Mobbing of medical resident reveals double standards for social justice

Zachary Kuehner fell victim to a ruthless mobbing campaign that put him through a bruising "remediation" wringer, and came close to ending his career in medicine.

Barbara Kay Montreal QC

Zachary Kuehner began his medical education in Thunder Bay and moved to St. John's in 2018 to specialize in family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). There he fell victim to a ruthless mobbing campaign that put him through a bruising "remediation" wringer, and came close to ending his career in medicine.

Kuehner's case interested me particularly because of a common theme that preoccupied those attacking him, whether they were fellow students, university administrators, media or third-party groups: namely, that a practising physician who voices heterodox political opinions—that is, opinions that do not dovetail with Critical Race Theory (CRT) and intersectionality—on Black Lives Matter or Islam or Indigenous issues is unfit to serve the medical needs of certain people, because he is a threat to their "cultural safety."

It all began for Kuehner on June 4, 2020, at the peak of the moral panic generated by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. For months, a general obsession prevailed amongst progressives and institutions to outdo each other in bruiting their anti-racism allyship with Black Lives Matter.

In keeping with this mood, MUN Class of 2023 president, Stephanie Roberts, supported by several other undergraduate signatories, sent a "Call to Action" to Dean Margaret Steele of MUN's UGME (Undergraduate Medical education) and to PGME (Postgraduate Medical Education).

The letter was a complaint about "elitist and white supremacist views" expressed in Kuehner's Facebook and Twitter posts. These views, Roberts stated, were "disheartening," "discouraging," "unacceptable," "concerning" and "alarming." Since it seemed clear to her team that Kuehner's views would not change even if subjected to sensitivity training, the Call to Action by the undergraduate "learner population" amounted to a request for "serious consequences to be implemented," and for implementation to be effected "quickly and efficiently."

One can see why some of Kuehner's posts on social media—the images were included in the letter—were triggering for Wokeists. He describes the rhetoric of "Jim Crow" as used to characterize the present state of affairs for American blacks as a "gross leftist fantasy." He describes the ongoing protests as "stoking racial animus and hatred of police," writing "These communities need less of that, not more." He resists the wholesale explanation of racism as the cause of black deaths by police: "[Y]ou have to ask whether these are about race or just bad policing, for instance." Kuehner also states that Black Lives Matter "was founded on a fabrication" (alluding to the Michael Brown case).

For enforcers in the anti-Islamophobia cooperative, a particularly incendiary post by Kuehner marked the fourth anniversary of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, accompanied by one of Charlie Hebdo's most famous cartoons, in which Kuehner says, "If cartooning Islam is dangerous, then Islam is dangerous and, as such, deserves our virulent disrespect."

In response to a pile-on of criticism, Kuehner writes, "I guess I'll stop... I've learned so much after all…though I already knew I was a racist…and a sexist... likely an ableist too... I also dislike loud talkers." Later, his ironic reference to himself as racist, sexist and ableist would be used against him, although his critics left out his dislike of "loud talkers," because it confirmed the irony Kuehner said was intended in the first three self-references.

The Call to Action was distributed widely by the students through Facebook.

It was also leaked to the CBC. On June 9, CBC reporter Ryan Cooke published an article about the Call to Action, leading with the fact that Kuehner's Twitter bio now read "Resident doc, mutt owner, sometimes travel writer," but that it had up until days before also contained the word "Islamophobe." Indeed, having read the tea leaves contained in the Call to Action, and realizing that sarcasm cannot coexist in harmony with Wokeism, Kuehner had deleted the word. (Note: Kuehner had opened his account in March 2019 and had two Twitter followers. He hadn't acquired the savvy to know that sarcasm can easily backfire on this platform.) It would be passing strange if Cooke, no stranger to Twitter, were not aware that no actual bigot would include the word "bigot" in his bio to alert the public to his moral failing. But it bled, so it led.

