Alberta surgeon who hung noose in hospital receives four-month suspension

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An Alberta doctor found guilty of unprofessional conduct for hanging a rope in the shape of a noose on an operating room door has been suspended.

Grande Prairie surgeon Dr. Wynand Wessels has received a four-month suspension from a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) hearing tribunal.

The independent hearing tribunal has ordered Wessels receive a four-month suspension on his practice permit, with two weeks of that remitted for an unpaid leave requested by Alberta Health Services.

“CPSA had asked for a longer suspension, but we must respect the independence of the hearing tribunal,” Dr. Scott McLeod, CPSA registrar, said in a news release Monday morning.

“It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Dr. Wessels has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct, and a suspension demonstrates this behaviour is not appropriate or acceptable.”

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The suspension comes after Wessels was found guilty of unprofessional conduct earlier this year related to an incident in 2016, when the rope was put on a door leading to an operating room at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grande Prairie, Alta. It was a location where medical and hospital staff could see it, said a CPSA decision in January 2021.

Wessels, through his lawyer, told a hearing in October 2020 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 Wessels was asked by a colleague if the noose was directed at another doctor working in the operating room, he denied it.

During the latest hearing, the CPSA said the independent tribunal “found that on a balance of probabilities, there was insufficient evidence to prove Mr. Wessels was motivated by racism.”

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However, the CPSA said the tribunal “also found that he hung the rope on the door with the intention of sending a threatening message or warning to one or more individuals.”

“Whether Dr. Wessels’ intent was racist or not, CPSA believes the evidence presented demonstrated his actions were perceived by colleagues as racially-motivated and left a negative impact on many Albertans and the profession,” McLeod said in a statement Monday.

“CPSA wants Albertans and physicians to know we take allegations like these very seriously and are committed to using this opportunity to learn and continue to improve the work that we do.”

The CPSA said Wessels is also responsible for 75 per cent of the costs of the merits hearing, the sanction hearing and the investigation. The total cost has not yet been released.

The CPSA is the regulator for all physicians, physician assistants and surgeons in the province and is governed by the Health Professions Act.

— with files from Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press.

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