College of Veterinarians apologizes to South Asian vets, won’t pursue judicial review of 2015 Human Rights Tribunal decision

Dr. Hakam Bhullar
Photo submitted

THE Council of the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia has announced on its website that it “will not pursue judicial review of the October 2015 decision of the Human Rights Tribunal” the case involving discrimination against South Asian veterinarians and that the “college is addressing the various remedial orders made in the HRT decision.”

It said that “Dr. (Hakam) Bhullar and Dr. (Pavitar) Bajwa have withdrawn two further complaints filed with the Human Rights Tribunal. Other litigation between the College and Dr. Bhullar and some former employees of the College has also been resolved. These results were achieved after careful consideration and confidential mediation (a form of alternative dispute resolution premised on non-disclosure).”

It added: “The College is very pleased to have achieved resolution. There will be no levies or fee increases related to the resolution in the upcoming CVBC budget.”

According to the college’s website, CVBC President Brendan Matthews and Registrar / CEO Luisa Hlus said: “Council has acted in the best interests of the CVBC now and into the future.  We hope everyone will consider the immeasurable value of achieving what could not be accomplished through further public, difficult, costly and adversarial proceedings. Please join the CVBC in its commitment to move forward in a constructive and professional manner.”

The college posted the following apology on its website:

“In the spirit of moving forward and acknowledging the findings of discrimination made by the Human Rights Tribunal in Brar and others v. BC Veterinary Medical Association and others, the College accepts the findings of discrimination against Indo-Canadian veterinarians and apologizes to all of the complainants for the loss of dignity, pain and suffering caused by the College’s conduct, including Dr. Hakam Bhullar and his family who suffered professional and personal distress by the College’s removal of his license in December 2009.  The College acknowledges its past mistakes in the standards, inspection and discipline arenas.  The College is now working to improve its processes and foster positive, constructive and forward-looking relationships with the complainants and all registrants.”


IN October 2015, the Tribunal had in its decision said that The B.C. Veterinary Medical Association (College of Veterinarians of B.C.) “engaged in systemic discrimination” against a group of South Asian vets and “tolerated and facilitated the discussion of wide-ranging and race-based allegations.”

Tribunal member Judy Parrack had ordered the association to end the discrimination and to pay 13 vets born and trained in India $2,000 to $35,000 each as well as interest for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” besides more than $45,000 in total for various claims of lost wages and expenses.

The College’s governing body was ordered to review certain disciplinary complaint files, and post an anti-discrimination policy on its website. It has also been ordered to hold a one-day training program for staff, contractors and others to deal with racial discrimination.

Bhullar, owner of Atlas Vet Clinic in Vancouver, who was in the forefront of this long struggle, was awarded $30,000.


The summary of the decision reproduced here told the whole story:


* Race-based stereotypes played a role in BCVMA’s dealings with the Complainants, including negative generalized views about the credibility and ethics of Indo-Canadians in relation to their veterinary practices. Persons of influence in the BCVMA held such views, and the BCVMA knew this or ought reasonably to have known this, but largely ignored and condoned the expression of such views. A poisoned relationship developed between the BCVMA and the Complainants, which the BCVMA blamed entirely on those individuals claiming they were “playing the race card”.


* There was a substantial interrelationship of the events in the relevant time frame. This included negative commentary, including negative qualities attributed to the Complainants, circulating within the BCVMA. The BCVMA tolerated and facilitated the discussion of wide-ranging and race-based allegations about Indo-Canadian veterinarians.


* While the BCVMA is obligated to consider allegations of substandard practice, there was little basis to conclude the allegations were based on direct knowledge and the BCVMA took no independent steps to determine if the allegations had any basis in fact. The rumours adversely affected the BCVMA’s views of the Complainants.


* At the relevant times and, during the hearing of the Complaint, the BCVMA was focused on the conduct of some of the Complainants, including Drs. [Hakam] Bhullar and [Bhupinder] Johar. Some of that conduct was unacceptable and is not to be condoned. It was not aimed, however, at an attempt to remove the Complainants from the regulatory oversight of the BCVMA. Rather, it was largely in reaction to reasonably held views of discriminatory oversight that were not being addressed. The BCVMA was closed to the possibility that racial stereotyping (conscious or not) was at play. The inappropriate actions of Dr. Bhullar and others do not fully explain the BCVMA’s views of him and the other Complainants.


* The BCVMA is entitled to ensure a reasonable level of English proficiency. However, in this case, the English Language Standard was discriminatory. The evidence did not demonstrate credible concerns about the English proficiency of Indo-Canadian veterinarians. The BCVMA selected a score largely unattainable by the target group. The score was higher than that selected by other professional associations, though the BCVMA incorrectly and repeatedly asserted otherwise, despite being advised of the error. The implementation of the Standard placed Indo-Canadian applicants at a disadvantage. The BCVMA ignored the Complainants’ concerns about the Standard, based on its stereotypical views of the Complainants, further damaging the relationship between the Complainants and their governing body.


* Recordings were made of persons of influence in the BCVMA reflecting negative race-based views of Indo-Canadians. Of particular importance was the BCVMA’s response, which was to assume that Dr. Bhullar and others had lied and/or manipulated the recording. In one instance, the BCVMA eventually responded in a limited way when compelled to do so by the Complainants when they pursued the matter in court. It had refused to accept the recording may be accurate or concerning and simply refused to investigate, because of its negative views of the credibility of Indo-Canadian veterinarians and the minimization of their concerns as “playing the race card”.


* The selection of Indo-Canadian facilities for unscheduled inspections, some of which were carried out, was done based on unsubstantiated rumours and anecdotal complaints about their practices. On the evidence, only one other facility, owned by a Caucasian veterinarian, was listed to be subject to an unscheduled inspection. The timing of the implementation of the Disclosure Policy and Rules had the effect of targeting Indo-Canadian veterinarians, who made up nine of the ten veterinarians identified on the website at the time. The CRC simply denied applications for anonymization without a full consideration, including the nature of the charges. The BCVMA also targeted the Complainants’ advertising because of the unfounded, negative and generalized view of the low-cost services being provided by them.


* The BCVMA’s processing of disciplinary complaints gave rise to patterns of race-based adverse treatment, including instances of the BCVMA failing to notify the Complainants of a complaint until the investigation was underway or finished; alleging in numerous cases that the Complainants falsified their medical records; assuming the Complainants’ information was less credible than others; failing to follow-up with the Complainants; in many instances, expanding on the issues raised in the complaint; referring matters to Inquiry that did not engage a risk to the public; increasing the scrutiny of individuals close to Dr. Bhullar; and appointing investigators who had already formed the view that Dr. Bhullar and others were dishonest and possibly ungovernable.


* The BCVMA engaged in systemic discrimination and, within this context, I have concluded that there were specific instances of discrimination against individual Complainants. Those are identified and individual remedial orders are made. The BCVMA is ordered to cease the discrimination and to refrain from committing the same or a similar contravention, and to take specified steps to address the effects of the discriminatory practices.