Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Corgis In A Kangaroo Court, Part 2

Allarie vs. Rouble / The Granary before the OHRT : The Hearing

Having written a lot, and read a lot more - and better - writing over the last few years about Canada's Human Rights Industry, today was my time to experience it first hand - as close as I ever hope to get to a Human Rights complaint. In this post I'll try to briefly cover the hearing itself, with a few observations thrown in for good measure.

The hearing was held at a Best Western hotel in suburban Ottawa. The Roubles, along with their witnesses had arrived first and were there when I arrived, being interviewed for CBC TV in Ottawa. Both CBC TV and radio reporters were there to cover the hearing - which is I think good news overall. Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan was there. A local newspaper reporter was also present, from the Carleton Place Canadian Gazette. About ten members of the public, myself included, were there to observe proceedings - clearly unexpected since there were no chairs provided and the hotel had to be called upon to bring them in.

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal vice chair Leslie Reaume was next to arrive. She's a not unattractive woman, and arrived smiling and oozing charm - certainly the Tyranny of Nice put a very nice tyrant in front of us today. Ms. Reaume's resume is a perfect Human Rights Industry 10 - she studied at the University of Western Ontario under feminist law professors, and for the six years prior to landing the Tribunal gig, she was counsel for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Indeed, Ms. Reaume already has her place in legal history - she was the lawyer for the CHRC in their intervention in the Supreme Court hearing on same-sex marriage. She is also mentioned in passing in another landmark case, but this is a family blog and so if you want details on that one, you'll have to email me.

Mr. Allarie was last to arrive and made an impressive entrance, a large bag over his shoulder and D-O-Gee, the famous chihuahua, cuddled tightly to his chest. No doubt used to being the centre of attention, D-O-Gee took exception to the guide dog already present in the room and had a little snarl and snap. Although I don't speak chihuahua, I have replayed the recording I took on my iPhone, and the corgis tell me that the translation was something along the lines of 'I want some fucking recognition.'

Ms. Reaume also explained that the hearing should take place in a fairly informal and free fashion - it not being a courtroom. This was immediately belied, when Mr. Allarie asked that the Roubles' witnesses be excluded from the room until called on to testify. Ms. Reaume concurred and in a slightly heated exchange with the Roubles suddenly came over all judicial. "I make the rules," she admonished before banishing the witnesses to the hotel corridors.

Hostile witnesses safely out of the way, Mr. Allarie presented his case. He explained that he had explored the idea of a service dog over some months in discussion with his doctor and had purchased D-O-Gee on 27th July, 2005. He stated that he is fearful of larger dogs and hence needed a small dog. He also explained that when D-O-Gee is working, the dog has to be on his lap to give him a focal point. He produced his doctor's letter stating that he 'has' a service dog - and even pointed out, helpfully, that the letter does not say 'needs' or 'requires'. A series of other letters followed - permission to take the dog into the Perth Courthouse - we never got to find out why Mr. Allarie needed to be there of all places, and a letter from the OPP confirming local officers would be made aware of his 'having' a service dog.

Mr. Allarie also testified that in 2005, psychiatric service dogs were not recognized, and even today it is not possible to get a small dog trained as a service dog - the best he could do was basic obedience training. D-O-Gee helps provide routine for him and helps with his claustrophobia and agoraphobia. (Editor's note: Isn't someone who has claustrophobia and agoraphobia kind of screwed? Is that even possible?)

He then moved on to present his complaint. In 2006, he had been to the Granary with D-O-Gee and was asked by Keith Rouble to leave the dog outside next time he visited. Subsequently he had returned to the store while someone else was working and had been served. On yet another occasion he came back to the store while Keith was again working and was asked to leave the dog outside. This caused him to have a panic attack and he left. He then filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In their response to this complaint, the Roubles agreed that if he would provide evidence of the dog being a service animal and agree to keep the dog in his arms, rather then letting it run around the store, they would allow him to shop. Mr. Allarie then withdrew the complaint. Mr. Allarie was vague about the dates of all of these events.

When it came to the events triggering this new complaint, Mr. Allarie's story was that he went to the store, opened the door, asked if could be served and was 'waved off'. He testified that Keith Rouble told him to leave. This apparently caused Mr. Allarie to want to call the police, whereupon Keith handed him the telephone - yes, handed him the store telephone - and Mr. Allarie called the OPP - but left the store before they arrived.

The Roubles' recollection was, not surprisingly, rather different. Mr. Rouble and his witness both testified that Mr. Allarie entered the store that day and shouted "I want some fucking service," before approaching Mrs. Rouble at the cash, taking the salt and pepper he wanted and throwing a bunch of coins in her face. Mrs. Rouble testified that she was terrified, traumatized and shaking. Mr. Rouble called the police in light of this violent and abusive behaviour, and indeed, it was Mr. Allarie's aggressive and abusive behaviour that was the reason for his being barred from the store. It actually has nothing to do with the dog - indeed Mr. Allarie had never been denied service at any time, not even on the day in question. Where Mr. Allarie had no recollection of dates, the Roubles' had dates and times. Their testimony was as detailed as his was vague.

Another witness, visually impaired herself, testified that she has always been warmly welcomed with her guide dog at the Granary and that the Roubles had always gone the extra mile to accomodate her.

Ms. Reaume gave no indication of which version of events she was inclined to believe. She did observe that the burden of proof in a HRT case lies with the complainant. The key issue of who called the police was the only area she really questioned - and interestingly both parties were able to produce police reports. I'm sure it's too cynical of me to believe that Mr. Allarie had the presence of mind to make a 'cover my ass' phone call to the OPP immediately after his alleged assault on Leslie Rouble. Or is it?

And so the question for Ms. Reaume really hinges on who she believes. The decision is reserved and we won't know the disposition of the complaint for some months. In a little gem while she was summing things up, she did say that she was 'essentially a judge.' Sure. If judges didn't have those inconvenient rules of evidence and all that stuff.

Carleton Place locals, of course, know a lot more about this man, this dog, and this situation than could be presented at the hearing. I believe you'll see media coverage that also tends to substantiate the Roubles' case. But in the capricious world of the Human Rights Tribunals, we can't count on truth, or even on common sense to drive the process to the right conclusion.

That's the hearing in a (very small) nutshell. I'll have some reflections on what it all means in the final part of this mini series.