Vet banned from working in QC

Horse veterinarian Dr. Melissa Jowett can no longer serve her Outaouais clients because her French is not strong enough.


Originally from the U.K. Jowett was given a temporary license to treat animals in Quebec and a four-year grace period to bring her French up to provincial standard.


However, because Jowett failed her most recent language test, the Order of Quebec Veterinarians (OMVQ) revoked her license, banning her from practicing in the province. Until the Order revoked Jowett’s license, she was one of few practicing horse veterinarians in Outaouais and the only horse veterinarian in Pontiac.


“Languages are not my forte, and although I get by relatively well due to the anglophone/bilingual nature of the Pontiac and La Pêche regions, this does not alter the rules of the [Office québécois de la langue française] (OQLF),” wrote Jowett in a statement obtained by the Low Down. “The language barrier has always been a problem that I have been aware of. The OQLF has a very strict guideline on temporary licenses in [Quebec], which has been around for a very long time.”


Jowett declined an interview with this newspaper, but she has requested an exemption from the Order to continue practicing.


Pontiac resident Chantal Chrétien launched a petition to save one of the only equine veterinarians in the region. Her “Keep vet in the Pontiac” petition aims to reverse the Order’s decision, amassing 5,977 signatures by May 10.


“I don’t care about whether my veterinarian speaks good French—in my opinion, that doesn’t take away from the quality of care,” said francophone resident Chrétien. She added that the few active large animal doctors in the region are overworked and under-supported. “Veterinarians are experiencing burnout in Pontiac because the work conditions are stressful and constant.”


Near the end of her statement, Jowett echoes feelings of “burnout” and writes about her immense workload.


“Due to the nature of the service, I found myself solely responsible for the care of the horses in the area, both preventative as well as emergency, all while also working a small animal job and covering the farm animal service as well,” wrote Jowett. “After three years of this, I was finding myself dangerously close to burnout.”


Before the Order revoked Jowett’s license, farmers in the area already felt the impact of the veterinarian shortage. Owner of Grassroots Farm Brendon Rathwell explained that veterinarians in the region are overworked. For this reason, animal owners cannot get prompt care. The Rupert beef and pork farmer said, “what I’ve noticed is that, if you’re a smaller producer, you don’t get prioritized. Also, the timeliness of your care is also dependent on how serious the situation is.”


Vice-president of the Pontiac Equestrian Association Andrea Goffart said the law undermines the well-being of her horses. Also, through conversations with other horse owners in the area, Goffart learned that many horses recently died under painful circumstances because they lacked access to veterinary care.


“We have a shortage of vets,” she said. “When everybody found out that Dr. Mel was leaving because she failed the language test, we were sad because we lost another vet. Also, we don’t have any hope that [the OMVQ] can change the language requirements.”


In a call for action the Pontiac Equestrian Association sent a letter to the veterinary college upon hearing about Jowett’s license. The organization writes, “we are shocked to learn that despite this serious shortage, we are losing the only veterinarian in the Pontiac who took care of the horses, for linguistic reasons.”


President of the OMVQ, Dr. Gaston Rioux, recognized the urgent need for veterinarians in the Outaouais. But, his hands are tied when it comes to the renewal of Jowett’s license. “We are only allowed to renew a temporary, one-year license three times. So, practicing veterinarians have only four years to learn French. Like every other professional order [in Quebec], we must abide by the French Language Charter,” said Rioux.


In 1974, the government of Quebec made French the province’s official language – an effort to protect French-Canadian language rights. Over the years, however, laws grew more stringent. For example, Bill 96 does not allow medical professionals to practice in the province unless they pass the OQLF French test.


To reduce the effects of the shortage, the Order invites retired veterinarians to re-enter the workforce. Also, to limit unnecessary commuting, the Order “encourages veterinarians to hold more virtual consultations with clients.”