‘Hurts like hell’: B.C. blind woman says a taxi refused her service due to her guide dog

A blind woman says she was discriminated against after a taxi driver refused her service.

Maria Kovacs had to be admitted to the hospital in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Feb. 28 due to her high blood pressure.

She was released from the hospital just a few hours later at 4:10 a.m.

A nurse called a taxi for her and when it arrived, the Alouette Taxi driver allegedly refused her fare because of her guide dog.

“He had the doors all locked,” Kovacs said. “And he told us that he will not be able to carry me because I have a guide dog and I should be in a taxi for wheelchairs. So I told him that I didn’t need that wheelchair taxi. And he continued to say no, and they pulled away.”

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Four-year-old Acura is Kovacs’ guide dog and they’ve been partners for two years. “She’s funny, she’s very perky, she’s very, very good in a harness, very obedient,” Kovacs said.

“She is my eyes. She gives me the independence to be on the street.”

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Kovacs said she knew Acura was not going to be a problem for any taxi driver and she would be well-behaved.

She said the nurse who called the taxi told the dispatcher that Kovacs had a dog but the dispatcher later told Kovacs that they were never told that.

Eventually, the nurse called for another taxi from Alouette Taxi and Kovacs was able to get home.

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But she wasn’t satisfied with what happened and decided to complain.

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The man she spoke to about what happened did not apologize to her, Kovacs said, but the manager of Alouette Taxi did not want to speak on camera but told Global News the driver assigned was allergic to dogs and his religious beliefs prevent him from tacking the dog in his taxi.

It is illegal in B.C. for driver to refuse a fare because of a guide dog.

Kovacs then called Ridge Meadows RCMP to report the incident.

In an email to Kovacs, Ridge Meadows RCMP said officers had not received any reply from the Alouette Taxi manager and were concluding the file.

“As I mentioned to you initially, BC Office of Human Rights may be able to assist you with this,” RCMP said.

Ridge Meadows RCMP told Global News Monday that “relevant legislation for guide dogs did not provide police with enforcement options based on the circumstances.”

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The Guide Dog and Service Dog Act states that any guide/service dog team may enter any place and use any service just the same as any person not with a guide/service dog, according to information shared by the Victoria Police Department in 2021. This includes all transportation services such as busses, ferries and taxis.

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The dog cannot be on the seat of the taxi and must be on a leash or a harness but otherwise, the animal is allowed to ride with its owner.

It is not required by law that someone alert the dispatcher to the fact that they have a guide or service dog.

Suppose a driver refuses to pick up or transport a person with a certified guide or service dog. In that case, they can be fined up to $288 and previous civil litigation has, in the past, resulted in financial penalties of up to $10,000.

Kovacs, 73, who is still a volunteer advocate for blind people, lost her sight in 1990.

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“I loved the world,” said. “I was a hiker. I was a swimmer. I did horseback riding. I loved travelling.

“I love the beautiful mountains that British Columbia has. And I can’t see them.”

Kovacs added that when she was travelling in Europe with her son she fell gravely ill and almost died.

“We think it was typhoid or salmonella poisoning and they gave me some drugs to fix the problem,” she said.

“And then because of that, I started retinol bleeding, which then became the problem that it is today. I lost my sight.”

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Kovacs said for the most part, she is independent and likes to keep a neat house and spend time in her garden.

But this is not the first time something like this interaction with a taxi driver has happened.

“It’s definitely not the first time,” Kovacs said.

“It is the first time I’ve had someone with me witnessing it.”

But Kovacs said this has become all too familiar for her.

“This hurts like hell,” she said.

“That I am not being seen as equal as someone with eyesight or just because I have a guide dog, I don’t have the same rights as a person that doesn’t have a guide dog.

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“So it does hurt quite a bit. It’s very stressful that we have to fight all the time for this kind of right.”

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