In a recent case, Pollock v. Wilson, a condominium resident went to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (the ”Tribunal”) alleging that another resident discriminated against her because of disability and her receipt of social assistance payments.
The applicant had a specially trained service dog to assist her in living with Type 1 diabetes and received Ontario Disability Support payments for the service dog. As the applicant lived alone, she posted a sign on her unit door to alert emergency responders that there was a service dog in the unit. After the respondent complained about the sign, the applicant then posted numerous other documents on her door, including newspaper articles about her and her service dog, proof that she needed a service dog and that she received benefits for the service dog and a website article about service dogs. The applicant claimed that she was trying to educate the respondent about service dogs. The respondent claimed that the door postings were devaluing the building and her unit.
The posting of signs on the unit doors was prohibited by the condominium declaration/rules. However, it appears that the condominium corporation was not diligent in enforcing this prohibition against residents.
The respondent also lodged a number of other complaints with the corporation’s condo manager relating to the applicant’s dogs: the applicant obtaining another dog which was being trained to be a service dog, a dog crying in the applicant’s unit and the applicant’s dogs wandering loose on the condominium property. While there were numerous other dogs in the condominium, the respondent did not complain about any of the other dogs, just the applicant’s dogs. In response to these complaints a member of the corporation’s board wrote to the respondent, calling her a bully and warning her that the complaints about the applicant’s dogs constituted discrimination against the applicant due to her disability.
The Tribunal ultimately concluded that the respondent had violated the Ontario Human rights Code as she had discriminated against the applicant on the basis of her disability in relation to the notes posted on the door and that her negative comments and complaints about the service dog created a “poisoned environment” for the applicant. The Tribunal found that the respondent had made a number of demeaning comments about the applicant that were linked to her use of a service dog.
The respondent was ordered to pay the applicant $200 in monetary compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect. This was considerably less than the $5,000 damages which the applicant had sought. The Tribunal also refused to order the respondent to provide the applicant with a formal letter of apology “on the basis that such orders are viewed as inappropriate, or an ineffective remedy and raise potential freedom of expression concerns.” The Tribunal also denied the applicant’s request for an additional $15,000 in compensation as the applicant did not provide any evidence that she had suffered any financial loss as a result of the applicant’s discrimination.
While the financial compensation awarded to the applicant was nominal, at all times the applicant continued to have her service dog in the unit and continued to keep the service dog sign on her unit door. In addition, going through the Tribunal application process no doubt educated the respondent about service dogs and the fact that it is against the law to discriminate against someone for reason of a disability.
In our previous blog we addressed the importance of condominium corporations having a human rights policy as a tool which provides an internal procedure for addressing accommodation requests and responding to discrimination or harassment complaints.