Case Report – Div. Ct. interprets doctors’ college investigatory powers broadly

On September 26th, the Divisional Court held that investigators appointed under the Ontario Health Professions Procedural Code have the power to compel observation of surgery conducted by an investigated physician and the power to compel an individual physician under investigation to submit to an interview.

Registrars of the self-regulating colleges may appoint investigators to look into whether a member has committed an act of misconduct or is incompetent. The Registrar must report the results of an investigation to a committee which, in turn, decides whether to proceed with discipline or incompetence charges in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Code. Investigators enjoy the following grant of power:

An investigator may inquire into and examine the practice of the member to be investigated and has, for the purposes of the investigation, all the powers of a commission under Part II of the Public Inquiries Act.

The Court held that the power to “inquire into and examine,” interpreted purposively, allowed for compelled observation of surgeries. It stressed that the College’s evidence showed observation is an effective, customary and even necessary process for assessing a health care practitioner’s competence. It held that the grant of power in the Code was unambiguous, so there was no scope for interpreting it narrowly to conform with Charter values that weigh against self-incrimination and unreasonable search. (The applicants did not challenge the constitutionality of the legislation itself.)

The Court also dealt with the privilege against self-incrimination in finding that an investigator can compel a physician to submit to an interview. The Court held that neither the privilege against self-incrimination nor (implicitly) the right to silence were engaged given the purpose of an investigation. It said that the aim of an investigation is not to gather evidence for use in a subsequent prosecution but rather was, “to ensure appropriate regulation of the medical profession in the public interest.” In this regard, it suggested that the use immunity provision in section 9 of the Public Inquiries Act was also incorporated into the Code, through it declined to issue a declaration that the applicants would be immune because such an order was premature.

Gore v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2008 CanLII 48643 (ON S.C.).

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