Indo-Canadian veterinarians return to B.C. Human Rights Tribunal with discrimination allegations

·4 min read
Dr. Bhupinder Johar, owner of the Haney Animal Hospital in Abbotsford, B.C., is the lead complainant in a new discrimination case against the College of Veterinarians of B.C. (Facebook/Haney Animal Hospital - image credit)
Dr. Bhupinder Johar, owner of the Haney Animal Hospital in Abbotsford, B.C., is the lead complainant in a new discrimination case against the College of Veterinarians of B.C. (Facebook/Haney Animal Hospital - image credit)

A group of Indo-Canadian veterinarians offering low-cost services in British Columbia are, for the second time, at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal with claims that their regulatory college discriminated against them.

The group of four complainants allege that the College of Veterinarians of B.C. has engaged in disciplinary processes "which are harsh, disproportionate, unfounded, protracted, unfair and inconsistent with the Veterinarians Act."

Dr. Bhupinder Johar, owner and principal veterinarian at the Haney Animal Hospital in Maple Ridge, is the lead complainant in the case.

"That's what I want to feel like, that I am being treated at par like the other veterinarians," Johar said. "I don't say that they should favour me or favour my friends. I want a fair investigation."

The lawyer for the group says the tribunal has accepted the complaint, which was filed in 2017, but the college has applied to have it dismissed.

Previous case won in 2015

Johar was also one of the complainants in a similar B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case that a group of Indo-Canadian veterinarians fought and won in 2015.

After more than a decade of legal wrangling, the tribunal concluded in that case that the vets had suffered systemic discrimination. In 2017, the college dropped a request for judicial review and apologized.

"Having gone through that more than ten-year-long fight, we had a sigh of relief when we got some decision in our favour," Johar said.

"But unfortunately, it made no difference with the college."

Dr. Johar says he began offering low-cost services as soon as he was licensed to practice in Canada because so many people couldn't afford veterinary care.
Dr. Johar says he began offering low-cost services as soon as he was licensed to practice in Canada because so many people couldn't afford veterinary care.(Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

The college declined to comment on the matter while it was still before the tribunal.

In an email, interim registrar Jane Pritchard said that since the 2015 decision the college has implemented a discrimination policy, added public members to its committees and focused on diversity for council and committees, among other measures.

4 vets across southern B.C.

Johar has filed the complaint along with Dr. Anil Sharma of the Tranquille Road Animal Hospital in Kamloops, Dr. Jasdeep Grewal with the Alpenlofts Veterinary Clinic in Squamish and Dr. Renu Sood with the Apollo Animal Hospital in Surrey.

An amended complaint submitted to the tribunal in 2018 alleges the college was discriminatory in its pursuit of investigations against members of the group, didn't address complaints in a timely manner and didn't take proper procedural steps in relation to disciplinary action against the group.

Specifically, the complaint addresses the work of the college's investigation committee, which deals with complaints against veterinarians in B.C. and decides which ones to pursue and refer to a hearing.

It alleges that current and former members of the committee have expressed discriminatory views toward the Indo-Canadian vets offering low-cost services.

'Significant mental stress'

One investigation against Johar outlined in the complaint was initiated in 2016 when he mailed coupons to prospective clients, which the college prohibited at the time.

The complaint says other veterinarians who are not Indo-Canadian had also issued coupons, but the college's disciplinary committee had not pursued them.

"The CVBC's lengthy pursuit of this file has caused Dr. Johar significant mental stress and feelings of being harassed," the complaint said. "The CVBC has provided no explanation as to why it is pursuing Dr. Johar and not others."

Dr. Johar says the College of Veterinarians of B.C. failed to make changes to prevent systemic discrimination against Indo-Canadian vets who offer low-cost services.
Dr. Johar says the College of Veterinarians of B.C. failed to make changes to prevent systemic discrimination against Indo-Canadian vets who offer low-cost services.(Facebook/Haney Animal Hospital)

The complaint notes that each disciplinary matter can cost a veterinarian tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for a hearing, which can result in fines, penalties and other costs. It also says the disciplinary actions often cause mental anguish and damage a veterinarian's reputation.

In its response to the complaint, the college says it didn't investigate the other veterinarians for the same offences because by the time it was made aware of them the college was re-evaluating the prohibition on coupons.

'We helped them'

Johar says he believes he and his colleagues were discriminated against not only because they are Indo-Canadian, but because their low-cost, high-volume business model undercut the services of established veterinarians they operated near.

The choice to offer low-cost services was not just beneficial to business, he says; it filled a gap for many pet owners who couldn't otherwise afford basic services like spaying and neutering.

Johar, who trained at the Punjab Agricultural Institute in India and spent four years completing equivalency exams when he moved to Canada in 1999, says it was clear to him that there was a gap in services that he could fill.

"Many people did not have money. So we helped them," he said.