Illness adds new delay to Bermudian vet’s discrimination case

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  • Discrimination case: Dr Susann Smith

    Discrimination case: Dr Susann Smith

A woman who took her 14-year-old discrimination case before the Human Rights Commission will have to wait awhile longer for a decision, after a lawyer involved in the proceedings fell ill.

Black Bermudian veterinarian Dr Susann Smith told the Commission that at the time of her 1994 contract with Government, registered vets in Bermuda were “historically white, Caucasian, European or North American males, as well as females”.

She said the first black licensed vet had been a Jamaican woman given certification to practice in Bermuda, and also questioned why, in light of this, her own Jamaican licence had not been appropriate to register locally.

Dr Susann Smith said she had been told to obtain a licence in an overseas jurisdiction, only to have her 1997 Jamaican certification called into question.

Informed by letter early that year that her contract for a training position had expired, Dr Smith chose to get licensed in Jamaica and return to the Island, but a Government-appointed committee was “not overly impressed with my licensing in Jamaica because they believed that it was not of a standard, quote, similar to licensing in North America or the UK or Europe”.

Government’s lawyer Charles Richardson, meanwhile, said the matter before the Commission boiled down to whether Dr Smith lost her contract “because she was a black Bermudian, or because she didn’t pass the requisite exams”.

The Human Rights tribunal has heard that the 1994 trainee job had originally been created for Dr Smith to eventually assume the position of Government Veterinary Officer.

However, asked if she had been confirmed as Government Veterinary Officer after her stint as a trainee, Dr Smith said she was told she still had not passed the requisite US exams.

She said she formally applied in February 1997 for certification to practice in Bermuda, and requested that a committee be assembled to discuss her qualifications.

Dr Smith said that at the meeting she was questioned about exam results in other jurisdictions.

“I didn’t think it was necessary to have licensure elsewhere when in Bermuda there was nothing written in law and there were others who had been licensed in Bermuda who had not required that,” she said. “I asked for the written policy. I questioned where it was. This occurred on different occasions prior to this meeting, and during this meeting.”

A second committee meeting was held in September 1998, Dr Smith said, under “pressure and duress” after she sought a judicial review of her case.

At that meeting she said was asked her if she had liaised with any local vets. Dr Smith said the just-formed Bermuda Veterinary Association had no business with her case.

She had been informed by letter that the Association, telling her that “I needed to be licensed in North America or the UK or other European Union countries”.

The letter had “no letterhead, no address, no telephone number, no nothing”, she added.

An audibly frustrated Dr Smith told the Commission: “This letter was their way of affirming their policy, or so-called policy, that I needed to be licensed first in another jurisdiction, which I had been told in the first meeting, and then, once I got licensed in another jurisdiction, specifically Jamaica, they stated that it had to be from these other countries.”

Asked if she had been concerned by the Association’s involvement, Dr Smith said: “I was very concerned, because they were getting together and they just kept moving the goalposts. There was the time delay as well. It was getting longer and longer.”

Dr Smith also told the Tribunal that, when advertised in 1997, Government’s description of the veterinary post had changed from its wording four years earlier.

One asked for a qualified vet, she said, and the later ad asked for a qualified vet with a certificate enabling them to practice in Bermuda.

Dr Smith was eventually granted a Bermuda licence in August 2010, under the terms of the new Veterinary Practitioners Act of 2008. The Act approved vets licensed in the Caribbean Community.

Even then, her experience was less than positive, she said.

“The curious thing about that is I was licensed under the Agricultural Act of 1930, not under the Veterinary Practitioners Act.”

Dr Smith told the tribunal she did not pursue the matters, because by then her case had gone before the HRC.

“It was like a slap in the face,” she said.

Dr Smith also expressed profound disappointment that her HRC hearing now underway would have to be postponed due to an illness.

Mr Richardson responded: “You’ve waited 14 years. You can wait a little longer.”

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