In a second article published June 9, Cooke reported that the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), supported by three other Muslim advocacy groups, had, in a letter, called upon Dean Steele for Kuehner's ouster on the basis of his self-description of "Islamophobe." They stated: "[Kuehner's] blasé and clear identification of himself as an Islamophobe leads to a reasonable apprehension of bias against members of the Canadian Muslim community." The article once again included a blown-up image of Kuehner's Twitter bio with the word "Islamophobe" in it.

A third CBC article by Cooke on June 17 (yet again reprising the Twitter bio blow-up, reported that Kuehner's licence to practise medicine was no longer active as of June 10 (the day after Cooke's first article appeared, he seemed happy to note).

The article also reported a third letter of complaint, this one from Canadian Women in Medicine, whose author, co-chair for advocacy, Dr. Michelle Cohen, said Kuehner "has shown himself to be unsafe to provide health care to Muslim or Indigenous patients." She too expressed her "deep concern" over Kuehner's "racist conduct" on Twitter, where she personally has been so careless in her anti-Kuehner rhetoric, it could well involve her in a defamation suit.

On separate occasions, Cohen posted that she has "been told that [Kuehner] gave a derogatory cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to a patient" and that MUN has failed to "discipline a resident physician for numerous racist statements, at least one of which seems to have been directed AT A PATIENT (sic)." Kuehner has told me that "these are bald-faced lies." I sent a media query to Dr. Cohen via CWIM's site on May 14 asking if she still stood by these accusations, but have had no response.

In early December, Kuehner initiated an informal complaint process against the students who signed the Call to Action, as they did not follow formal complaints procedure (the Dean admitted this in the initial CBC article) and for defamatory language. His complaint, he told me, merely asked for a letter of apology, explicitly stating that he didn't want their careers disrupted. The students then hired a lawyer and that issue remains unresolved.

Presently, apart from an ongoing lawsuit against Ryan Cooke and the CBC for factual errors, malice and for publishing a photograph of Kuehner's wife, also a resident physician, the professional complaints are settled. So some people might say Kuehner had a narrow escape, but survived the kind of mobbing many others have been ruined by. They might think he should be grateful, put all the unpleasantness behind him and move on with his life.

But, as Shakespeare observed via his character Iago in Othello, "Who steals my purse steals trash... But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed." Kuehner had not been obliterated, and that did not sit well with certain keepers of the Woke flame. If they could not take away his career, they were determined to drag his character through the mud.

On April 23, London, Ont. emergency room doctor Tarek Loubani published an article on, "Dear Zachary Kuehner, if you're not a White Supremacist, you sure fooled us." Loubani's diatribe is unnuanced (he calls Kuehner an "asshole," for example), and refers to three op eds Kuehner wrote as seeming "like classic dog-whistle racism / white supremacy, complete with White Man's Burden undertones." To me they seemed objective, balanced, free of any racist undertones whatsoever, let alone of "white supremacy," and perfectly consistent with the standards of civil discourse one associates with the classic liberal polemical tradition.

You be the judge: one, two and three. Personally, I would assess all of them as anti-racist in character. Loubani ignored readily available articles by Kuehner that are explicitly pro-diversity, such as Je Speak Inuktitut and Why I Love Canada: We're an ethnic hodgepodge because they so clearly rebut Loubani's "white supremacy" narrative.

Loubani's name may ring a bell for many readers. That is because medicine is only one of his two passions. The other is political activism against Israel as part of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The ISM supports Hamas (officially named a terrorist organization in Canada, the U.S. and by the European Court of Justice) and encourages activists to take "direct action" that often puts them in confrontation with the Israeli military during operations. ISM has been described as "embracing Palestinian militants, even suicide bombers, as freedom fighters."

Loubani himself took a well-publicized part in one such direct action in Gaza during the 2018 Great March of Return where he was allegedly shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper and tended to by a "medic"- killed by the Israeli military—whose alleged martyrdom was plangently lamented to credulous media people by Loubani until the "medic" was exposed as a Hamas terrorist.

