Indo-Canadian low-cost vets accuse British Columbia Vet Med Association of discrimination
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1995:
VANCOUVER––Alleging that they have been targeted for doing
low-cost dog and cat sterilizations, 18 Indo-Canadian veterinarians, 16 of
them members of the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association, are
pursuing discrimination claims against BCVMA registrar Valerie Osborne.
Led by Atlas Animal Hospital owner Hakam Bhullar, the vets
have registered a lawsuit with the British Columbia Supreme Court, seek-
ing to remove Osborne from office, and have petitioned the British
Columbia Human Rights Tribunal requesting that an unusually strict lan-
guage proficiency test required by the BCVMA be repealed.
Osborne and other BCVMA representatives have said little on the
record about the Indo-Canadian veterinarians’ complaints, except to deny
that the intent of the language proficiency test is discriminatory.
Under Osborne, Bhullar told Richard Chu of the Vancouver Sun,
the BCVMA requires vets to score 92% on a standard test of spoken
English. Lawyers, medical doctors, dentists, nurses, and firefighters are
required to score only 83%, Bhullar said.
Supporting Bhullar et al, former Vancouver park board commis-
sioner Roslyn Cassells pointed out to ANIMAL PEOPLE that as well as
meeting the 83% proficiency standard, many of the Indo-Canadian vets
speak other languages that are commonly used at home by members of the
large Asian immigrant population of the Vancouver region.
“One of the members of a BCVMA committee was caught on tape
saying the English test is to shut out low-cost vets,” Bhullar alleged.
The BCVMA recommends that members should charge $140 for
a cat spay and $85 for feline vaccinations. Bhullar, whose practice is
favored by many individual rescuers and small humane organizations,
charges $45 for the spay and $22 for the vaccinations, he said.
A demand letter sent to the BCVMA on June 2 listed 17 purported
discriminatory actions by Osborne, including allegedly refusing to issue a
license to practice to an Indo-Canadian veterinarian based on an apparently
undocumented claim that he was mentally ill, conducting a disciplinary
hearing of allegations against a non-BCVMA member, leaking confidential
information about Indo-Canadian veterinary businesses to competitors, and
pursuing an allegedly retaliatory complaint of sexual harassment against an
Indo-Canadian veterinarian, brought by two technicians who had been fired
by the veterinarian’s employer.
Bhullar and the other Indo-Canadian veterinarians earlier lodged
complaints of discrimination with the British Columbia Ombudsman, the
B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, and the Law Society of British Columbia.
A central part of their dissatisfaction is that their allegations have
repeatedly been referred by the various agencies back to the BCVMA, even
though the BCVMA is the subject of the complaints.
Summarized Bhullar and fellow veterinarian Tejpaul Bhatia in
their appeal to the Ombudsman, “In the past few years there has been an
influx of foreign veterinary graduates to the province of British Columbia.
Many of these new Canadians come from India, where many have trained
and practiced veterinary medicine for years.
“In order to improve access to veterinary care for working fami-
lies, seniors, students, disabled persons and unemployed persons, many of
these veterinarians opened low-cost community clinics which serve the pub-
lic seven days a week, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. This
created a wave of dissatisfaction among some older, established veterinari-
ans, who resented the financial competition, despite the obvious benefits of
improved animal welfare and strong community support.
“Initially the BCVMA tried to impose price fixing,” Bhullar and
Bhatia charged, “as has been done in other professions. This would have
required all vets to impose certain designated fees to their clients regardless
of their wish to offer the same service for less, or to offer the same service
on a pro-bono basis as a community service.
“Ultimately it is the animals who suffer from this intransigence,”
Bhullar and Bhatia wrote. “As veterinarians, we feel our most important
responsibility is toward the welfare of animals. We cannot understand why
a professional association which has in its mandate a commitment to the
wellbeing of animals would behave in this way.
“The next attempt to limit the low-cost clinics run by Indo-
Canadian veterinarians was to attempt to limit any advertising of rates, not
only in print and other media, but also even inside the veterinary clinics
themselves. Despite this, our clinics have prospered, largely due to word-
of-mouth referrals by satisfied customers.”