Indo-Canadian low-cost vets accuse British Columbia Vet Med Association of discrimination

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2005:

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,
seeking to remove Osborne from office, and have petitioned the
British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal requesting that an unusually
strict language proficiency test required by the BCVMA be repealed.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
commissioner 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
families, seniors, students, disabled persons and unemployed
persons, many of these veterinarians opened low-cost community
clinics which serve the public seven days a week, including
evenings, weekends, and holidays. This created a wave of
dissatisfaction among some older, established veterinarians, 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.”

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