City man files complaint after service dog denied access at dental office

Troy Shantz

A legally deaf Sarnia man who was told he couldn’t have his service dog present during a dental procedure believes his human rights have been violated.

But the owner of the dental office who turned him down said there’s good reason why he won’t allow animals in an operating room – it’s not hygienic.

Johnathan Thompson visited EdgeWater Dental on June 7 to book an appointment and said he was assured his dog, Presto, would be allowed to remain by his side during the procedure.

But on the way home, he received a text message from the office stating, that, “given our sterile environment we do not allow service animals to accompany our patients.”

Thompson said he has filed a complaint with both the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario.

“I was shocked,” said Thompson, 42, who served two years on Sarnia’s accessibility committee.

“I know the rules. I know the law. It has nothing to do with a ‘sterile environment.’”

Presto is a Lions Foundation of Canada dog guide. She assists Thompson with his hearing impairment and also helps keep him calm in anxious situations, he said.

The Exmouth Street dental office told him the dog is welcome to wait in the waiting room, but just isn’t allowed beyond that point.

Dr. Tim Pringle, owner and a dentist at EdgeWater Dental, said there are reasonable grounds for denying Thompson’s dog access to a dental examination room.

“The way I read the legislation… service dogs are certainly allowed … any place the public is customarily admitted. And a dental operatory is not a place where the public is customarily admitted,” he said.

“The public cannot just come in and out, like a bank or government building. We have grounds to deny the service dog. We are not trying to deny the patient treatment. If he wants to bring a personal support worker, we can do that.”

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, all service providers have a duty to accommodate people with disabilities who are accompanied by a service animal. That duty to accommodate extends to the point of “undue hardship.”

But it doesn’t appear as though the Ontario Human Rights Commission has yet heard a case pertaining specifically to service animals in a medical operating room.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has concluded some restrictions may be reasonable: “For example, restricting service animals from sterile or other protected areas, such as a food preparation area, operating theatre or laboratory, may be justified,” the Commission has stated.

But Jessica De Marinis, a staff lawyer at the ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto, said it would be “very difficult” for a dental office to defend a decision to prohibit a service animal during a standard procedure.

There could be exceptional circumstances, she said, but they would require an individual assessment to determine whether the service dog could be accommodated.

“This case is another unfortunate example of the ongoing barriers faced by Ontarians with disabilities, notwithstanding that these rights are protected and enshrined in multiple laws,” she said in an email.

Thompson said he isn’t backing down.

“Could I go to any other dentist? Absolutely. But that’s besides the point here,” he said.

“Presto does not leave my side ever, nor should she have to.”