My point in recalling Loubani's anti-Israel history is not only to discredit this "radical grandstander" (in journalist Margaret Wente's words) as a moral authority on anything, but to demonstrate the gross hypocrisy that informs the entire case against Zachary Kuehner.

On May 4, Amira Elgwahaby, NCCM Communications Director—the same individual who had demanded Kuehner's ouster by Dr. Steele in the letter alluded to above—weighed in on the Kuehner affair in an article in the Toronto Star. Most of her article was taken up with support for, and expansion on, accusations already made by Dr. Cohen and by Loubani, whom she quotes: "We know that systemic racism is a big problem within medicine in Canada. It is our duty as physicians to make sure that our patients have the best care, the best representation, that any time a doctor walks in, that doctor is bringing the best of the medical tradition with them rather than racism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, these sorts of things."

I would put it to Ms Elgwahaby: If "cultural safety" is so existentially important in the field of medicine, how is it that Dr. Tarek Loubani, the author of these lofty sentiments, is still licenced to practice medicine? He stands in solidarity with a terrorist organization—Hamas—whose proudly bruited raison d'être is the eradication of the state of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of every Jew in their homeland. (In the words of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar: "Tear their hearts out.") How can any Canadian Jew feel safe in his hands—that is, according to criteria he has himself established, criteria that coincide with those expressed by the complainants at MUN, the NCCM and Dr. Cohen of CWIM (I cannot say whether the CWIM board supports her in this initiative or even knows about it)?

Furthermore, even if we were to allow this vague term of "cultural safety" to stand unchallenged as a basis for a mobbing, we must then ask how any Muslims' cultural safety is considered threatened on account of a single jokey reference and a politely worded criticism of Islam on his private Facebook page, when the risk of any Muslim patient of Kuehner's ever knowing anything about them is slim to vanishing.

And yet concern for the sensibilities of Jews who are only too well aware of Loubani's many years of virulently Israel-demonizing activism has never, not for a nanosecond, preoccupied any university administration or professional medical body or the CBC or the NCCM or, let's say, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (where the NCCM Communications Director, Amira Elghawaby is a founder and active board member, but which tends to shun antisemitism arising from Muslim sources as a matter for condemnation).

Last weekend violence erupted against pro-Israel demonstrators in cities across Canada following hostilities between Hamas and Israel (initiated by Hamas). A spokesperson for Doctors Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (DARA) at the University of Toronto has informed me that the environment in the faculty of medicine "has become extremely toxic for Jewish students." One might say they do not feel "culturally safe," because some staff physicians and fellow colleagues in positions of power have been posting anti-Israel messages. So have fellow students. One, posted by a U of T medical student, was an especially grotesque antisemitic libel, "If you are silent when it comes to Palestine, you would have been silent at the time of the Holocaust."

Offering support to one side of a political conflict is not a hate crime, obviously. It is a right. But if these medical school insiders and Dr Tarek Loubani are to have the freedom to raise their voices or take direct action in support of an antisemitic movement, with no consideration of Jewish medical students' or Jewish patients' feelings and no censure by their governing institutions, then there is no logical or moral case for targeting a medical student who critiques Islam or BLM, and declaring him unfit for the same profession on that account.

Apart from law, there is no profession in which the right to equal treatment is more sacrosanct than medicine. To uphold a belief system in which putative mental discomfort to a Muslim, Black or Indigenous student/patient trumps a physician's right to (civil) freedom of speech, but in which the putative discomfort of a Jewish or any white heterosexual male student/patient may be ignored should be anathema to the medical community.

Zachary Kuehner deserves an apology from his accusers: the MUN mob, Dr. Michelle Cohen/CWIM, the NCCM, Tarek Loubani, the CBC—the whole hypocritical bunch of them.


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