South African-born surgeon Dr. Wynand Wessels, who is white, is facing a sanction hearing in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Dr. Oduche Onwuanyi, a Black surgeon at a Grande Prairie hospital, says that Wessels’ behavior represents an escalating pattern of racist behavior after a noose was taped to the operating room door in 2016.
“It’s a threat, a threat that, ‘We could get you off this job.’ A threat that, ‘We control things around here,'” Onwuanyi told a tribunal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA).
Another Black doctor Tosin Akinbiyi alleges that Wessels, who is white, told an employee who is not white, that she should not worry about getting iodine on herself. After all, he died, it’s the same colour as “your skin, and the same colour as shit.” In speaking of his experience with apartheid, he is alleged to have said that “those people [Blacks] are vermins.”
At a disciplinary hearing last October, Wessels denied the noose was meant to be racist or to intimidate or target any person or group. The panel found him guilty of unprofessional conduct but ruled there was not enough evidence to conclude that Wessels “was motivated by racism.”
Even as thousands of Black anti-apartheid activists were hanged in South Africa, Wessels saw no hint of racism in the image of a noose.
Onwuanyi testified that Wessels did not hire him in 2010 for a job for which he was well qualified, making disparaging remarks about Black South Africans, and apologize for the noose incident to two persons except to him.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro ordered an investigation by an independent consultant who concluded the noose incident was not racist. Even though the first witness, surgeon Dr. Scott Wiens, said that Wessels told him that the noose was for Onwuanyi. Wiens said Onwuanyi and Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an Indigenous anesthesiologist, were both working in that operating room.