Nfld. & Labrador

MUN students pen letter of complaint against self-professed 'Islamophobe' doctor

In a response to CBC News, the dean of medicine at Memorial University did not make any mention of racism and said the students did not file a proper complaint.

Dean of medicine issues statement without using the word 'racism,' says students didn't file proper complaint

Zachary Kuehner's Twitter profile has drawn the ire of undergraduate medical students at Memorial University who wrote a letter to the dean of medicine about his use of the word 'islamophobe' and other social media comments. (Twitter)

On Monday morning, a revised version of Zachary Kuehner's Twitter bio appeared: "Resident doc, mutt owner, sometimes travel writer."

Deleted from the page was another descriptor that existed until some point over the weekend: "Islamophobe."

This, plus other objectionable comments on social media, led to a group of undergraduate medical students writing a letter of complaint to the dean of medicine, Margaret Steele, late last week.

"Such comments and posts are exceedingly concerning to undergraduate learners as Dr. Kuehner is a resident physician — a title that usually encompasses our professional role models and teachers. As well, an individual who, by nature of their career, is respected by society, and does not respect them back," the letter reads in part.

In two brief messages to CBC News, Kuehner denied he is a racist or a bigot.

The allegations themselves are extremely misleading.- Zachary Kuehner

The letter includes attached screenshots of a conversation Kuehner had with other medical students, where he questioned the origin of the Black Lives Matter movement, and accused his colleagues of having a "grade school understanding" of the issues, including a colleague who was the lone person of colour in the conversation.

As the conversation progressed, Kuehner seemed to sarcastically state he was a racist, sexist and "probably" an ableist.

He later made another comment in the same vein.

"Well, I already admitted somewhere else that I am a racist so what else would you expect?"

Speaking with CBC News, Kuehner said, "Until I know the full scope of the allegations, I think it best that I don't comment, except to say, obviously and categorically, that I deny the charge of racism, overt or otherwise."

Kuehner said the screenshots in the letter do not reflect the full meaning of what he said.

"The allegations themselves are extremely misleading and were made without care for the context in which things were said or the intent with which they were uttered," Kuehner told CBC News. "The implication of racism and bigotry is categorically wrong."

This is a screenshot of one of the messages that was included in the letter sent to Memorial University by undergraduate medical students. Redactions were added by students, not CBC News. (Facebook)

In the thread, Kuehner also mocked the possibility of punishment from Eastern Health.

"Whichever of the herd above mentioned speaking to my employer, feel free to talk to Eastern Health, PGME [post-graduate medical education], faculty of medicine... whatever suits. We'll see how the suggestion of sensitivity training goes."

The undergraduate students said those comments showed Kuehner felt he was "untouchable," and said it warranted a stiff punishment from the school.

Kuehner was educated at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay and moved to St. John's last year to specialize in family medicine.

CBC News asked Kuehner how he could practise family medicine with Muslim patients and coworkers if he considered himself an Islamophobe, but he declined to answer.

Eastern Health doesn't comment, dean doesn't mention racism 

On Friday, CBC News asked Memorial University's faculty of medicine, as well as Eastern Health, for comment.

In a statement sent Friday evening, dean Margaret Steele said the school is committed to an environment free of bullying and harassment.

Nowhere in her 206-word reply to CBC News did she mention racism. A followup from a spokesperson said Steele did not mention racism because she cannot comment on specific cases.

The Dean of Medicine at Memorial University, Margaret Steele, said she has faith in the policies and procedures, but the students did not file a formal complaint. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

In a separate statement posted on MUN's faculty of medicine's website on Friday, Steele did condemn racism, though it was in reference to current world events.

"I do not have all the answers to the questions that have arisen from our faculty, staff and learners over the last week but I do know that as dean of your medical school, I am very committed to a learning and working environment free of racism, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment."

While Steele said she couldn't comment on specific cases, she did say the students did not file a proper complaint with their letter.

Steele said the students were advised on how to file a formal complaint, and said she had trust in the policies and procedures in place.

Eastern Health declined comment Monday morning, saying requests should be directed to the university.

Kuehner has written op-eds for newspapers in Northern Ontario in which he disagreed with the use of terms like "white settler," opined how issues other than racism were affecting Thunder Bay, Ont., and disagreed with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's finding that a cultural genocide had taken place.

A person by the same name also wrote an editorial for Huffington Post in 2012, celebrating multiculturalism in Canada and saying the country needed a reminder of its dark past.

'Name it and shame it,' MUN president says

In a statement to CBC News, the head of MUN's medical students society said they will not tolerate racism in any form and confirmed it had played a part in the letter to the dean.

"This letter was not meant as a formal complaint, rather being used to inform the relevant parties of major issues that undergraduate medical learners identified," said Aaron Rainnie.

The Craig L. Dobbin Genetics Research Centre is part of Memorial University's faculty of medicine. (Memorial University)

Rainnie did not say whether the students would follow up with a formal complaint, but said it was never their intention to have the letter released to the public.

MUN president Vianne Timmons penned a public letter on June 1 — unrelated to the Kuehner situation — in which she titled a section "Name it and shame it."

"I am steadfast in my commitment to providing a safe and respectful environment for all members of our community. There is no place for racism or intolerance at Memorial University," Timmons wrote.

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