'Intimidating or threatening': Grande Prairie surgeon guilty of unprofessional conduct after taping noose to hospital door

Submitted by Dr Carrie Kollias.

A Grande Prairie surgeon who attached a noose to an operating room door in 2016 has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct by a regulatory body.

While the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta found Dr. Wynand Wessels acted inappropriately, it also found there was insufficient evidence "on the balance of probabilities" that he was motivated by racism.

"Whether used as a racist symbol or not, a rope tied in the shape of a noose and hung on a door would reasonably be viewed as threatening and intimidating," the Dec. 18 ruling reads.

The three-member hearing tribunal found Dr. Wessels violated the Health Professions Act and the college's standards of practice.

"Based on the location of the rope, and the position of power Dr. Wessels held, the hearing tribunal found he acted with the intention of sending a message and that such a message would be reasonably interpreted as intimidating or threatening."

A lawyer for Dr. Wessels argued the noose was a lasso representative of a team building exercise from the surgeon's youth in South Africa. His lawyered argued the rope was also an inside joke among staff. 

"His actions were more than a mere joke," the ruling reads. "His actions were not simply an attempt at team building."

His sanction will be determined at a later date pending submissions from Dr. Wessels and the college. 

The province launched a third-party investigation after a noose was found at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grande Prairie in 2016.

In July, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he was made aware of the "racist act" in August 2019 and that Alberta Health Services told him it was being addressed appropriately.

However, the minister went on to say in a statement, "Recently, individuals with first-hand knowledge of the incident have raised this matter again, questioning how AHS handled this matter in 2016. I share their concerns and I am not satisfied that this matter was handled appropriately.

"Racism and bigotry have no place in our health-care system. That's why I am announcing an independent third-party investigation of how this matter was handled by Alberta Health Services."

In a July statement, AHS called the incident "disturbing and unconscionable racist."

"The organization acted to ensure the individual involved accepted responsibility, and that the victims were supported. Formal apologies were sent to the affected physicians and additional education and professional development took place in 2016."