The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”) has spent hundreds of thousands in legal fees to limit Charter-protected rights of Ontario physicians and citizens. The Ontario government must act. It must stop the CPSO’s attack on Charter rights.
In January 2019, I argued a case at the Ontario Court of Appeal challenging a regulatory policy developed by the CPSO, a quasi-governmental body that regulates the practice of medicine in Ontario. The policy required all physicians to actively participate in providing medical services or pharmaceuticals through what’s called an “effective referral.” No exemption was allowed for religious or conscientious objections.
The Court acknowledged the policy violated the physicians’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantees to freedom of conscience and religion. Nevertheless, it upheld the violations as necessary in a free and democratic society. The CPSO justified the policy as being within its statutory mandate to “protect the public interest.”
In February this year, a CPSO committee disciplined a physician for posting tweets to her personal account questioning the efficacy of Public Health Ontario’s approaches to dealing with COVID-19. It’s a clear violation of freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, which are also protected by the Charter.
That was followed, in April, by the announcement of a policy prohibiting physicians from making any statement that might be considered as opposing COVID-19 vaccines, the wearing of masks (including non-medical masks), and any criticism of COVID -19 lockdown rules. It also prohibits provision of or support for “unproven” COVID -19 treatments. Unfathomably, it does not specify which treatments are proven and therefore acceptable.
In early October, it was reported that the CPSO has begun disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Patrick Phillips who practices in Engleheart, Kirkland Lake, and Nipigon Ontario, rural towns in Northern Ontario (where there is already a lack of physicians and other professionals). Why is the CPSO investigating and conducting disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Philips? Because he allegedly “engaged in disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional conduct and failed to maintain the standard of practice of the profession in relation to his communications, including communications on social media and other digital platforms, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues.”
Dr. Philips’ tweets include links to journal articles from the European Journal of Epidemiology and articles from the Ottawa Citizen about vaccine-related news in Canada. How dare he?
On September 23, Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics announced it was selected by the National Institutes of Health to study the possible consequences of the vaccines on menstruation. One of the top medical schools in the world is examining one possible consequence of the vaccines. Surely the CPSO believes its own member physicians are sufficiently qualified to weigh in on vaccines, and whether they should be mandated for patients across the board. Surely they can participate in this international discussion about COVID-19 vaccines.
Why is the CPSO, whose mandate is to “regulate the practice of medicine in Ontario” now dictating how doctors can practice medicine, answer patient questions or express their medical opinions? When did Ontario become a place where government bodies determine what can and cannot be said on certain subjects? These are, for all intents and purposes, anti-blasphemy laws.
There are many societies where such laws exist; where some “facts” cannot be questioned. I don’t think I need to name them, but does Ontario want to be lumped in with them? Are we comfortable with having a government body determining which opinions can and cannot be expressed? Are we comfortable with government bodies stripping people of their ability to work because they have the gall to hold a dissenting view on what is perhaps the most serious and important medical and public policy issue of our lifetime? Do we actually care about Charter rights? If we do, why do we permit the CPSO to run rampant?
These examples received media, legal and political attention. However, there are other instances of the CPSO violating very uncontroversial Canadian rights.
The case of Dr. Mathieu Belanger, for example, received little public attention, at least from English media outlets. It involves CPSO disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Belanger, an Ottawa-based physician whose mother tongue is French. Dr. Belanger was subjected to disciplinary proceedings arising from unproven allegations that he provided medical services for which he was unlicensed.
As an Ontario francophone, Dr. Belanger requested his hearing be in French. It’s not an uncommon request. Disciplinary bodies across the province readily offer bilingual hearings, and the panel in his case was perfectly bilingual.
The CPSO, however, denied his request. He had to bring an application in Divisional Court to compel the CPSO to provide a French hearing. Of course, the Charter protects official language rights so, yet again, the CPSO violated the Charter, and is defending its latest violation in Court. The CPSO, I would say, has become a habitual Charter-violator.
At what point will Doug Ford and the Ontario government stop this public body from habitually violating the Charter rights of its citizens? Premier Ford leads a majority government with the ability to limit the CPSO’s ability to continue to violate the Charter – or completely disband it.
Some years ago there was a call to bring more transparency to the Ontario Medical Association. Through its members’ efforts, the OMA was over-hauled and now boasts a new structure, governance model, accountability, and reporting processes to better serve Ontario doctors and patients. It is exciting to witness the developments at the OMA. It’s a modern organization, incorporating some of the best of principles of organizational health and member input. It is a force for good in Ontario.
I’m not usually one to advocate for bigger government or more bureaucracy, but the CPSO is not an essential body. It could be replaced by something that is more democratic, offers more transparency in its operations, honours civil rights and liberties, and provides equal consideration and respect to both Ontario’s patients and doctors. It has been done before. It can be done again.
The Ontario Legislature is now sitting again. It should start its new session by addressing the very serious Charter violations that the CPSO continuously engages in. Now is the time for the Ontario government to learn from the OMA and consider similar changes at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Doctors deserve change. Patients deserve change. Doug Ford and his team must make the change a reality.
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