Case Report – Divisional Court says reasons for ordering medical exam required

On June 3rd, the Divisional Court quashed a medical assessment order issued by the Ontario College of Nurses because the College did not provide the affected nurse with reasons for its order.

In accordance with the Health Professions Procedural Code, the College’s Executive Committee appointed a board of inquiry to assess the nurse’s capacity. The board of inquiry gave notice to the nurse of its intention to order her to submit to a medical examination (on the threat of suspension) because it had reasonable and probable grounds to believe she was incapacitated. The power to make this order is specified in the Code, as is the requirement to give notice.

The nurse made submissions through counsel, and included two medical opinions and statements from her colleagues that supported her capacity. Regardless, the board ordered an assessment and did not provide reasons for its order. The court award also says the College “refused” to provide the nurse with a record of its proceedings or file the record with the Court, though it did file an Affidavit in its response which attached all the material before it at the time it made its decision.

The Court quashed the order because the College breached the nurse’s right to procedural fairness. It considered that the privacy interest at stake weighed in favour of a high standard, and commented:

Individuals have a legal right to bodily integrity and medical privacy. The right is protected through privacy legislation and through an extensive body of case law dealing with circumstances under which an individual can be compelled to submit to medical examinations and other intrusions on bodily integrity.

The College submits Ms. Cotton had no reasonable legitimate expectation that the Board would give reasons for its decision. It states it has never been the practice at the College for a Board of Inquiry to provide reasons demonstrating reasonable and probable grounds to require a member to submit to a medical examination. We respectfully suggest that the College might wish to re-examine its practice where a medical examination is ordered.

The College further submits that a duty to give reasons is inconsistent with the role of the Board, which was performing a purely investigative function rather than an adjudicative one. We recognize that there may be functions of the Board that are investigative and which are not determinative of the rights of any party. However, an order requiring a person to undergo an invasive medical examination, subject to the penalty of suspension or revocation of licence for refusing to comply, is a determination of rights, even though it may be ordered for an investigative purpose. It is in this context that the duty to observe rules of procedural fairness, including the duty to provide reasons, arises.

Though the substantive basis for ordering a medical assessment is often litigated, judicial comment on the process of ordering an assessment is rare. The outcome in this decision is certainly driven by its specific factual context, but it nonetheless has some broader significance.

Cotton v. College of Nurses of Ontario, 2008 CanLII 26674 (ON S.C.J.).

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