KITCHEN – Protesters returned to Milton’s restaurant Friday night for an altercation Wednesday that the victim’s mother says was “unacceptable and illegal.”
“My son Justin has a medical condition that gives him the right to have a service animal. He wanted to eat at the restaurant and they took him out by force. This is unacceptable and illegal, ”said Shelley DeLaFranier.
“The physical and psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of the restaurant owners shows a clear lack of understanding of the law and should not have happened,” DeLaFranier said. “We are grateful for the great amount of support for Justin and will respectfully ask for privacy as he works through the trauma of this incident.”
A video of his son, Justin Leckie, captured the moment when an altercation at the Kitchener restaurant with two men described on social media how the owners got out of control.
It has now been shared tens of thousands of times on multiple social media platforms, prompting calls online to boycott the restaurant.
A protest was scheduled for 4 p.m., with dozens of people cycling overnight, holding signs for passing traffic.
The four and a half minute long video shows Leckie being confronted by two men who tell him to leave. On occasion, men are seen grabbing it and even dragging it by the feet. Leckie’s service dog was largely kept out of frame, but is seen wearing a blue vest.
Leckie is heard in the video telling the two men, “I have your license.”
The restaurant’s website and phones were down Thursday and Friday, and restaurant staff said the owners had left when the Waterloo Region Register asked for comment during the protest.
Waterloo Regional Police said officers received a report of a disturbance at the restaurant at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday. Police said they are aware of the video and are investigating the circumstances surrounding it. No additional details have been provided.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Persons with Disabilities Accessibility Act, individuals with service animals only need to provide documentation from a licensed healthcare professional confirming that the animal is necessary due to a disability.
This should only be required in cases where the service animal is not easily identifiable and is not wearing a vest or harness.
Service animals “must be able to stay with you” when they are inside restaurants, supermarkets and taxis, according to the law.
While service dogs are often primarily associated with guide dogs for the blind, there are a large number of people with different disabilities who benefit from animals specifically trained for their needs.
This can include people with physical disabilities, people with PTSD, and people on the autism spectrum.
The animals are specifically trained for each situation.
In Cambridge, for example, National Service Dogs has trained more than 550 certified service dogs. Launched in 1996, it began breeding, training, and placing dogs with children on the autism spectrum. Dogs serve as anchors for children, according to the website.
In 2017, Leckie created a GoFundMe page to raise money to train Eponine, a Windsong Collies dog capable of training service dogs. Leckie said in the post that she was diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger syndrome and chronic anxiety at age 15, but that she was too old to qualify for a funded service dog.
“Research has shown that having the help of a service dog for people with autism spectrum disorders can alleviate the overwhelming symptoms I encounter on a daily basis,” he wrote. “Through the sensations of touch and feelings of companionship, I can better control my symptoms and achieve greater independence.”
A year later, Leckie ended the fundraiser, writing on the page that Eponine had passed her test to be a registered service dog. He had raised more than $ 2,200 to help fund the training.
Leckie, a talented musician, plays lead violin for the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, where Eponine has also become a regular.
“Justin is a very kind soul, all the members of our orchestra are very fond of him and his dog,” said musical director Sabatino Vacca in an email.
With thousands of views and comments online, a few dozen community members who never knew Leckie took to the streets Friday to express outrage at his handling of the facility.
“These owners had other options, they could have called the police and had it taken away,” said Dan Sears, one of the protesters outside Milton’s on Friday. “No matter what he did, as soon as they got their hands on him, he was wrong.”
Sears dated her son, Craig, who was the first to arrive at the restaurant Thursday after seeing the video. He said he had never protested a day in his life, but this one hit the mark.
“I watched the video online and it just pissed me off and upset me to the core,” he said. “My young son has autism and there have been many times when he has had a breakdown, or he just doesn’t feel well, and nobody understands what is going through his mind and people make quick decisions about who he is instead of just thinking. that maybe he’s a little different. “
Stephen Irwin, who was also in front of Milton’s on Friday, said the video made him nervous and he thought someone needed to speak.
Like the Sears, Irwin said he had never participated in a protest before.
“This type of behavior is not welcome in our community, it is not welcome anywhere. “He said.” But seeing everyone here, it’s surprising that so many people came together for one individual. ”
Robert Williams is a reporter for The Record in the Waterloo region. Contact him by email: [email protected]