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Just-Stam
things that just are

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Those French

TORONTO (Reuters) - A blind Quebec student, who was denied entry to English classes at a Canadian university because his guide dog responds only to French commands, will be allowed to attend class, the school said on Wednesday.

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 was to include talking to the dog, but the university relented, saying in a statement that Tessier will be allowed to use "essential commands in his native French language to his guide dog."

Earlier, Tessier said he would file a complaint with the human rights commission if the university stuck to its decision.

"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," he said from Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Tessier has been guided by the black Labrador retriever for the past two years. Pavot was trained by the Quebec-based Mira Foundation specifically for French speaking clients.

"We were astonished by this," said Pierre Noiseux, a spokesman at the foundation which placed Pavot with Tessier.

"The dog doesn't speak French or English. He doesn't know how to spell 'en avant.' He doesn't know it's French. He just knows that 'en avant' means forward."

The university, in the eastern Canadian town of Fredericton, New Brunswick, said it turned Tessier away because it did not have enough time to prepare for his special needs.

"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. The Mira Foundation said it was also dangerous to teach the dog new commands just as Tessier arrives in unfamiliar surroundings.

"He's in a new city, he needs a dog that will be really alert," Noiseux said. "Sure we could take the dog, bring him back and recode. But why would I do that? The guy is French."

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