Blind man arrested after employee calls police over guide dog at Kamloops gas station | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Blind man arrested after employee calls police over guide dog at Kamloops gas station

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

KAMLOOPS — Ben Fulton has used a guide dog for the last two years and he’s used to having to explain to store employees whenever he goes out in public that his dog, Abbie, is a working guide dog.

He’s used to dealing with some resistance now and then but a recent stop to a Kamloops gas station was the first time he was ever arrested from an incident stemming from his dog.

“I don’t really blame the clerk for calling the police because if you are unsure of the law, that should be who you can call to get things straightened out,” Fulton says, who is blind. “I’m mostly upset about the way police handled the situation.”

Fulton, 38, was visiting B.C. from Ontario last month and was road-tripping from Vancouver to Salmon Arm to visit his mom on June 16. It was around midnight when Fulton and a friend decided to stop at the Shell gas station in Valleyview along the Trans-Canada highway for a quick coffee break and to stretch their legs.

“We were just basically standing at the counter, putting cream and sugar in our coffee when (the clerk) said ‘there are no dogs allowed in the store,’’’ Fulton says.

Understanding that the employee may not have seen Abbie was a guide dog, Fulton began to explain she wasn’t just a pet. But the employee wouldn’t accept Fulton’s explanation. So, Fulton took out Abbie’s guide dog identification card.

“I was sort of offering for him to take the card,” Fulton says.

At this point, the employee asked Fulton if he wanted him to call the police.

“I was trying to explain to him that it doesn’t matter what your manager says, it doesn’t change the laws,” Fulton says. “The law says we are allowed to be here.”

The Guide Dog and Service Dog Act says a person with a certified guide dog has the same access to any place an individual without a guide dog has as long as the guide dog does not occupy a seat in a public conveyance or a place where food is served or dispensed to the public. The guide must be held by a leash or harness as well.

Fulton says he agreed that the police should be called.

“I said ‘I would love it if you could call the cops’ because I was expecting the cops to come and enforce the law,” he says.

Two officers arrived and asked him if they could speak to Fulton outside of the store.

“I said 'Well I don’t want to go outside because I am standing here at the counter trying to get service,'” Fulton says.

He says the officer asked him a second time to speak to him outside of the building and he declined again.

“The next thing that happened was (the officer) placed his hands on my wrist and said I am arresting you for mischief,” Fulton says.

Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shelkie says responding officers were not aware the man was blind or had a guide dog. The call came in simply as a man and a woman who had entered the gas station with a dog and were refusing to leave after they were told no pets were allowed in the store.

“They began yelling at (the officers) and the employee said the man made gestures at him that made him fear for his physical safety,” Shelkie says.

Fulton says the comment about him making gestures is misconstrued. The only thing he can attribute it to is when he tried giving the employee his guide dog identification card.

“That’s the only thing I can think of that he could possibly be talking about when I held out my card out for him to look at,” he says, adding that he is working on obtaining the security footage from the gas station that night.

Shelkie says the two officers asked the man and the woman to speak outside of the store to deescalate the situation.

“It’s a risk assessment,” Shelkie says. “These two people were the subject of our complaints so our focus is to keep the people safe.”

Shelkie says officers weren’t specifically looking for the dog either.

“They refused to speak to (the officers) in a calm manner or leave the building so… that’s when he was placed under arrest,” Shelkie says.

Shelkie says the officers didn't know Fulton was blind prior to arresting him and regardless that wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome.

"It was a lawful arrest whether he had a guide dog or was blind or not, he was committing an offence," Shelkie says, adding the offences he was arrested for were mischief and causing a disturbance.

Shelkie says once officers realized there was no more risk from Fulton and they were informed by Fulton's friend he was blind and the animal was, in fact, a guide dog, he was freed from his handcuffs and released without charges.

"The reason he was arrested was to prevent the continuation of the offence and the employee basically wanted them out of the store with their dog," Shelkie says.

Fulton says he finds it troubling police say they weren't aware he was blind since he had to hand his guide dog's leash to his friend as he was being arrested.

"It's kind of amazing to me that they would have missed the guide dog. She has a distinctive white harness and she's a black dog," he says. "My position is they must (have known) and if they didn't, then there are some serious deficiencies in their powers of observation."

Fulton says he received an apology from the officer who placed the handcuffs on him tightly, but did not receive an apology for anything else.

"There was nothing to apologize for," Shelkie says. 

Fulton is a recent graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He hopes to work with Shell to improve the way companies and local managers understand human rights laws in Canada. This is the first time he has ever had an employee call the police on him over his guide dog, and despite the situation, he would still encourage employees to call the police if they are unsure of the law in the future.

"If you are unsure of the law, you should be able to call the police enforce the law," he says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Karen Edwards or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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