The institutions in which we place our trust to uphold justice are sometimes not able to preserve its true essence. Such was the case for Dr. Hakam Bhullar, for whom justice has been served after 13 long years.
Justice is a seven-letter word that embodies layers of meaning about what it means to live in a democratic society. However, the institutions in which we place our trust to uphold justice are sometimes not able to preserve its true essence. Such was the case for Dr. Hakam Bhullar, for whom justice has been served after 13 long years.
After becoming licensed with the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association (BCVMA) in 1995, Dr. Bhullar practiced his profession with utmost passion and dignity. With best-in-class provisions, longer operating hours, and unmatchable rates, he served from his heart. Dr. Bhullar built genuinely valuable relationships with his clients, who admired that he put his love for all creatures above the dollar bill. Behind the scenes, clinic doors were always open for newly graduated Indo-Canadian doctors for whom Dr. Bhullar warmly stepped in as a mentor and friend.
In 2004, circumstances took an unfavourable turn, initiating what would be the longest hearing in the history of BC Human Rights. The BCVMA introduced an English proficiency test that raised the bar unreasonably high. Dr. Bhullar explains, “Only veterinarians with no accent and perfect grammar would pass the test. Evidently, they wanted to stop the ‘influx’ of practitioners from Punjab. I personally presented a cheque for $1.6 million at the BCVMA’s Annual General Meeting and challenged 16 council members to take the exam. All declined.”
To raise a voice against the brewing discrimination, Dr. Bhullar led the way to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. Amidst potential corruptions and hidden conspiracies, Dr. Bhullar was slammed with unscheduled surprise visits by the BCVMA and unjustified allegations.
To prove his innocence in the eyes of the law, he resorted to making undercover recordings of officials. This revealed extremely derogatory, unprofessional and inhumane conversations behind closed doors. On April 1, 2009, the BCVMA finally published, on their website, that there was no need for the English Proficiency Test.
The battle, however, was far from over and Dr. Bhullar continued to receive threats to drop the case. His license was revoked on December 5, 2009, on falsified grounds of incompetency. “They had a big advantage. The judge would just say he believes them because he himself is not a doctor. I was guilty by default,” says Dr. Bhullar. Innocent until proven guilty was void; the case dragged on. Dr. Bhullar describes the feeling of his license being taken as if his hands had been cut off. Along the way, he was made several six-figure monetary offers – along with his license back – to step off, but he held his ground.
It took from June 2012 until October 2015 for the judge to render her decision that the BCVMA had indeed “engaged in systemic discrimination;” Dr. Bhullar and 12 other Indo-Canadian vets’ claims that the College was racially biased were warranted. The college apologized for the “loss of dignity, pain and suffering.” Dr. Bhullar was reinstated his license on January 29, 2016, and currently practices at the Atlas Animal Hospital in Vancouver.
The journey was difficult, but Dr. Bhullar maintains that character and dignity are his real wealth. He shares that justice – even in developed countries like Canada – isn’t easy. Based on his experience, Dr. Bhullar defines that the route for justice requires five things: time, health, a supportive partner, the brains to fight, and deep pockets. Looking back, he thanks the community and his loyal clients for their overwhelming support, but also expresses the losses he has had to bear.
Apart from the hefty financial spending, the case has cost more than a decade of his life. He specifically accounts, “On the day I got my license back, my kids told me how they would be bullied back in grade school. There would be posters put up about me and they’d try to defend their father. They waited 10 years to tell me this. That’s when it really hit me, but I now consider this entire case a duty given to me by God.” Describing his family as his backbone, Dr. Bhullar also outlines the strength of his wife, who would always encourage him to take a stand and express how proud she was that he didn’t choose the easy way out.
Today, many others in the community who are going through similar ordeals, look up to him. His resilience serves as an inspiration and a reminder of our responsibility as global citizens. A role-model both professionally and personally, Dr. Bhullar embodies the true spirit of what it means to be human.