It was a story no one
wants to hear.
Samantha Oruski, a blind woman, was barred from entering a sushi restaurant in Whitehorse because she wanted to bring her guide dog inside.
So was Oruski’s boyfriend Steve. He is also blind and also had a guide dog with him.
When people face discrimination — let’s call this by its real name — they look to the law for protection.
But you will find very little legal protection for Yukoners with disabilities.
Under the Yukon Human Rights Act, blindness is defined as a disability; service cannot be denied because of it.
But the Yukon does not have specific laws to protect the rights of people with service dogs.
Unlike most Canadian jurisdictions, police can’t lay charges and businesses don’t face fines if they block a blind person’s right to service in the Yukon.
The only recourse for Oruski is to file a complaint with the commission.
That’s shameful, and it needs to change.
Oruski’s story has also cast light into some dark corners of our society’s true character.
She is a blind woman who overcame her disability to become a Crown prosecutor, in Whitehorse no less.
She is an inspiration.
Unfortunately, longstanding ignorance lurking in territorial society has stripped her of her dignity.
Oruski’s bout with Tokyo Sushi made headlines, but it is by no means the only tale she can tell you about discrimination here.
She was once told by a Whitehorse store clerk to “park” her dog outside.
“He doesn’t look like he’s working, and you don’t look blind,” the woman said, according to Oruski.
People in grocery stores regularly cut her and her dog off, or treat her as if she isn’t blind, said Oruski.
If she bumps into them, they usually react angrily, she said.
When Oruski walks with her guide dog from downtown Whitehorse to her home in Takhini, she is often subjected to intolerance, she said.
One particularly bad day, a driver yelled at her while he waited for Oruski to cross the parking lot entrance into Canadian Tire.
Incredibly, he was mean enough to broadcast his bigotry by honking his horn, she said.
Later, Oruski had to walk into oncoming traffic at an intersection because a driver had thoughtlessly rolled beyond the crosswalk.
Unfortunately for the Yukon’s future, all of this takes its toll on important members of our
We often argue with our southern friends that the Yukon isn’t the backward, forgotten
territory they think it is.
We note that, among other things, our territory is home to dozens of same-sex couples and people with disabilities who are valued members of our
But Oruski’s story reveals that yarn isn’t the complete truth.
A talk with Len Slann, executive director of the Yukon Council on Disability, further undermines that territory-is-tolerant sentiment.
Slann knows many people who have left the territory because of accessibility issues.
“They basically said it was too difficult to exist here,” he said.
While there’s little we can do about our winters for people in wheelchairs, should we not do as much as we possibly can to remove the man-made barriers from their lives?
To do that, we must educate Yukoners about disabilities and the laws protecting people with them, said Slann.
And there is some cause for hope.
A trip to Dawson with a friend in a wheelchair introduced Slann to several new buildings that feature accessible entrances and rooms.
That’s a positive step.
But many more need to be taken.
Until then, we must all listen to stories like Oruski’s and be honest in our failures at tolerance.
“If I’m going to continue to contribute to this community and be part of it, there’s got to be a service animal statute,” she said.
“What happens when I go to the grocery store and they kick me out of there? What happens when the taxi driver complains about the dog?” she asked.
Answering her own question, Oruski was blunt.
“I’ll leave,” she said. (TQ)