The British Columbia VMA is in mediation to resolve lawsuits arising from allegations that it discriminated against a group of veterinarians from India.
The Indo-Canadian veterinarians practice in British Columbia at low-cost community clinics. The BCVMA, unlike a state VMA, serves as the licensing agency and disciplinary body for veterinarians in the province.
Together, the Indo-Canadian veterinarians filed a number of their complaints with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body responsible for mediating and adjudicating issues of human rights.
The Indo-Canadian veterinarians alleged that the BCVMA has attempted to limit operation of their clinics by imposing stringent English-language proficiency standards to block licensing of prospective practitioners from India. Canada's other provincial veterinary associations do not maintain language requirements for foreign veterinarians, according to the complaints, aside from the ability to pass practical and qualifying veterinary examinations.
Furthermore, the Indo-Canadian veterinarians alleged, the BCVMA has investigated client complaints against them more vigorously than client complaints against other practitioners. The veterinarians alleged that they have suffered discrimination and retaliation by the BCVMA partially because they are practicing at low-cost clinics.
The Indo-Canadian veterinarians also have filed lawsuits against the BCVMA in the British Columbia Supreme Court. On Aug. 28, 2006, the BCVMA prescribed a levy on members in respect of legal costs. The levy was $350 Canadian (about $315 U.S. at the time of the notice) for private practitioners.
Valerie Osborne, BCVMA registrar, said the organization cannot offer comment during mediation.
"The British Columbia case is a good cause for state VMAs to review their liability coverage," said Gregory Dennis, JD, a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association. "Review your insurance policy to make sure it has the appropriate coverage for what you need."
Dennis said discrimination claims in the United States tend not to be successful because the claimant must show that a substantial motivating factor in the adverse decision was race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, or, in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation.
State VMAs and veterinary licensing boards may face lawsuits alleging that they prevented veterinarians from practicing, Dennis said. Conspiracy claims against VMAs and antitrust actions against veterinary boards usually are not successful, though. One of the reasons, for the veterinary boards, is that antitrust laws generally do not apply to decisions by a state agency in connection with normal governmental functions.
Dennis said liability insurance for a VMA should cover not only board members but also members of committees that could be subject to legal claims.
Douglas Jack, LLB, a Canadian lawyer and AVMLA past president, said he can't see the BCVMA going bankrupt—no matter how high the legal costs of the case.
"The likelihood of the province—the provincial government—permitting that to occur is entirely remote," he said. "This clearly would not be the first time that a provincial regulatory body has been on the wrong end of a lawsuit, and they still seem to be up and going."
The BCVMA is autonomous to allow self-regulation of the profession, Jack said, and the organization and the provincial government share the objective of serving the public interest.