Canada's Vet Definition Dilemmas

The Supreme Court of British Columbia's recent injunction prohibiting a farrier from practicing equine dentistry is the latest episode in an ongoing conflict between the veterinary associations of Canada's three westernmost provinces, animal owners, and industry stakeholders.

The Court ruled Bill Bishop, who operated a busy equine dental business, was breaching the provincial Veterinarians Act, which includes dentistry in its definition of veterinary medicine. This decision has horse owners uneasy about their right to choose who can provide treatment and whether further efforts by the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association (BCVMA), which requested the injunction, will create a "vets-only" scenario for various modalities and treatments.

Rumblings of petitions and protests have been heard in the wake of the ruling, but so far action has been limited to informal (mainly letter writing) campaigns by groups of concerned individuals. "I get the impression from veterinarians and alternative practitioners that they are running scared from the BCVMA," said Sheila Pickerel, a former client of Bishop's.

Meanwhile, Bishop continues performing equine dentistry in neighboring Alberta, where the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association's efforts to change legislation pertaining to the practice have hit a snag. The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association has been working to revise the provincial Veterinary Profession Act since 2004, when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a previous ruling that a particular individual could continue to perform equine dentistry because the act did not specifically include dentistry in its definition of veterinary medicine.

Vocal opposition to the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association's proposed amendments resulted in the association bringing together an industry group to re-work the definition. Similarly, a bill introduced in 2005 to update the province of Saskatchewan's veterinary legislation was put on hold after producer groups withdrew support, fearing restrictions on owners treating their animals. For example, the proposed changes would have rendered it illegal for non-veterinarians to perform equine dentistry or castration.

It is expected the bill will be reintroduced to the legislature this fall with amendments dealing mainly with how the veterinary profession regulates itself, particularly in relation to disciplinary matters.

About the Author

Nicole Kitchener

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