Blind man with guide dog denied service, arrested at Kamloops gas station
A man who’s blind was told his guide dog wasn't allowed inside a Kamloops gas station, and when RCMP arrived, he thought they would defend his rights, but instead, the officers put him in handcuffs.
"I was very shocked and appalled," said Ben Fulton. "I was just really surprised at how quickly it spiraled out of control."
The Toronto man was on a road trip to celebrate after graduating law school, but things took a turn when he made a pit stop at the Shell gas station on the Trans-Canada Highway around 11:30 p.m. on June 16.
All Fulton can see is a grey blur since losing his vision to a rare disorder called retinitis pigmentosa two years ago. He relies on his guide dog, Abbie, to be his eyes.
He said the gas station clerk was adamant his manager gave him "strict instructions" that pets were not allowed.
He said when he tried to show the guide dog identification card and explain that Abbie is not a pet, but rather a working dog, the clerk did not change his position.
"When I was showing him the card, he didn’t want to look at the card. He didn’t want to hear what I was saying about Abbie being a guide dog. He didn’t seem to understand the law," Fulton said.
"He asked me if I wanted him to call the cops I responded by saying that I would love it if he called the cops. I was expecting them to show up and enforce the law."
Fulton handcuffed and put in police cruiser
Kamloops RCMP said they received a call about a man and woman who were yelling and threatening the clerk.
"When the officers attended at first, they noticed the man and woman. The dog was off to the side and behind them; they didn’t even notice the dog, they were focused on the man and woman," said spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shelkie.
Shelkie said the two officers asked Fulton and his friend to step outside because there were other customers inside the store, and when they refused, Fulton was arrested.
"The man and woman began yelling at them and the man was unco-operative. So to prevent continuation of the offence, the officers arrested the male and took him outside," she said.
Fulton denied he was confrontational, maintaining that he was speaking calmly and he had simply wanted to show the officers his guide dog identification card.
"I was very calmly standing at the counter when they came in. I wasn't yelling, I wasn't saying anything," he said. "The female officer asked me, 'Why don’t we go outside and talk about this?' So, I answered her question and I said, 'I don’t want to go outside because I'm standing at the counter trying to get service.'"
Soon after, the other officer stepped in and put him in handcuffs and he was told he was being arrested for mischief.
He said he was overcome with fear when they placed him in the back of the cruiser.
'Deficiency' in RCMP training: Fulton
Kamloops RCMP defended the actions of the officers, saying protocols were followed.
"We have a lot of diversity training both for accessibility, cultural and racial situation and we deal with these on an ongoing basis. In this situation, as soon as they found out he's blind, they removed him from handcuffs and he went on his way without charges. In this situation, the training very much worked," said Shelkie.
Fulton believes the situation clearly demonstrates a lack in training because the officers were not able to recognize immediately that Abbie is a guide dog.
"I really think they should have known that I was blind just by seeing me by my guide dog. They should've known that she's a guide dog by the fact that she's wearing a harness. The fact that they weren't able to identify that shows a deficiency in their training," he said.
The CEO of B.C. Guide Dogs believes the Mounties unnecessarily escalated the situation.
"To put a person who has a guide dog in a police cruiser is just beyond my comprehension. I can't understand how that would be the first step taken by a police officer. It's atrocious," said Bill Thornton.
He said when Fulton offered the officers his guide dog identification card, they should've taken a look at it.
"We've had guide dogs and service dogs in Canada for such a long time. It's very disappointing to hear this type of event taking place."
According to the B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, a guide and service dog is allowed to enter and use any place where the public is invited or has access to.
A Shell Canada spokesperson said they are working to understand what happened in the situation.
“Sales associates are expected to treat all customers with care and respect…We have reached out to the independent retailer who operates this site, along with the local RCMP, to further understand this incident,” said spokesperson Kristen Schmidt.
To prevent a similar situation from happening to anyone else, Fulton is in the process of filing a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
"It's the best venue for having human rights enforced in the province. It's important for me to not let this go unnoticed – for it to be swept under the rug," Fulton said.