Cardston doctor accused of racist confrontation will apologize, won't be disciplined

A southern Alberta doctor accused of making racist comments toward a group of homeless Indigenous people last spring will formally apologize, but he will not be disciplined by the body that regulates physicians.

Dr. Lloyd Clarke admits he made comments but says he’s not racist

Dr. Lloyd Clarke told a group of Indigenous people, who were standing outside the Red Rooster convenience store in Cardston last May, to “get a job.” (Google Street View)

A southern Alberta doctor accused of making racist comments toward a group of homeless Indigenous people last spring will formally apologize, but he will not be disciplined by the body that regulates physicians.

Dr. Lloyd Clarke told the Indigenous people, who were standing outside a Cardston convenience store in May, to "get a job" and asked them if they wanted a prescription for Tylenol 3, an addictive painkiller.

Clarke later admitted he made the comments and now regrets them but said he isn't racist.

Ingrid Hess, a southern Alberta lawyer, filed a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta on behalf of three of the First Nations members involved.

The regulator dismissed the initial complaint, explaining Clarke's comments were "damaging" but did not amount to professional misconduct.

Ingrid Hess, a southern Alberta lawyer and a First Nations advocate, filed a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. (CBC)

Hess appealed the decision to the college's complaint review committee, arguing "Dr. Clarke's blatant biases and negative views of Indigenous people might influence his care of the Indigenous patients he treats."

Unprofessional conduct claims dismissed

In its decision, the three-member panel wrote that Clarke's remarks "might be perceived as racist."

But the committee "did not feel that the remarks made were indicative of a racist attitude," given that Clarke is himself Indigenous as a Maori from New Zealand, that he has treated many Indigenous patients and that he has taken steps to make amends for his behaviour.

"There is no question [Clarke's] remarks were intemperate and inappropriate in the circumstances, but the [committee] did not find there was sufficient evidence of unprofessional conduct to warrant a discipline hearing in this case," the panel wrote.

In a statement, Clarke said he agreed his comments were motivated by "uncharacteristic intemperance," not racism. He said he would apologize to those who were "hurt and angered by my remarks" after all reviews into the incident are complete.

Clarke says he regrets comments

"I cannot emphasize enough my regret for this occurrence and hope that my past actions in caring for the people of this community over my entire career, as well as the work that I will do going forward for the people of Cardston and the Blood Tribe, will demonstrate this," Clarke said in the statement.

Alberta Health Services, which also looked into Clarke's case, said it recently finished its own review. When asked whether the health authority will take any disciplinary action against the doctor, it said in a statement that Clarke voluntarily stepped down from his leadership role in the organization.

Clarke previously served as the associate medical director for the southern region of Alberta, but AHS placed him on administrative leave while the health authority conducted its own investigation into the incident.

The doctor later resigned from the post.

"We recognize that relationships between AHS and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Albertans must continue to improve, and we are committed to building, nurturing and growing those relationships," AHS said in its statement.

"As a part of this commitment, AHS does not tolerate discrimination of any sort."

Dr. Lloyd Clarke, who is accused of making discriminatory comments toward Indigenous people, works at the Cardston clinic. (CBC)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons declined to comment on the panel's decision, explaining legislation prevents it from revealing details about complaints that don't go to a disciplinary hearing.

The complaint review committee consists of two doctors and one member of the public. The panel can order an investigation, call for a hearing or, in the case of Clarke, uphold the college's earlier decision.

'Something inside me just went off'

The confrontation at the centre of the complaint occurred in late May, after Clarke stopped in at the Red Rooster convenience store on his way to work at the Cardston Clinic. He later recounted his description of the events in a letter to a senior executive at Alberta Health Services.

In his letter, which was also part of his submissions to the college's complaint review committee, Clarke wrote there were a dozen or so "street people" outside the store that day. He said homelessness has become an issue in downtown Cardston and that some residents have stopped going there alone because some who live on the street are "aggressive."

"I was annoyed by them loitering by the convenience store, as they were unkempt and represented an intimidating presence by their sheer numbers," he wrote.

"As I got to my car, something inside me just went off and I yelled at them loudly that, 'This is not right; you guys need to get a job!' I followed that up with something to the effect of, 'You can't sit and loiter around here like this!"

Tylenol comment a joke, Clarke says

Clarke recounted that two people from the group ran up to him and started yelling obscenities and behaving in a way he found "aggressive and threatening." He said he made several attempts to diffuse the tension, including when he said, 'You want some Tylenol 3s; that'll fix this.'"

He wrote he meant that comment as a joke. A few years earlier, he had walked by another group of Indigenous people who were trying to start a car with its hood up and one person jokingly had said to him, "Dr. Clarke, I think it needs some Tylenol 3 to fix it."

He said he was trying to bring similar humour to the confrontation outside the convenience store.

'I deny being racist'

Clarke wrote he was under stress by unrelated events that day and later got counselling. He said he also participated in a sun dance ceremony with members of the Blood Tribe after the confrontation, "to increase my understanding of the barriers faced by First Nations."

"I regret the choice of words and the tone I used," Clarke wrote in his letter. "However, I deny being racist, and my comments that day, while inappropriate, were not racist."

Clarke said that in his previous role as an associate medical director with AHS he had often been involved with discussions over Indigenous health issues, including lending his advice on spending decisions that "best serve the needs of this underserved and vulnerable population."

'I just felt like he was racist,' woman says

Nicole Gros Ventre Boy interpreted the confrontation differently. She's one of the three Indigenous people involved in the complaint. In an interview last July, Gros Ventre Boy said Clarke's comments were unprovoked and hurtful.

"I just felt like he was racist, like he didn't like natives," she said at the time. "There was no reason for him to come up to us and talk. We were not doing anything."

CBC News was unable to reach Gros Ventre Boy to respond to the decision.

A complaint review committee struck by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta dismissed a complaint against Dr. Lloyd Clarke, finding insufficient evidence of professional misconduct.

Hess, the lawyer who filed the complaint, said she found parts of Clarke's descriptions offensive. She said the claim that some Cardston residents stopped going downtown alone is hearsay, "overblown" and "based on fear."

She said Clarke was also "out of touch" for thinking his comment about Tylenol 3 was a joke.

"These people all have varying degrees of addictions issues, so to make fun of them, it's just not funny. It's pretty sad to think it was ever funny."

Hess said the panel appeared to lean heavily on Clarke's own defence as evidence he isn't prejudiced toward First Nations people, including that he's of Maori descent.

She said this view fails to recognize that "racialized people are capable of holding racist beliefs and exhibiting racist behaviour."

'A tool of oppression'

"It seems to fail to recognize that racism is a tool of oppression," she said. "The people that he targeted in his comments have significant differences from him. They are of a different racial background; they have a different social circumstance....

"Ultimately, we're left in a situation where the narrative is determined by the people in power."

Hess doesn't plan to take the dispute any further, thinking the odds of having the decision overturned are "insurmountable."

According to AHS, if anyone involved in the confrontation seeks care at the Cardston emergency department, they don't have to receive care from Clarke, unless they have life-threatening injuries.

Corrections

  • In an earlier version of this story, Alberta Health Services said it implemented mandatory Indigenous awareness training for all physicians and staff. AHS later clarified the training for physicians isn't mandatory "but they are strongly encouraged to participate."
    Jan 09, 2019 4:46 PM MT