GORE BAY—A Gore Bay dentist has settled a suit brought against him over his refusal of service to one of his clients, a M’Chigeeng First Nation band councillor due to his band’s support of a wind turbine project on Manitoulin Island.
“We got everything we asked for,” said M’Chigeeng lawyer Susan Hare. The settlement includes an undisclosed financial settlement, a published apology and an agreement from dentist Bill Studzienny to undertake cultural sensitivity training as it pertains to First Nations people.
Ms. Hare said that she had entered a complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of her client, Henry Pitawanakwat, a M’Chigeeng First Nation band councillor.
Dr. Studzienny was also facing a number of complaints before the Royal College of Dental Surgeons over the same incidents. The dentist had maintained that he was concerned about the safety of those of his clients involved in the wind turbine issue as his hands shook too badly when he went to work on their mouths. He also denied service to municipal councillors on councils that he felt were not doing enough to stop wind turbine developments on Manitoulin Island, such as the Northeast Town.
During the fallout from the incident Dr. Studzienny was quoted in the national media as disrespecting municipal and band councillors “because they made very foolish decisions mainly for their own gain.”
For their part, M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare was quoted as saying that he and his band councillors felt that amounted to calling them greedy and, due to Dr. Studzienny refusing to treat certain people, constituted racism.
“Just having systemic discrimination and that’s what we are going to fully examine and take him into account for his conduct,” Chief Hare said.
Ms. Hare suggested that from her conversations with the Human Rights Tribunal lawyer she believes that Dr. Studzienny “finally gets it” and that his apology would be sincere. “That has been a great relief to my client,” said Ms. Hare, who noted that her client had been particularly hard hit by the incident due to his own history and experiences of racism in the past.
Although the Human Rights Tribunal has often been criticized in the initial years following its inception, Ms. Hare said that the process has vastly improved from the point of view of complainants. “It was severely underfunded at the start,” she said. “There was only one person I believe for all of Northern Ontario. Now it has really been beefed up and it actually works very well for the plaintiffs at least.” Ms. Hare said that it was possible that defendants before the tribunal may have a different perspective on the more rapid turnaround of cases.
Dr. Studzienny is expected to appear before the Royal College of Dental Surgeons on November 7. “I understand it is expected he will be pleading guilty there,” said Ms. Hare.
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