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Austin Cline

Canada: Muslim Cabbies Given Right to Not Treat Blind People Equally

By August 24, 2007

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Guide Dog
Photo: Don Farrall / Getty Images
People with physical handicaps have to deal with numerous adversities every day, not the least of which are various forms of discrimination from everyone else. Most of society is set up for the comfort and ease of the average person, which in turn can make matters far more difficult for those dealing with some form of disability.

Should society sanction even greater discrimination and denigration when some members of a religion believe that their ancient religious texts require it? Some honestly believe so, which has led to blind people being refused cab rides when Muslim drivers say that the guide dogs are "unclean." Apparently, cab drivers deserve the right to discriminate against those passengers who, for whatever reason, are religiously "unclean."

In Vancouver, Bruce Gilmour filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal because North Shore Tax driver Behzad Saidy refused to give him a ride due to his guide dog.

It's against the law for cab drivers not to transport blind people with guide dogs, but a settlement agreement between Gilmour and the taxi company says an exception to that law would be a Muslim driver refusing to transport a dog because of religious beliefs.

But the policy says the driver has to call dispatch for the next available cab and stay with the blind person and guide dog until that cab arrives.

Source: The Toronto Star

At least this settlement means that blind people won't be left alone in potentially unsafe conditions, but they will still be faced with being told that their presence would render the driver "unclean" and, therefore, they aren't worthy of riding in the cab. Granted, it's the dog which is the target of accusations of being "unclean," but the reason why a ride is denied is that this would make the driver unclean — and if simply riding in a car with a dog makes one unclean, then how much more unclean is the person who uses the dog as a guide?

Gilmour, who has been blind for 30 years, filed a human rights complaint, alleging discrimination. "I'm tired of defending my dignity," he said in an interview Wednesday. ...

William Thornton, chief executive of B.C. Guide Dog Services, said Gilmour's experience was "all too common." There are about 150 guide dogs in B.C. Gilmour, who uses taxis regularly, said he's been fighting discrimination since 1985 when he got his first guide dog.

He said he's had arguments with cabbies who've refused to allow the dog in their cars and has been passed by taxis as he waits on the curb. "I'm humiliated and frustrated and it's an awkward position having to go into defending your rights because you're blind," Gilmour said.

Source: The Vancouver Sun

What's important to understand here is that Islam does not categorically forbid all possible contact or association with dogs. Even the Hadith (Muslim #3814) depicts Muhammad allowing people to keep dogs for hunting and protecting herds — both activities that would entail more contact with dogs than a few minutes in a car. Muslims who are in the physical vicinity of a dog are thus not violating any basic religious requirement (like not eating pork); instead, they are simply being made uncomfortable by the presence of an unclean animal (like someone eating a ham sandwich while in their presence).

Now, I won't argue that the discomfort of a Muslim being in the presence of a dog (or a ham sandwich) should be dismissed casually. I will argue, though, that what we are looking at is a driver's discomfort versus what a blind person is forced to endure when they are denied a cab ride, which is very different from forcing a driver to violate a basic religious requirement versus a blind person facing a minor inconvenience. In my opinion, the discomfort of being near a dog is less important than the right of a blind person to be treated with the same rights and dignity as all other citizens.

I'm not alone in this — Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, raised this point in the context of similar problems in Minneapolis: "In the case of guide dogs, the need to accommodate handicapped individuals should outweigh the discomfort Muslims might feel in having dogs in their vehicles." Gilmour will be giving part of his monetary settlement to the Az-zahraa Islamic Centre in Richmond because Imam Syed Jaffir helped him as an expert witness. I can't find any information on what Jaffir did, but I think it's reasonable to assume that he took a position similar to that of Hooper: Muslims may experience discomfort around dogs, but simply being near them during the course of a car ride isn't clearly forbidden in Islam.

If religious believers are allowed to refuse to treat others equally simply on the basis of experiencing discomfort that derives from their religious beliefs, and not because of any demands by their religion, there is no end to the mischief that would result. Why shouldn't Muslims be allowed to refuse rides to Jews and vice-versa? Why shouldn't devout Muslims and Jews inquire as to whether their female passengers are menstruating? How about Muslims and Jews refusing rides to someone eating a ham sandwich? What's the point of having equal protection laws if religious believers can use their religion as a reason to refuse to do anything that disturbs their comfort zone?

