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Using animals to palliate a disability

Many people with disabilities use an animal for physical or emotional support.

Under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, you cannot discriminate against a person because of their disability or because of the way they choose to palliate it. Animals are one of many ways to palliate a disability. 

To date, service dogs, including guide dogs, are the only animals that the Québec courts have recognized as a means of palliating a disability, but other animals could eventually be recognized as well.

  • Service or guide dogs

    Service or guide dogs

    Anyone who uses a service or a guide dog to palliate their disability has the right to receive reasonable accommodation so that:

    1. They can access, without discrimination:
      • public places, like shops, restaurants, hotels and other tourist accommodations
      • public transportation and taxis
      • workplaces
      • recreational places, like campsites and movie theatres
    2. They can obtain goods or services that are ordinarily offered to the public at these places, without discrimination and at no additional cost.

    When a person brings their service dog into areas that are open to the public: 

    • They must have proof of the dog’s special training or certification (a card or letter from the organization confirming that the dog is a service animal or has completed special training)
    • The dog must wear a visual marker that it is a service animal (e.g., a harness, bandana, vest, etc.)

    The person does NOT have to provide documentation or proof of their disability, medical need or health condition.

    Establishments do not have a duty to accommodate service dogs if doing so would result in undue hardship. In this case, they must still document the person’s needs and collaborate with them to find alternative solutions.

    What is undue hardship?

    The concept of undue hardship is used to assess whether accommodation is reasonable in a given situation. Undue hardship may exist if the accommodation: 

    • would be prohibitively expensive
    • would impact the business’ ability to operate
    • would significantly affect other people’s rights or safety

    Example of undue hardship

    Service dog access to all parts of a hospital
    Sometimes, hospitals can restrict access for reasons of hygiene. A service dog may be refused entry to areas like the operating room, where maximum sanitation is critical.

    Example that is not undue hardship

    Allergy to dogs
    Dog allergies are not an undue hardship that allow establishments to refuse access to a service dog. In 2008, the Superior Court of Québec ruled that dog allergies are less harmful than food allergies, and are not grounds for undue hardship. The Court ruled that dogs pose no serious threat to an allergic person’s health unless they have close contact.

    However, if you are asked to accommodate a service dog, and someone in your establishment is allergic to dogs, you must find ways to accommodate both the allergic person and the person who uses the service dog. 

    Learn more about accommodation and undue hardship

  • Service dogs in training

    Service dogs in training

    Because dogs that are training to become service dogs are not a means to palliate a disability for the person training them, establishments do not have a duty to allow access to these dogs. That said, because people with a disability will benefit from the training, you are encouraged to allow these dogs in public places.

  • Therapy animals

    Therapy animals

    Emotional support animals and other therapy animals without special training are not yet recognized by the courts as a means of palliating a disability in public places. However, since it is up to each person with a disability to decide how they will palliate it, some may ask an establishment to provide reasonable accommodation for their therapy animal. 

    In analyzing these requests, the establishment may require information about the animal’s behaviour and any risks it may present in a public place. It may also require documentation attesting to:

    • the person’s need for the animal (disability, medical condition, mental health condition)
    • the animal’s usefulness in meeting this need

    The establishment and the person requesting the accommodation can make an accommodation agreement with provisions that are specific to the animal and its behaviour. If accommodation of a therapy animal would create undue hardship, then the establishment should collaborate with the person to find other ways of accommodating them. 

    For more information on animal-related undue hardship, see the information box above, in the “Service and guide dogs” section of this page.

    Learn more about accommodation and undue hardship

Certification and formal training

In Québec, there are no official certification criteria for service dogs. To learn more about the training an animal has received, you can contact the training provider.

The Commission does not keep a register of accredited service dog training organizations or provide training certificates for any kind of service dog.

Discriminated against because of her guide dog

Discriminated against by a gym owner because of the presence of her guide dog, Gracia went all the way to the Human Rights Tribunal to have her rights recognized.

Read her story