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By Nazrina Umarji, CPSA In-House Legal Counsel and Hearings Director
As anyone can see by looking at CPSA’s Hearing Notices webpage, the Hearings Director’s office is a busy place these days. The number, complexity and length of hearings (and Complaint Review Committee meetings, the decisions from which are not published) has increased in the past few years , and none of this would be possible without the dedicated members of CPSA’s Complaint Review Committee (CRC) and Hearing Tribunal (HT).
About the Complaint Review Committee and Hearing Tribunal
The CRC/HT is currently comprised of a pool of 51 professionals: 29 regulated members and 23 public members. The regulated members are family physicians, clinicians, managers, educators and researchers. The public members, who are appointed by the Alberta government, are past and present practitioners of a range of professions, including but not limited to law, nursing, engineering, accounting and pharmacy. The pool is large to ensure flexibility and members participate subject to their own availability.
The lifecycle of a committee member starts like this:
- A regulated member applies for the committee and is vetted by CPSA for qualifications, experience and personal characteristics. Public members are appointed by the provincial government.
- Successful candidates are recommended to the Governance Committee, who may then recommend the appointment to CPSA Council.
- Upon Council approval (for a minimum three-year term), a committee member must complete an orientation and training session before participating in CRC meetings and hearings. Members learn the principles of administrative law, unconscious bias and guidelines for good decision-making and decision writing. We also require our panel members to participate in diversity and inclusion training.
- After they complete the training, they get right to work!
A CRC meeting and a hearing are two vastly different processes. CRC meetings occur when a complainant requests a review of a complaint that was dismissed by the Complaints Director. The CRC serves as the “check and balance” by providing oversight on how the Complaints Director exercises their discretion. The Hearings Director appoints a panel of four members (two regulated members and two public members) for every meeting, subject to the members’ availability. The goal of the panel is to determine if the Complaints Director’s decision to dismiss the complaint was reasonable. The panel does this by reviewing all the documentation the Complaints Director used to come to the decision. The complainant and the respondent physician can also make additional submissions (usually written, but sometimes orally, at the panel’s discretion) which the panel will assess. In accordance with the Health Professions Act, the panel will choose one of three outcomes:
- Uphold the decision to dismiss;
- Refer the matter back to the Complaints Director for further investigation (if this occurs, the panel must render a final decision after receiving an investigation report); or
- Refer the matter to a hearing.
After a final decision has been rendered, the panel’s job is complete. CRC panels currently conduct about eight reviews (at two meetings) per month. The meetings occur virtually and are closed to the public. Committee members can participate in multiple panels per year.
A hearing is more complex. Hearings are referred to the Hearings Director by either the Complaints Director or the CRC, and generally involve more serious allegations.
The Hearings Director appoints a Hearing Tribunal panel of four members (again, two regulated members and two public members). The panel hears arguments from each party: counsel for the Complaints Director and from the investigated member. A hearing may include written exhibits and witnesses testifying and being cross-examined. Hearings are conducted virtually and are open to the public (unless the Hearing Tribunal panel orders the hearing, or a portion of the hearing, to be closed). Unlike the criminal justice system where a charge is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the panel must consider the evidence presented and decide if the allegation(s) are proven on a balance of probabilities. The Hearing Tribunal panel will also determine sanction, if applicable.
The Hearings Director’s Office coordinates the hearing date, the appointment of the Hearing Tribunal panel, circulates documentation and facilitates the hearing itself. There are approximately 20-25 hearings per year. To learn more about the Hearing Tribunal, consider attending a hearing. Information about upcoming hearings can be found on our website.
Being the subject of a CRC review or a hearing is no doubt stressful. The members of the Complaint Review Committee/Hearing Tribunal are committed to being judicious, fair and making evidence-based decisions to protect the public and ensure safe, competent, ethical care for all Albertans.
|Nazrina Umarji has been CPSA’s In-House Legal Counsel and Hearings Director since 2020. She holds a Bachelor of Education and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Alberta and was called to the Alberta Bar in 2006. Prior to joining CPSA, Nazrina practiced in the areas of administrative law and litigation.