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July 09, 2004

Guide Dog Barred for not Speaking English

A blind Quebec student may sue a Canadian university that denied him entry to English classes because his guide dog responds only to French commands. Yvan Tessier was turned away from an English immersion course at the University of New Brunswick because he would be forced to give his dog, Pavot, instructions in French. Students in the course are expected to communicate only in English, at all times, during the intensive five-week course. That includes talking to the dog. "I feel a little bit frustrated and sad about the situation," Tessier said. "They don't have the openness of spirit to understand that it's better for me and my mobility to operate with my guide dog. It's only 17 commands in French, it won't compromise the English program." Tessier said he would file a complaint with the human rights commission if the university stuck to its decision.

The university said it turned Tessier away because it did not have enough time to prepare for his special needs. It said he can join the program once Pavot learns English commands. "In the past, the service has been provided that we do teach their guide dogs commands in English, so the dog learns English as well," a university spokeswoman told CBC Television. Tessier said it would take too long to teach Pavot English commands. It is also considered dangerous to teach the dog new commands just as Tessier arrives in unfamiliar surroundings. (From a Reuters story)

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