By CBC News, cbc.ca, Updated: October 25, 2011 1:34 PM
An Edmonton woman is filing a human rights complaint after her autistic nine-year-old daughter and service dog were told to leave the west-end Winners for the second time in three months.
“I don’t believe that anybody should feel like a second class citizen in any place…and especially as a child,” said Alison Ainsworth.
The discount clothing store ordered Ainsworth’s daughter Emily and her dog Levi to leave the premises last July, but later apologized to the family.
The store sent Emily a formal apology, a card featuring a puppy on the cover and $25 gift card.
The apology was written by Mike Faulkner, Edmonton District Manger for the TJX Canada, the parent company of Winners.
“I followed up with the store and the manager invovled and he was very apologetic,” Faulkner wrote. “He certainly didn’t mean any offense at all and was
upset to hear that you and your daughter were upset.
“My biggest concern is that your daughter doesn’t feel welcome so if you don’t mind spoiling her a bit, I’d like to give her a $25 gift card to pick something she’d like from any of aour stores.”
On Sunday Emily, Levi and her mother visited the store to use the gift card when they were told by store staff that Levi, whose harness identifies him as
a service dog, was not allowed into the store.
“We were asked to leave the store,” she said. “My child’s service dog was not permitted in their establishment anywhere.
“And if that’s true then that includes my child because there is no separation between the two of them.”
Emily said leaving the store made her sad.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t get anything from the store, even my dress that my mom picked out nicely for me,” she said.
Ainsworth described the incidents as uneducated and unfounded bullying.
“It’s demoralizing,” she said. “It’s demeaning.”
Ainworth doubts the sincerity of the store’s apology.
“Had they taken it with seriousness, then I think their staff would have become educated,” said Ainsworth.
“For us as a family to go back in and to be kicked a second time…it’s almost as though we lured into an establishment under the guise that it was a safe
place to go.”
While it may not look as though Emily needs a service dog, Levi is imperative to Emily’s well-being, said Ainsworth.
Levi gives Emily a sense of stability, Ainsworth said.
“He’s very grounding and he gives her opportunity to participate in community and school and home in a way that would otherwise be challenging for her,” she said.
Without Levi, Emily could get lost or leave the store with a stranger, she said.
“It’s really the difference of life and death.”
Ainsworth filed a complaint with police and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
She’s hoping the store will go beyond a simple apology this time.
“They have an unique opportunity now not only to educate their store associates, but they can educate the public as well.”
The parent company of Winners says allowing service animals in its stores is standard policy.
“We are looking into the particulars regarding this customer’s experience and will reach out to her directly, as well as take whatever actions we believe
are appropriate,” said Doreen Thompson, TJX spokesperson.
Autistic Girl Wins Apology Over Service Dog Ban
By CBC News, cbc.ca, Updated: October 28, 2011 12:59 PM
A young girl with autism and her mother received an apology from the Winners retail chain for barring the girl’s service dog from its west Edmonton store
“Honestly I’m so happy today … in light of a really hard week,” said Alison Ainsworth.
Ainsworth and her nine-year-old daughter Emily were told by store staff on Sunday that Emily’s dog Levi, whose harness identifies him as a service dog,
was not allowed in the store.
But on Thursday, the chain assured Ainsworth, Emily and Levi will be welcomed at the store should they return.
“Emily … is excited that the next time she goes to get a dress, she’ll be able to come home with one,” said Ainsworth.
It was the second time the discount clothing store had ordered the family to leave.
The chain apologized after store management kicked out the family in July, giving Emily a $25 gift card — the same card Emily was hoping to use Sunday.
This week Ainsworth spoke with the president of Winners’ Western Canada stores, who attributed the incidents to a failure of staff to follow the retail
Management promised her it will educate each employee on its policy, which allows service dogs in all its stores, she said.
Winners will also donate $10,000 to a charity of Ainsworth’s choice — which she will commit to training a service dog for another autistic child in Alberta.
Ainsworth hopes the publicity around the incidents will help change attitudes of businesses and the public about service dogs.
“This is a really big message and we’re grateful to the community in standing up with us on this.”
The family has decided not to follow through with a human rights complaint against the company.