Maple Ridge veterinarian wins human rights complaint

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rules there was "systemic discrimination"

Dr. Bhupinder Johar won $30

Dr. Bhupinder Johar won $30

A Maple Ridge veterinarian, after winning a decade-long human rights case, says justice has finally been done.

Thirteen Indo-Canadian veterinarians who were offering low cost services were subject to “systemic discrimination” by the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association between 2002 and 2006, a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

One of the complainants, Dr. Bhupinder Johar of the Haney Animal Hospital, won $30,000 in damages in the case. But it’s not about money, he said – he spent almost 10 times that amount in legal fees.

“This money is peanuts,” said Johar. “We were relieved to have justice. That’s what we were saying – that they were discriminating against us – that we were right.”

Johar ran afoul of the vets professional association by offering spay and neutering at discounted rates of $50 or $60, he said.

As part of the discrimination, the Indo-Canadian veterinarians were subject to more scrutiny than other vets, the tribunal found, as they faced unscheduled inspections that other vets did not. They also had to take rigorous language proficiency tests, which were more difficult than those of other professional groups, and the tribunal found “largely unattainable,” said tribunal member Judy Parrack.

“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,” wrote Parrack.

Johar learned about the ruling on Friday, after a long fight. The judge’s decision alone took three years, and it is spelled out in a document that is almost 500 pages long.

Johar said the treatment by the association “hugely affected my business,” because his customers would read on the association website that he “had done something wrong.” Some of his customers were contacted directly about complaints, without him being advised, which also affected perception of his services.

“I was lucky to survive,” he said. “I was having some sleepless nights. You can imagine the stress.”

His award of $30,000 was one of the higher compensation orders.

Johar said he came to Canada in 1999, as a qualified veterinarian, trained in India. Over a four-year period, he passed the exams that would allow him to practise in B.C., including an eight-hour computerized exam and several practical exams. He came to Maple Ridge in 2003.

He expected veterinarians to be respectful and professional in their dealings, but almost immediately his advertising of discounted spay and neutering triggered complaints from colleagues.

“Within three days of opening I got my first complaint. That’s the welcome I received.”

The affected vets started a group called “B.C. Veterinarians for Justice” and started their human rights complaint.