THE owner of the Pelican Point Deli Café has described Saturday’s incident where a blind man was told to remove his guide dog as an accident.
“I was in hospital in Canberra having an operation and my brother was looking after the shop,” owner Muhammad Hbaika said.
“He is from Syria and he has only been over here for a year, and we don’t have guide dogs over there.
“It was all an accident.”
The incident was reported and the shop named on a Channel 10 report.
“When the man (67-year-old James Bennett) opened the fridge, the dog put its nose in the fridge, and my brother (Munazr Hbaika) told him he couldn’t do that because people use the fridge and that he would have to take the dog out,” Mr Hbaika said.
Mr Bennett left and reported the matter to police.
Mr Hbaika and wife April said they felt “terrible” about the incident.
“My brother is really upset about what has happened and I would like to apologise to the man in person,” he said.
“It had happened to him four times in this area, but ours was the business put on TV.”
At the time, Mr Hbaika was having surgery for a burst abscess in his jaw, and Mrs Hbaika was with him.
He insists he would never discriminate against disabled people, and pointed out the wheelchair-friendly features in the café.
“I have disabled people in my family, so to discriminate against them would be to discriminate against my family,” he said.
Mrs Hbaika said a customer who worked for Disability Services Australia had last year praised the café for its wheelchair-friendly features.
She said there had been misinformation in the media about the matter.
“They said we had been charged and fined by the police, but we were just given a warning,” she said.
“We spoke to the police and they were very understanding.
“We asked if it would go any further and they said it wouldn’t.”
She said there had been no direct backlash against the shop, and customer numbers were at their usual level, but there had been plenty of nasty comments made on social media.
“People won’t say anything to your face but they will get nasty on social media,” she said.
The Hbaikas have run the café for three years here and ran one in Queanbeyan for eight years prior, where they said no such incidents occurred.
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