Mike Simmonds and his service dog Graham (Screenshot: Sun News)
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"[I]f you’re driving a taxi in this country you have to know that you have to take these fares."
A blind Canadian man has filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission after he says he was denied service from taxi drivers who would not transport him and his guide dog for religious reasons.
Mike Simmonds told Canada’s Sun News Network that though he has been blind for 17 years, he just adopted his service animal Graham in July. Since then, he says he's been refused transportation three times from a local company.
When he traveled without a dog, Simmonds says he never had trouble ordering a taxi. He first took note of the difference when the dispatcher for Comfort Cabs told him he had to send him a specifically “dog-friendly” taxi, but Simmonds thought all taxis should be able to accommodate those with disabilities.
Six weeks later, a taxi sent to his home would not take him with his dog. He was told the reason was the driver’s Islamic religious beliefs. Some Muslims believe dogs are considered haram, or forbidden, under Islam.
“I stated that that’s unfortunate because if you’re driving a taxi in this country you have to know that you have to take these fares,” Simmonds told Sun News.
Days later, he waited for his cab in the cold to no avail. When he phoned Comfort Cabs, he was told the dispatcher was having a hard time finding a driver who would agree to take him with his companion. Simmonds was told some drivers don't know what service dogs are.
Simmonds filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission Nov. 17. Refusing services to a service animal is prohibited under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, Sun News reported.
Comfort Cabs told Sun News it took action after receiving Simmonds’ complaints and told CBC News that most of its cabs can accommodate a guide dog.
“I sent notices out on our dispatch computer…and reminded them of the rule that anybody with a service animal, don’t even question it, " Comfort Cabs operations manager Cliff Kowbel said.
Simmonds' complaint follows similar ones lodged in Minneapolis several years ago against Muslim cab drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who refused to transport passengers carrying closed bottles of alcohol.
In 2007, the Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis unanimously voted to impose stiff penalties against taxi drivers who refuse to transport passengers carrying liquor or riding with a guide dog. The drivers, again motivated by religious beliefs, could face a two-year revocation of their taxi permits for refusing those passengers service.
Reuters reported at the time, “A large number of taxi drivers in the area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Muslim Somali immigrants. Many say they feel the faith's ban on alcohol consumption includes transporting anyone carrying it. Some also have refused to transport dogs, both pets and guide dogs, saying they are unclean.”
The Metropolitan Airports Commission said 4,800 incidents were reported in Minneapolis between 2002 and 2007 in which taxi drivers refused to pick up passengers with alcohol.
Many airport shops and airlines sell alcohol duty-free for international passengers.
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