We should also not forget how much violence and suffering have been caused by the religious categories of "unclean" and "impure." That which is unclean is something which can or should be eliminated in the name of all that is holy. Women have suffered because they are regularly treated as "unclean" and thus unworthy of equality. Anyone born with a disability, or who was simply left-handed, might be treated as "unclean" and thus ostracized. Dividing people, animals, and the entire world into "clean" and "unclean" is perhaps the ultimate "us vs. them" division, allowing all manner of violence, killing, and suffering to be justified. It simply isn’t something that a secular, civil government should validate or recognize as part of civil laws.

Comments
August 24, 2007 at 12:20 pm
(1) Child of Thorns says:

“What’s important to understand here is that Islam does not categorically forbid all possible contact or association with gods.”

I think you mean “dogs”? Especially as islam is a theistic religion.

August 24, 2007 at 12:57 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

Child: thanks… I remember making that mistake, but I thought I had corrected it. Maybe I made it twice…

August 24, 2007 at 2:45 pm
(3) Gotweirdness says:

Ok, let me get this straight. One group (Muslims) which are considered a minority at least in Western countries are allowed to discriminate against another group (blind) who are another minority. Whats next? The blind are allowed to discriminate against amputees for lacking a sense of touch?

This situation makes absolutely no sense, but then sometimes politics or social situations rarely do. Technically, I don’t think cabs are considered “private” property since they are normally owned by the company who operates the taxi service who then contracts with the city for “public” transportation services. It wouldn’t matter what the driver’s beliefs are since they are acting in a public not a private capacity. Now, if someone is unable to pay their fare then that is a problem.

August 25, 2007 at 11:07 am
(4) Powers says:

Not to be crass, but how exactly would that blind man know he’d been passed by multiple cabs?

August 25, 2007 at 11:24 am
(5) Child of Thorns says:

“Not to be crass, but how exactly would that blind man know he’d been passed by multiple cabs?”

With his guide dog.

March 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm
(6) LuckyLinda says:

He likely means it has occurred on multiple occasions.

August 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm
(7) Ron says:

What’s important to understand here is that Islam does not categorically forbid all possible contact or association with gods.”
Child, Did you consider that maybe Austin was right the first time?

August 27, 2007 at 3:45 pm
(8) John Hanks says:

The cabs should be marked: For Observant Muslims Only.

August 31, 2007 at 4:17 pm
(9) skep says:

SEND THESE CABBIES BACK TO THIER HOMELAND. THERE THEY CAN DRIVE CAMELS. THE CAMELS ARE REALLY “CLEAN”.

August 31, 2007 at 11:14 pm
(10) AlsoSkep says:

This is a major miscarrage of justice in that it sets a dangerous precedent. The law requires that blind people be transported, with their guide dogs. If someone has a problem with following that law then they shouldn’t be cabbies, since the law is a preexisting condition that must be met by cabs.

My. How things have gotten turned around. Won’t be too long before individual police will refuse to enforce laws protecting access to abortion on religious grounds. I am against abortion but I am for enforcing the laws or I shouldn’t be a policeman.

September 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm
(11) PercyFerry says:

it just goes to show how absurd religious beliefs are. That these primitive notions are taken seriously by the courts is insane!

September 5, 2007 at 1:39 pm
(12) Graham says:

‘What’s important to understand here is that Islam does not categorically forbid all possible contact or association with dogs. Even the Hadith (Muslim #3814) depicts Muhammad allowing people to keep dogs…’

Austin, your conclusion is as always spot on, but I disagree with the above point. You go on to say Muslims are ‘not violating any basic religious requirement (like not eating pork); instead, they are simply being made uncomfortable’. Following this point, isn’t it simply lucky that the Hadith make the provisions you mention? What if it clearly was forbidden? It seems to me that regardless of the extent of a religious disapproval or outright injunction against something, that cannot be grounds for a religious group to be granted special priveleges counter to the law affecting everyone else.

(In relation to point 9, in Britain earlier this year a Muslim policeman was excused duty guarding the Israeli embassy due to religious objections).

September 5, 2007 at 2:31 pm
(13) Ricky Callwood says:

It seems to me that this situation is identical to that of Christian pharmacists opposed to the pill and Plan B. If their religion prevents them from doing their job, they should not take the job.

September 28, 2007 at 2:25 am
(14) Tom T says:

This is really becoming stupid.

