Last month on Christmas Day morning, Airdrie resident Tracey Bazso and her husband were in a hurry to get to her parents-in-law to celebrate Christmas. Since the couple had left their car at their in-laws the night before, they called a local taxi company for a ride.
According to Bazso, her husband called Airdrie Taxi Diamond Cabs and told the dispatcher that his wife does use a service dog and that the service dog would be coming along for the drive. Bazso's service dog, Dixie, is a seizure-response dog from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. According to the Lions Foundation of Canada, seizure response dogs are trained to bark for help or activate an alert system in the event of a seizure.
However, when the cab did show up to pick them up, the driver, upon seeing the dog, who was wearing their service dog vest, according to Bazso, told her that he had just detailed the car and didn't want the dog inside.
"[He] basically drove away as my husband and I were trying to explain the situation. We were already kind of frustrated, because it was Christmas morning, and we know is a busy time for people," she said. "So, we call back to the dispatcher and told them what had happened and dispatch basically told us that he was allowed to drive away and they can't call him and make him go back and pick us up."
Bazso said the cab company told her it would be another hour before a driver was available, hence she decided to opt for ordering an Uber instead. She said that an experience like the one she said on Christmas morning is one that happens much for often than one would assume.
"It has happened more often than I would like, which is frustrating in itself and a lot of the time, it's with Uber. To be honest, it hasn't happened too much, in Alberta anyways, with taxi companies," she said. "With the taxi companies, they're normally really great with it. I think it's just really from a lack of understanding of service dogs' rights and my rights as a person with a service dog."
However, the owner of Airdrie Taxi Diamond Cabs, disputed the account given by Bazso, saying that when the couple had initially called, there was no mention of a service dog. It should be noted however, that service dog owners are not bound by provincial law or by-laws to disclose they have service dogs to companies. The owner stated that the reason the taxi driver was not able to provide Bazso with transportation is that the driver was allergic to dogs.
According to Alberta's provincial law regarding service dogs, a qualified service dog team has the right to access public spaces protected under the law, which include taxis and buses, if an individual who is allergic to the animal is present, a reasonable compromise should be found to accommodate both parties and the rights of both parties must be taken into account.
Taxi Diamond Cabs stated that while they did try to find alternate transport for Bazso, due to the holiday and many drivers having taken holidays, no other drivers were available. Bazso said she has filed a complaint with the taxi company and has also filed a human rights complaint with the provincial government.
"I've had other human rights trials go through before and it does take a while which is unfortunate.[I think] it's just that lack of education and training for drivers and for people in general that causes all of this confusion and frustration and upset for people like me."
While the couple did make it to their family on Christmas morning, Bazso said that instances like this one affect not only her but her family.
"It's not just me and my partner that's affected. It's myself, my partner, and my family. I volunteer at my church, too and I was a part of running my worship service," she said. "I was late to be helping run worship. It's a domino effect because one person didn't understand that she's [Dixie] is allowed and legally has to come with me where I go."
According to city officials, the city's taxi bylaws state that the definition of a service animal means an animal that has been trained and certified to assist a person with a disability and that while a driver can refuse service on the grounds of the dog handler being impaired by drugs or alcohol, the bylaws is in line with the provincial law. The city said it hadn't been made aware of the incident regarding Bazso last month.
When Bazso was asked if she could speak directly to the taxi driver in question, she offered that drivers be more educated on current provincial laws.
"It's not okay to leave us stranded; it just makes us feel that sense of discrimination and feel like we're not able to be fully part of the rest of society."
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