A former CFB Shilo soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who had a run-in with city police over his certified service dog has reached a settlement — a deal struck after an adjudicator ruled an initial offer made by police wasn’t enough.
Manitoba Human Rights Commission executive director Azim Jiwa said the case is unprecedented in Manitoba.
It’s the first time the commission has handled a complaint dealing with a service animal that assists with a disability that’s not readily visible.
"I think it reminds all of us that there are people out there who have disabilities that we cannot see, and we should learn to help them to be a part of society just as much as we work towards helping people who have disabilities that are visible," Jiwa said Tuesday, shortly after the commission released the adjudicator’s decision.
Despite the ruling, and the subsequent settlement, there was no finding of discrimination and the Brandon Police Service maintains there was no merit to the complaint.
"With respect to the alleged incident involving Mr. Nachuk, Brandon Police Service believes that its members acted in a reasonable and appropriate manner," the BPS stated in a press release issued Tuesday afternoon.
Master Cpl. Bill Nachuk served in Israel, Bosnia and Afghanistan and was posted at CFB Shilo at the time of the incident.
The provincially appointed adjudicator’s decision, and the settlement that followed, brings an end to a lengthy ordeal that began in a Brandon bar nearly three years ago.
"We just weren’t able to mention anything about this in the last three years until everything got finalized ... for a lot of reasons, it was kept quiet for the last three years until the investigation came to an end," Nachuk said Tuesday when reached in New Brunswick where he’s now stationed at CFB Gagetown.
Otherwise, Nachuk declined comment and stated he needed military clearance to speak.
However, Global Winnipeg quoted Nachuk as stating that his encounter with Brandon police officers left him heartbroken and frustrated.
"We go to these places overseas to fight for the rights of others," Nachuk told the broadcaster. "To have these rights that we take for granted here to be removed ... It’s very frustrating, very heartbreaking."
Nachuk filed his discrimination complaint on June 7, 2011.
A decorated Canadian Forces member, he was suffering from "Occupational Stress Injuries" at the time of the encounter with police in April 2011.
His condition included post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anger, anxiety, and trust and stress issues. He was previously hospitalized due to "suicide related incidents."
Nachuk was matched with a service dog, Gambler, through the Manitoba Search and Rescue Elite Service Dog Program and they were certified as an active service dog team on March 25, 2011.
Having a service dog greatly eased Nachuk’s stress, a psychiatrist determined.
According to his complaint, on April 16, 2011, Nachuk had Gambler with him as he and a friend went to the Keystone Motor Inn lounge to socialize — the first time in two years that Nachuk had attempted to socialize in such a public place.
About an hour after they arrived, a motel employee approached Nachuk and told him he had to remove Gambler from the premises.
Nachuk responded by showing Gambler’s certification papers, which the employee took over to three Brandon Police Service officers who were on scene.
According to Nachuk, a BPS officer asked: "So what’s with the dog?" When Nachuk explained it was a service dog, the officer responded: "Why? You’re not blind!"
Nachuk tried in vain to explain the kind of service dog Gambler was, but officers "refused to listen." A second officer told him that the manager wanted the dog out, and that Nachuk was close to going to jail.
Feeling degraded, Nachuk grabbed his coat and he, his friend and Gambler were escorted out of the bar by police.
As a result, Nachuk said, he had a setback in his mental health therapy.
The matter was ultimately resolved without going to a full hearing, so the above allegations weren’t proven and there was no finding that the BPS had breached the province’s Human Rights Code.
In March, the BPS offered Nachuk $5,500 in general damages, but that excluded legal costs and exemplary (deterrent) damages.
The force says it made the offer to avoid the cost of contesting the complaint, when there would be no ability to seek reimbursement for legal expenses.
Nachuk, however, rejected the offer, arguing the money wasn’t enough and should include the legal fees and other damages.
On April 30, an adjudicator agreed that the offer wasn’t enough as Nachuk was particularly vulnerable given his mental health issues.
It’s up to police to uphold the province’s Human Rights Code, the adjudicator ruled, and any veiled threats of jail would have suppressed Nachuk’s attempt to explain his legitimate reason for having the service dog.
In addition, the police escort out of a public premise was degrading and had set back his mental health treatment.
The adjudicator’s task was to assess whether the offer from the city/police was enough. His task was to proceed as if the complainant’s allegations were true, but made no finding of fact.
However, following the decision the police made another offer that was accepted. The conditions and amount of that confidential settlement weren’t released.
The BPS states that the Human Rights Code was amended since the complaint to include a definition of "service animals." It has since updated its policies and will train its officers accordingly.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 14, 2014