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Montreal, July 22, 2018 — A disabled woman in her fifties is charging that the Châteauguay Walmart has violated her rights and failed to follow its own policy on service animals when a store employee stopped and publicly treated her in a vexatious manner.

Already living with PTSD and a physical disability (problems with herniated disks), Louise Fournier was intercepted at Walmart on July 8 as she was about to leave a cash register, by a cashier-manager who rudely told her that her Chihuaha (which she carried in her bag) was not allowed in the store unless she produced a medical note to prove her disability.

Fournier’s dog was not provided by a service dog foundation, so she keeps a physician’s note on her at all times to prove that the dog is important to help her deal with anxiety, stress and depression. Fournier has shopped at this Walmart for years, without any problem.

The cashier-manager in question told her, in a loud and blunt tone, that only the blind could have service dogs in the store. Fournier tried to show the cashier-manager her medical note, but the latter refused to look at it and walked away, leaving Fournier very upset. The cashier-manager later came back, told Fournier again about the exception for the blind, took and read Fournier’s medical notes, and then walked away.

When Fournier got home, she had to take medication to deal with her anxiety and distress. The next day, she managed to speak to a manager, who apologized about the incident. He did not address her question as to what measures would be taken to correct and prevent such a situation, and deal with her distress. Due to his vague answers, she stopped the conversation and fell into a state of quasi-depression that lasted for days until recently.

“He didn’t even tell me about Walmart’s policy on service animals, which I later found on -line,” Fournier said. “It is obvious that these Walmart employees didn’t know much about this policy, what to do with it, and how to deal with customers with a service animal,” she added.

Fournier wants Walmart and businesses in Quebec to be more sensitive to people with emotional and psychological needs for which a service dog is their most effective support, and train their staff properly.

“Customers like me have an invisible disability. Our rights must be understood and respected by these businesses,” she insisted.

According to CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi, “Too often we think of disabled people who need a guide dog in terms of blindness or visual impairment, and we may forget about people with a mental disability who require the assistance of a service dog for daily living.”

Three provinces have adopted legislation on service and guide animals (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia). In Quebec, under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, service or guide dogs are viewed as “a means to palliate a handicap.”