Quebec woman raises alarm after region’s only equine vet kicked out over language law

MONTREAL – Horse owners in part of western Quebec say the province’s language laws are forcing them to lose their only veterinarian at a time when there is already a critical shortage of veterinarians.

Local farmer Chantal Chrétien said she learned in late April that her veterinarian, Melissa Jowett, should stop caring for her two horses at her farm in Quyon, Que., because her French isn’t strong enough to pass the language test. required to obtain a permanent license.

Chrétien said that with Jowett gone, the nearest equine veterinarian is about two hours away, potentially putting animal welfare at risk.

“I am a good defender of French. I think there is a good basis in this (language) law,” she said in a phone interview. “But when people and animals need care, we don’t care what language is spoken.”

Chrétien said more than half of the residents in the Pontiac area where she lives are native English speakers and the rest are mostly bilingual. She said Jowett’s language skills have never been a problem.

A petition she started asking the province to get an exemption for Jowett had garnered more than 6,400 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

Jowett could not be reached for comment. But in a statement provided to The Canadian Press, the UK-born vet said she was working under a temporary permit, which she said can no longer be renewed.

“Over the years many vets have been barred from working in Quebec because of this, and in that I am no different,” she said in a statement dated April 29.

“Unfortunately, languages ​​are not my forte, and while I’m doing relatively well due to the Anglophone/bilingual nature of the Pontiac and La Pêche regions, it doesn’t change the rules of the (language office French).”

Jowett added that she had spoken with the veterinary order of Quebec to see if an exemption is possible, but she says there is no indication that it will be granted.

The rules state that a veterinarian can receive a one-year temporary license that can be extended three times, giving them four years to pass the language test needed to obtain a permanent license from the province’s College of Veterinarians. .

Quebec’s language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française, says that although licensing is the responsibility of professional orders, there is “no provision allowing the Office to exempt a candidate from pass the French exam.

The news comes as Quebec continues to struggle with a shortage of veterinarians that has been made worse by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her statement, Jowett said that besides the licensing issue, the pressure of being the only vet in the area treating horses pushed her “dangerously close to burnout.”

“There was no support; no team member to provide equine work emergency cover; I had to regularly refer cases that I could have handled had I had access to the proper equipment and support,” she wrote.

Gaston Rioux, president of the Order of Veterinarians of Quebec, said Jowett’s description of his work is sadly common.

He said there is only one university in Quebec that trains vets, and more people adopted animals during the pandemic as health restrictions also limited the number of animals vets could. treat.

He said vets had significant overhead, often worked alone, had to be on call nights and weekends, and sometimes faced anger or harassment from clients upset with results or fees. A survey a year and a half ago of 2,800 vets found that 53% were considering changing jobs or leaving the profession altogether, he said.

In this context, he said losing a veterinarian like Jowett would be a shame, especially because she works in an area where many people speak English.

“On our side, we want to be in solution mode,” he said in a telephone interview. “If there is a possibility of allowing him to continue practicing in Quebec, that is certainly what we would like.

On the other hand, he said that the professional orders of Quebec are bound by the language laws of the province, and we do not know what he can do in this case.

Rioux said the order is working on other solutions to relieve pressure on vets, including allowing more work to be delegated to technicians, recruiting internationally trained vets and adding another campus where candidates can study veterinary medicine.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 11, 2022.

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