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College of physicians overstepping its bounds: Shekter

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) rules on complaints that are outside its authority, says Toronto health lawyer Brooke Shekter, who frequently represents health professionals before their regulatory bodies, including the CPSO.

“It is not the College’s mandate to insert itself into the personal lives of its membership unless it is relevant to the practice of medicine,” Shekter, an associate with TTL Health Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

She says too many frivolous complaints are being made to the College.

“The College’s mandate is to protect the public from incompetent, unethical, or unfit physicians. To discipline a physician at the administrative level, it has to be conduct which is relevant to the practice of medicine,” Shekter says. In the regulatory administrative law forum, health professional regulators can only exercise the power that is expressly given to them within the statutory framework."

There are two clauses in the misconduct regulations which lawyers refer to as basket clauses, she says.

One is any conduct relevant to the practice of medicine that would generally be regarded as dishonourable, disgraceful, or unprofessional, Shekter says.

A doctor refusing to sign disability forms for a patient because they do not want to be bothered with the paperwork is an example of "conduct relevant to the practice of medicine,” she says.

What would not fit in the basket clause, Shekter says, is a doctor having a disagreement in public over a traffic incident, which is an example of a complaint that came before the College’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee.

“What business is that of the Committee?” she asks. “That is completely improper. It is not the College’s mandate to insert itself into the personal lives of its membership unless it is relevant to the practice of medicine.” 

Shekter says there is a provision in the Regulated Health Professions Act which allows a regulator to dismiss a complaint outright.

The Act states: “If the panel considers a complaint to be frivolous, vexatious, made in bad faith, moot or otherwise an abuse of process, it shall give the complainant and the member notice that it intends to take no action with respect to the complaint and that the complainant and the member have a right to make written submissions within 30 days after receiving the notice.”

She wonders how the College can rule on complaints which are in no way connected to the protection of the public.

“Disciplining a doctor for something in their personal life, when that is not remotely connected to the practice of medicine, is beyond the scope of the College’s authority, and the College should be dismissing those complaints outright on the basis that they are frivolous, vexatious, or otherwise an abuse of process,” Shekter says.

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