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Alberta surgeon who hung noose in hospital found guilty of unprofessional conduct

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — A surgeon in northwestern Alberta has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct for hanging a rope in the shape of a noose on an operating room door. 

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta said in a decision released Wednesday that Dr. Wynand Wessels "acted with the intention of sending a message that would be reasonably interpreted as intimidating or threatening."

The decision did not determine the doctor was motivated by racism. 

"The evidence established that the rope was perceived by some people as a racist gesture or as a symbol of racism," said the decision. "However, there is not enough evidence to support a finding that Dr. Wessels was motivated by racism or intended to create a racist symbol when he hung the rope on the door."

The college said sanctions will be determined at a later hearing. The doctor's permit to practise medicine is currently active.

The rope was put on a door leading to an operating room at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grand Prairie, Alta., on June 24, 2016. It was a location where medical and hospital staff could see it, said the decision.

Dr. Wessels, through his lawyer, told a hearing in October that he grew up in South Africa during apartheid and liked making knots. 

The orthopedic surgeon suggested the gesture was about team building and based on boy scout activities he did as a child.

He said it was not directed at any person and was not meant to be racist.

The hearing was told that when Dr. Wessels was asked by a colleague if the noose was directed at another doctor working in the operating room, he denied it.

That doctor, identified as Dr. O. O. in the decision, submitted a letter to the hearing saying he felt the rope was a threat, a racial insult and a slur directed at Black people. He said it insinuates slavery and lynchings.

Craig Boyer, legal counsel for the college’s complaints director, told the hearing that a noose has been a symbol of death and racism for years. He said many of the hospital staff perceived the rope as demeaning.

The decision said the choice by Wessels to hang the noose harmed the integrity of the profession and was in contravention of the health professions act. 

"Regardless of Dr. Wessels' intention, hanging a rope in this shape in a common area of the hospital demonstrated a failure to treat his colleagues with dignity and respect," the decision said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021. 

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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