Psychologists - Disciplinary proceedings - Professional misconduct / conduct unbecoming - Penalties; Judicial review - Compliance with legislation - Procedural requirements and fairness - Standard of review - Reasonableness simpliciter

Nanson v. Saskatchewan College of Psychologists

The appellant psychologist appealed a decision of the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists finding her guilty of professional misconduct for failing to comply with the College's Code of Ethics and issuing a reprimand. The College's Discipline Committee had rejected the joint submission by the psychologist and College's counsel on agreed facts and undertakings, and instead issued an order as to the appellant psychologist's future practice. The College Council upheld the Discipline Committee's decision. The appeal was allowed in part. The Court agreed that the appellant psychologist's admissions as to the facts behind the charges were tantamount to guilty pleas. The Council's decision to uphold the findings of guilty pleas was within the range of reasonable decisions. However, the Discipline Committee and Council erred in its application of section 32 of the Psychologists Act in requiring a reprimand by given in every case where there was a breach of professional standards. As well, the process of rejecting the joint submission without an opportunity for further submissions from either counsel for the College or appellant psychologist was unreasonable. As a result, the reprimand was struck from the disposition.

[2013] S.J. No. 295

2013 SKQB 191

Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench

R.W. Danyliuk J.

May 17, 2013

The appellant psychologist faced some professional disciplinary matters when she was the subject of nine complaints. She and College counsel reached an agreed statement of facts where she accepted the charges as framed and addressed remedies, by way of certain undertakings concerning conduct of her future practice. This joint submission was made to the Discipline Committee of the College which, in its written decision, rejected the joint submission and substituted its own order for the terms recommended by counsel. The appellant psychologist was found guilty of professional misconduct for failing to comply with the College's Code of Ethics and was issued a reprimand. The Discipline Committee issued an order as to the appellant's future practice, refusing to accept the undertaking. The appellant appealed the decision to the College's Council, which upheld the decision. Council determined that the agreed statement of facts amounted to an admission of a breach of the Code of Ethics and a guilty plea. As a result, the Discipline Committee was correct in finding the appellant guilty on that basis and imposing a reprimand. As well, Council decided the Committee was correct in rejecting the joint submission as being unfit or contrary to public policy. The appellant appealed the Council's decision pursuant to s.37 of the Psychologist Act. As well, she sought a judicial review.

The Court allowed the appeal in part. The standard of review was reasonableness as the primary matters related to the Tribunal's interpretation of its own enabling legislation where deference is required. The Court rejected the appellant's argument that she could not be found guilty of regulatory breaches in the absence of an express plea of guilty. Her admission as to the facts behind the charges were tantamount to guilty pleas. A plain reading of the complaints made it really apparent they could constitute ethics code breaches. The Council's decision to uphold the findings of guilty pleas was also well within the range of reasonable decisions. However, the Discipline Committee and Council erred in misapprehending a requirement for consequences in every case. The necessicity of requiring a reprimand in every case where there was a breach of professional standards was not a clear result of a reasonable application of s.32 of the Psychologist Act. As Well, the Discipline Committee ought to have recalled counsel and given them an opportunity to address the Discipline Committee's concerns about the joint submission. Both on the merits and procedurally, the Discipline Committee's process and outcome were unreasonable. As a result, the reprimand was struck from the disposition.