First it was the BS with chemists/pharmacists.

Now muslims seem to think they have the right to discriminate against anyone?

As with the Pharmacy issue – the muslim is quite within his rights not to deal with this issue – however – he is not within his rights to refuse cab rides to blind people – the only way he may avoid this issue is not to be a cab driver.

Any court that permits this garbage should be fired as well.

The muslim who does not want guide dogs in his car should only drive his own car and not a cab.

There is no excuse at all for this kind of petulant, hateful and bigoted garbage.

This crap comming from the relgion that claims to be the most tolerant?!?! My question is why should anyone tolerate them?

October 27, 2007 at 7:26 pm
(15) Laurel says:

This just makes me sad. I can respect religious grounds for situations that are uncomfortable if there is an another option (like Jews and Muslims not wanting to eat pork, or vegans not using anything made from animals). Jews and Muslims can eat chicken, or beef, or be vegetarians if they so choose. And vegans can use products made from plants or synthetics. But what if there was no other option? What if there were no plants for vegans to eat, or if pork was the only meat left? Would Jews, Muslims and vegans all choose to starve? One needs to remain practical in a situation like this. It’s not like going to get a job. You can’t just say, “I don’t want to work there; I’ll wait for another job and collect unemployment.” You don’t always have the choice to stand on principle. Sometimes, life requires you to make sacrifices of your principles on behalf of the circumstances. And then, why do all dogs have to be unclean? Is the Seluki, the marvelous hunting dog of the Bedouins unclean? Is it unfit to be around one of them? I’m not a Muslim, or a Bedouin, so I don’t know. Nor do I own a Seluki. I suppose another way to look at this problem is that it is discrimination of only some blind people; those who choose to use guide dogs rather than canes or sighted human guides. Are we to tell blind people who are considering getting guide dogs that it’s a bad idea because they may face discrimination? Sadly, this isn’t the first case of discrimination against guide dogs that I’ve heard; it’s only the most recent and the first based on religious grounds. That would be like me not singing in a church just because I’m not a Christian, even if the choir I’m in is singing there. The choir is my job. I can’t just say, “No, I will not sing in the church.” Likewise, I can not refuse to sing the religious music. I can however, choose not to join the choir in the first place. Blind people are a fact of life. Guide dogs are a fact of life. And, if I remember correctly, the whole idea behind the guide dog/handler relationship is that the dog is essentially supposed to be ignored by the public (so that it is not distracted from its work) as if it isn’t there. Instead of seeing the “unclean” dog, the cabbie should have been paying attention to the person. So the dog is an animal. It is also a tool. It just happens to have four legs, a furry body, a tail, and a very wet tongue. I personally don’t think guide dogs (or any other service dogs) should count as dogs under Muslim law, or any other law. They’re more like people. And what about blind Muslims? Are they to be limited to only canes and sighted guides because dogs are “unclean”?

September 3, 2008 at 10:40 am
(16) Mac says:

If these people want to live on canadian soil there should be no “acceptions to any of our laws” Literally this kind of stuff is overlooked way to much. Its like seeing a turbin worn in an army mess hall – what the heck lets just let them do whatever they want.. This kind of stupidity is going to cost us in the end. If we continue letting them bend the laws. One law, one hard line with no bends- that is implied to everyone. If you don’t like it leave!!!!! When are we going to stand for what we stand for, society is weakening to a point of breaking, its brittle need I say more. Wake up people – there is a disease going around in a people that would once not put up with any of this, its called ” lack-oh-spine-ah-missin-us. “

November 21, 2008 at 12:51 am
(17) Stan says:

Wouldn’t the intelligent judgment be that if the cabbie didn’t want to transport seeing eye dogs he should get a different job?

March 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm
(18) Karen says:

This entire issue is disgusting.
This is Canada,
Who in their right mind would actually entertain allowing discrimination against a blind man and his guide dog, by a religion that condones beheading women?
This is insane

August 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm
(19) davebehrens says:

Muslims cab drivers can refuse service to blind people with dogs, or people carrying alcohol, because both are ‘haram, ‘ that is, they are dirty.

Can non-Muslims refuse to deal with Muslim cab drivers because Muslims themselves are ‘haram’ that is, Muslims are dirty?

A boycott of all Muslim businesses should be started in the USA. Simply allow non-Muslim businesses to state that fact on their signs and/or in their advertisements.

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