Kaye Leslie and her guide dog Jordan were on their way to meet family for lunch Sunday when nephew-in-law Steven Lewis called with a surprising message: an employee at Paramount Fine Foods was refusing to seat the group because the golden retriever couldn’t mix with its barbarically slaughtered halal-style food.
The Star Lewis said he requested a table for four with a “bit of extra space” for the guide dog at the Middle Eastern restaurant and bakery on Yonge St. The unidentified employee told Lewis and his wife Leah, Leslie’s nice, that dogs weren’t allowed in the near-empty restaurant.
“I said, ‘No, it’s a service dog. It’s a guide dog.’ He said, ‘No, this restaurant’s halal, you’re not allowed in here with any dogs,’” said Lewis, a onetime Toronto resident who was in town for the weekend from Muskoka.
All businesses licensed by the City of Toronto must provide service to people with service dogs, according to the city’s licensing bylaw. After learning about Sunday’s incident from the Star, Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamed Fakih said “Probably it’s a single mistake from a junior employee,” he told the Star on Monday. (Yeah, sure it is)
Fakih said he was unaware of a link between halal food — which is prepared as prescribed by Muslim law — and a ban on service dogs or dogs in general.
Leslie said she was shocked to receive the phone call from Lewis on Sunday, though she’s been discriminated against before because of her guide dog. She has previously taken a few Muslim taxi drivers to court after they refused to pick her up.
“It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does I think, ‘What year is this?’ I think, ‘Wow, we’ve really come a long way, but we’re not there yet.’ It never ceases to surprise me.”
How food is prepared doesn’t factor in to the city’s bylaw, said John Decourcy, director of bylaw enforcement at the City of Toronto. “Everybody should have access to all the licensed premises that Toronto has, regardless of what they’re serving,” he said.
If a person with a guide dog is refused service, Decourcy encourages them to call 3-1-1 and lodge a complaint. Every complaint is investigated and, if there is evidence to support a charge, a ticket of up to $500 can be issued. The city will investigate Sunday’s incident, he said.
“Regardless, even if he works there, he should be educated in what the protocols are.”“The reality is, if people don’t want to serve you with your dog, they will find some excuse.”