Shannon Moran is physically disabled and hearing impaired. He got a guide dog from the Lions Foundation of Canada 13 year ago, to help detect sounds on the street and steer him clear of danger. But his experience with public transit in Montreal has been a bumpy ride from the start.
“I had my first guide dog in 2001 and the very first day I was told to pick up my dog, carry it to the seat and hold it on my lap,” said Moran.
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The NDG resident claims he’s had 68 negative incidents with the STM. Just last month, a bus driver reportedly stopped and ordered him and the dog out.
“He refused to move the bus saying it wasn’t a Mira guide dog,” said Moran. A supervisor was eventually called to the scene and allowed him to stay, but by that time, Moran felt the damage was done. A second bus was called to take the other passengers while Moran was allegedly forced to stay for clearance.
“I feel humiliated,” said Moran.
The STM has refused to comment on this case, but its policy (section 8 of By-law R-036) regarding guide and service dogs states: People with vision or mobility impairments may be accompanied by guide or service dogs.
The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly states that service and guide dogs are allowed in all public places.
“Basically I can take Kai anywhere other than a kitchen and operating room,” Moran said of his certified guide dog.
In 2006, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled in Moran’s favour, forcing the STM to compensate him and increase training for employees, including bus drivers and ticket takers. But according to Moran, the harassment didn’t stop.
“They’ve promised they were gonna train the staff and the lawyer gave me his own word it would never happen again. So how much is his word worth?”
In 2010, Moran launched a civil law suit against the transit corporation and won his case in Quebec’s Superior Court.
It’s not the first time the STM has come under fire for refusing access to guide dogs in recent months. In April, a young Montreal was in a similar situation.
“Some people don’t allow me on the bus, “ said 14-year-old Charles Labrèche from Lasalle.
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Mira, the Quebec-based organization that trains and certifies service dogs, deplores the STM’s attitude.
“Everybody that has a service dog to help them palliate whatever needs they have, yes it’s their right here in Canada,” said Karen Winter, a dog trainer at MIRA.
Winter is currently training a group of visually-impaired children, who plan to take home the “perfect match”. Théo Malkamakis from Ohio is spending a month on the Mira ranch in Ste-Madeleine and can’t wait for the independence he’ll gain when he gets home with his guide dog.
“They’re your companion and they’re the ones that keep you safe,” said Malkamakis, “I’ve heard that guide dogs can turn really shy kids into social butterflies.”
And it’s for the future generation that Shannon Moran wants to keep fighting. He’s planning to take the STM to court again, based on two incidents since April, and hopes no one else will be made to feel like a second class citizen simply because of a guide dog.
“It’s hard enough to be handicapped” said Moran, “I’m trying to keep my dignity, it’s one of the few things I have left.”