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MONTREAL, SEPTEMBER 29, 2008-    Philip E. Layton School, based at the  Montreal Association of the Blind – Mackay RehabilitationCentre (7000 Sherbrooke Street West) in N.D.G., recently hosted a rare yet fitting event connected to the federal election. Conservative Party candidate Luc Labbé, who is legally blind, spoke to students about the many challenges he has overcome  and why he decided to enter politics.

In addition to the students and staff from the Phil E. Layton School, which is part of the English Montreal School Board, and  clients from the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, some students from St. Gabriel Elementary School in Pointe St. Charles were in  attendance.   Mr. Labbé is the director general of Horizon Travail, a non-profit organization which promotes the integration of visually impaired individuals in the workplace. He is running in the  East End riding of Hochelaga.  “I am prepared to show everyone that I am capable to hold an elected post in Parliament,” said Mr. Labbé, who is the father of four children and has been legally blind since birth. “For me a visual handicap should not be an obstacle. Better yet, if I can be a role model for these students that will make me very happy.”

Carmine Pontillo, the Conservative candidate in N.D.G. Lachine and EMSB Commissioner Joseh Lalla were also in attendance. Principal Patrizia Ciccarelli gave opening remarks. Mr. Labbé, accompanied by his wife and campaign manager Stephanie Cloutier, gave an inspring address. He told a story about how as a youth he was supposed to go backpacking across Europe with a friend. “At the last minute my friend said  he could not make it,” Mr. Labbé explained. “I was in despair and I went and told this to my mom. Her response was that I should still go. And I did, spending 40 days in Europe on my own.”

Mr. Labbé told a very attentive group of students, as well as some adult clients of the  MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, that they can do anything they want in life. “You just have to put your mind to it,” he said. “I even play hockey.”

Mr. Labbé earned a BA and a Masters in Social Sciences. He says that he was an entrepreneur for many years, running a very successful restaurant and then a gift shop. “After a few years I was bored of making money. I decided to sell my business and work full-time in helping other people with visual handicaps.”

Mr. Pontillo spoke about his recent experiences with the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. “My father suffers from macular degeneration, which results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field   because of damage to the retina,” he said. “We brought him here and he got a lot of help.”

Many students asked Mr. Labbé questions. They thanked him with a large card in braille.

The MAB, which was renamed MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre via a merger two years ago,  was founded in 1908, making it the oldest rehabilitation centre of its kind in Canada for the English-speaking blind population. Prior to this  there were no services for English-speaking blind children in Quebec, and no activity of any kind to help the adult blind population in all of Canada. Philip E. Layton, a blind person and the great grandfather of  New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, became keenly aware of these conditions shortly after his arrival from England in 1887. Twenty years later, with the assistance of many outstanding associates, he founded the Montreal MAB.  In 1922, a graduate of the MAB's elementary school named after Mr. Layton became the first blind student in Canada to be enrolled in a local high school.


Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213