TAXI driver James Young could not have picked a worse person to refuse a fare.
The man in the back of his cab was none other than the Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes.
Mr Innes and his guide dog, a golden labrador named Jordie, had no sooner entered the cab at the Market Street taxi rank when the first words out of Mr Young’s mouth were ”no dog, no dog,” Mr Innes yesterday told a hearing at the Downing Centre Local Court.
Mr Young had pleaded not guilty to discriminating against Mr Innes by refusing to drive him and the guide dog on April 9, 2009. But he was yesterday convicted and fined $750 and ordered to pay $2500 in legal fees after the magistrate Julie Huber found the offence proven.
Mr Innes, a lawyer and human rights advocate who has helped shape anti-discrimination legislation, told the court he explained to Mr Young that the law required him to take the fare, but the driver still refused.
When asked to provide his cab number, Mr Young gave five digits instead of four, which Mr Innes knew to be a false number, the court heard. Mr Innes then reported the cabbie to the Department of Transport, which launched the prosecution.
Mr Young denied the allegations, telling the court he had no problem with the animal and had been unable to move his cab as it was blocked by other taxis.
”I have got a lot of respect for people,” Mr Young said. ”I love handicapped people.”
Ms Huber found that Mr Young had discriminated against Mr Innes and disagreed with the suggestion made by Mr Young’s counsel, Craig Bolger, that no harm had been caused. ”It is because of the harm [caused], which is actual and emotional and psychological, that these sorts of legislation are in place – to ensure that all people are treated equally,” she told Mr Young.
According to Guide Dogs NSW, driver education is improving attitudes but one in three people who use a guide dog have been barred from a taxi in the past year.
Discriminated against…Sarah Hirst and her guide dog, Ally. Photo: Domino Postiglione
There was a time when Sarah Hirst could not catch a taxi without being refused service from at least one driver. Cabbies would drive off as soon as they saw her guide dog, Ally. One driver told the 22-year-old that ”disabled people with dogs shouldn’t be using taxis”. Another drove past them as they stood in the rain.