At the University of New Brunswick in Canada, a blind man was banned from an English immersion program because he refused to speak to his guide dog in English. The dog was trained to respond to French commands.
MONTREAL – When it comes to teaching English as a second language, the University of New Brunswick does not mess around. Slip into your mother tongue back in the dorm and you can be expelled. A T-shirt with a non-English slogan is enough to get you kicked out. And as Yvan Tessier, a blind man from Trois-Rivieres, Que., learned this week, don’t even think about telling your guide dog “Assis!” instead of “Sit!”
. . . In Mr. Tessier’s case, it was not enough that he agree to speak to the professors and other students in English; the university insisted that he sign a contract promising that “all communication with your guide dog will be exclusively in English.”
The problem for the 39-year-old master’s student at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University is that Pavot, the black Labrador that has helped him get around for the past two years, was trained to respond to 17 concise French commands. Tell him “Stay!” and he would be lost.
For the administrators of UNB’s English language program, allowing French commands to a dog would be a dangerous step on the road to Babel.
Susan Mesheau, the university’s director of public relations, said that permitting Mr. Tessier to speak French to Pavot during the immersion program would be like admitting someone with sub-standard marks into the engineering faculty.
“We cannot lower a standard,” she said in an interview from Fredericton. “‘OK, you’re a nice guy, I’ll lower it for you. You might not be as good an engineer. You might build bridges that people can fall off of, but that’s OK.’ That’s silliness. Academic standards are academic standards.”
Mesheau also said some students are allergic to dogs and others “have religious affiliations that they cannot associate in the same room with a dog.” Since it wouldn’t be safe for Tessier to navigate without his guide dog, for his own protection, he can’t learn English at the university until his dog completes an English immersion course, which would take about two months.
St. Paul University officials say no one there has complained on any grounds about Tessier’s guide dog accompanying him to class.
Update: University of New Brunswick has backed down in the face of very negative publicity. Tessier will be allowed to enroll, despite his guide dog’s inability to understand English.