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Hallowe'en as a "blind man": The legal perils of carrying a white cane

Yesterday, the AEBC released a press release in protest of the selling of “blind person” Hallowe’en costumes. I agree that the sale of such costumes is wholly inappropriate or at the very least insensitive. Media portrayals of blindness are often, at a minimum, misguided. The public’s conception of what it means to be blind, and what people who are blind or who have low vision can do, is typically a far cry from reality. Dressing up and acting as a blind person can only further these misconceptions.

It should be noted, however, that not only is this activity insensitive and inappropriate from the point of view of the blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted community, but impersonating a blind person has already been decried by society. It is, in fact, against the law to do so in many jurisdictions. (See below for the various applicable legislative provisions.)

The gist of all this legislation is that, in these jurisdictions, it is against the law for a person who is not in fact legally blind, to carry a white cane (or, for that matter, any stick that is predominantly white and might be mistaken for such). If prosecuted, the sentence could include fines of up to $2000 and/or six months in prison!

It is, of course, highly unlikely that the police would take any interest whatsoever in a child dressing up as a blind person. An adult, particularly if he or she was in a public place and pretending to be blind, might be subject to greater scrutiny. I am not aware of any cases of these laws actually having been applied and a conviction entered, but isn’t to say that it hasn’t happened or would never happen, particularly if someone complained about the activity to the police.

This is not, in any case, a game, and people who are blind should not be made the subject of costumes and play, and there are potential legal consequences to doing so. Buyer beware!

Legislative Provisions

British Columbia

Guide Animal Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 177

[1] In this Act:
"white cane" means a cane or walking stick at least the upper 2/3 of which is white.

[5] A person who is not a blind person according to accepted medical standards must not carry or use a white cane.

[6] In a prosecution for contravention of section 5, the onus is on the defendant to prove that he or she is blind according to accepted medical standards.

[9] (1) A person who contravenes this Act commits an offence.
(2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $200.

Alberta

Blind Persons’ Rights Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. B-3

[1] In this Act,
(c) “white cane” means a cane or walking stick, the whole or the upper 2/3 of which is painted white.

[3] No person other than a blind person shall carry or use a white cane in a public place or public conveyance or other place to which the public is permitted to have access.

[4] A person who contravenes section 3 is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding $250.

Saskatchewan

The White Cane Act, R.S.S. 1978, c. W-13

[2] In this Act ...
(b) white cane means a cane or walking stick the major portion of which is white.

[3] No person other than a blind person shall carry or use a white cane in any public thoroughfare, public conveyance or public place.

[5] A person who violates section 3 is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $25.

Ontario

Blind Persons’ Rights Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. B.7

[3] No person, other than a blind person, shall carry or use a cane or walking stick, the major part of which is white, in any public place, public thoroughfare or public conveyance.

[6] (2). Every person who is in contravention of section 3 or of subsection 4(3) or who, not being a blind person, purports to be a blind person for the purpose of claiming the benefit of this Act is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine not exceeding $500.

Quebec

An Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, school and Workplace Integration, R.S.Q., c. E-20.1

[75] The following are guilty of an offence and are liable to a fine of $500 to $1,500 in the case of a natural person and to a fine of $1,500 to $7,000 in the case of a legal person: ... (subsections (a)-(d) irrelevant and omitted)

[76] Every person utilizing a white cane or a dog guide while not being a visually impaired person is guilty of an offence and is liable to the penalties provided in section 75.

In this section,

(a) “white cane” means a cane the surface of which is at least two-thirds white; ...

Nova Scotia

Blind Persons’ Rights Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 40

[5] No person, other than a blind person, shall carry or use a cane or walking stick, the major part of which is white, in any public place, public thoroughfare or public conveyance.

[7] Every person who, not being a blind person, purports to be a blind person for the purposes of obtaining or attempting to obtain the benefit of this Act is guilty of an offence.

[8] Every person who violates this Act shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to the penalty provided by the Summary Proceedings Act.

Summary Proceedings Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 450

[4] Every one who, without lawful excuse, contravenes an enactment by wilfully doing anything that it forbids or by wilfully omitting to do anything that it requires to be done is, unless some penalty or punishment is expressly provided by law, guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months or to both.

Newfoundland & Labrador

Service Animal Act, S.N.L. 2012, c. S-13.02

[2] In this Act
(d) "white cane" means a cane or walking stick the major portion of which is white.

[8] A person other than a blind person shall not carry or use a white cane in a public thoroughfare, public conveyance or public place.

[10] A person who contravenes this Act or the regulations is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction
(a) in the case of an individual, to a fine of not more than $500 or to imprisonment for not more than 30 days or to both a fine and imprisonment; and
(b) in the case of a corporation, to a fine of not more than $1,000.

Prince Edward Island

White Cane Act, R.S.P.E.I. 1988, c. W-4

[1] In this Act...
(b) "white cane" means a cane or walking stick the major portion of which is white.

[3] No person not being a blind person shall carry or use a white cane in any public thoroughfare, public conveyance or public place.

[4] Any person who violates this Act is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of $25.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.

Comments

Thank you for the research on "white cane" laws. I agree with the view that people ought not portray themselves as blind, or black or aboriginal or anything else that they are not; except sometimes. For example there is a purpose to education and entertainment. My research was nearly as thorough as Andrews and was due to a choice to use highly coloured canes rather than the "white" provided for by law and custom. My experience is that the sighted public pay more attention to my brilliant purple cane than to the white cane I've used for nearly forty years. The question which occurs to me is, however, as much fun as it is, is it wise to abandon the "white cane"? I think as blind people we are in a "two steps forward, one step back" battle for equality. Do all disadvanted people rather the discrimination is benign or malicious need to adhere to an dientity?