Control of the practice of a profession
A professional order fulfills its function of protecting the public mainly by:
- controlling the title and the right to practise a profession
- verifying the competence and integrity of candidates to the profession
- ensuring that competence and integrity are maintained throughout the member’s professional life
- punishing infractions of the Professional Code and the professional legislation and regulations
The first three aspects of an order’s mandate focus on prevention with respect to the risk of prejudice. The fourth aspect involves the imposition of disciplinary measures.
Orders control the title and the right to practise through the issuance of professional permits. Professional competence and integrity are checked during the order’s admission process. Orders ensure the maintenance and improvement of members’ competence through continuing education. They oversee the exercise of the profession by means of professional inspections and disciplinary measures.
The professional permit
Only professional orders are authorized to issue a permit to practise, which authorizes its holder to use a professional title and, in the case of reserved professions, enjoy the exclusive right to practise the related reserved activities.
The permit is proof that the order in question recognizes the competence of the professional who holds it. The permit is valid throughout Québec.
The Professional Code provides for the issuance of a temporary or restrictive permit under certain conditions. It also provides for cases in which members have their permit revoked or restricted, have their right to engage in professional activities suspended, or are temporarily or permanently struck of the order’s roll.
Also, in some cases, and under certain conditions, a professional order may grant special authorization to practise a profession in Québec to someone who is legally authorized to practise the profession in another jurisdiction. This authorization is generally valid for a maximum of 12 months and its acquisition is not subject to the process and requirements involved in the issuance of a permit.
Before issuing a permit, an order ensures that candidates possess the minimum level of required training and the integrity necessary to practise the profession.
A basic condition: possession of the required diploma or its equivalent
The Professional Code requires that all candidates to a profession possess a diploma recognized as valid for this purpose. To this end, the Code stipulates the passage of a regulation which designates the diplomas of educational institutions that satisfy the orders’ training requirements and give access to a professional permit.
A candidate who does not hold a valid diploma may still be issued a permit if he or she holds a diploma or training recognized as equivalent. Equivalence is decided by the order based on the profession’s fixed training requirements. The fixed training requirements are made the subject of a regulation, and thereby receive government sanction.
More than 380 diplomas are presently designated as giving access to 53 permits issued by the professional orders.
In cases stipulated by the regulation, candidates may be issued a permanent restrictive permit vesting its holder with the right to practise the profession, but restricted to certain activities. The special permit thus enables its holder to practise for an indefinite period professional activities for which the order has recognized that the candidate possesses the necessary competence.
Candidates may be issued a temporary restrictive permit for the period during which they are gathering the elements necessary to meet the requirements for issuance of a regular or special permit.
In addition to possessing the required diploma or its equivalent, candidates to a profession must satisfy other conditions for the issuance of permit. Depending on the situation, possible conditions are successful completion of a training period, professional training program or an examination.
Relevance of training to actual practice
Given their specific mission to ensure quality of professional practice, orders are concerned about the relevance of their training requirements and the suitability of programs giving access to their permits. Coordination with the educational system is therefore indispensable.
This coordination is so important that the Professional Code stipulates that orders constitute a training committee with a statutory membership composed of representatives of the order, the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport and the concerned educational institutions. This committee discusses the development and revision of training programs giving access to the practice of professional activities.
After receiving their permit and throughout their professional lives, members of professional orders are responsible for their own professional development and are ethically obligated to update their knowledge.
In some circumstances members of an order must comply with specific continuing education requirements as prescribed by regulation. This could also be imposed following an inquiry into competence in the course of a professional inspection.
Professional orders do more than monitor competence and impose obligations in this matter. They also work to promote a culture of continuing education. They offer resources to their members by informing them about relevant training activities, associating with educational institutions to offer training, and by organizing their own activities.
To ensure that professional activities are being practised at the expected quality level, the order verifies the practice and competence of its members throughout their professional lives. Orders regularly inspect their members as a means of preventing and detecting problems. This mechanism is called professional inspection.
More specifically, a professional inspection committee in each order sets up an annual inspection program. The committee conducts inspections or verifications and inquiries into the competence of professionals. It is assisted by inspectors and investigators.
In addition, the committee may inquire into the professional competence of a member. Following such an inquiry, it may recommend to the board of directors that the member be required to successfully complete a training period or refresher course. The board of directors may also restrict or suspend the member’s right to practise for the duration of the training period or course.
Professional inspection is an administrative process aimed at supporting a professional in improving her or his practice.
Discipline, in the context of professional orders, refers to the punishment of infractions of the Professional Code and professional regulations. It is also designed to prevent recidivism among professionals who have been found in violation of professional law.
Disciplinary law as applied by the orders is a distinct field of law that is not part of civil or criminal law. It does, however, draw on and adapt aspects from each of these legal domains.
Professionals who are the subject of a complaint are therefore obligated to cooperate with the order’s investigators. Professionals who testify before the disciplinary council must answer all the questions. Their testimony is privileged and may not be used against them in a judicial or quasi-judicial body. They may not invoke professional secrecy to justify their refusal to answer a question. In addition, the criterion of preponderance of evidence rather than reasonable doubt is applied to determine the guilt of a professional.
Code of ethics
All of Québec’s 46 professional orders have adopted, in the form of a regulation, a code of ethics with which members must comply. The order’s code of ethics is a particularly important reference in the matter of discipline. It sets out the duties of professionals toward the public, their clients, and their profession, particularly the duty to discharge their professional obligations with integrity.
Request for an inquiry
Anyone may ask for an inquiry of a member of an order if they believe that an infraction has been committed against the Professional Code, special laws or regulations, including the code of ethics. The board of directors of the order may also request an inquiry.
The inquiry is conducted by the order’s syndic, who, under the Professional Code, has 90 days to complete his or her investigation and render a decision on the steps to be taken. If the syndic is unable to meet this deadline, she or he must furnish progress reports every 60 days to the person who made the request. At the conclusion of an inquiry, the syndic will make one of the following decisions:
- lodge a complaint with the disciplinary council
- conclude that there are no grounds for a complaint and close the file
- institute the conciliation of the two parties
- transfer the case to the professional inspection committee.
In addition to the syndic, anyone may lodge a complaint directly with the disciplinary council. This is generally known as a “private complaint.” In such cases, fees must be paid by the person who lodged the complaint if the professional is acquitted or if the complaint is manifestly unfounded.
Review of a decision not to lodge a complaint
When the syndic, after receiving a request to investigate a member, decides not to lodge a complaint with the disciplinary council, the person who requested the inquiry may apply to review committee for an opinion. The review committee may give one of the following opinions:
- decide that there is no cause to lodge a complaint with the disciplinary council
- suggest that the syndic complete the investigation
- suggest that the syndic refer the file to the professional inspection committee
- decide that there is cause to lodge a complaint and suggest the name of a person to act in the capacity of syndic
Hearing of the complaint and decision of the disciplinary council
The disciplinary council, after receiving a complaint and hearing from the parties decides on the guilt of the member in question. If the member is found guilty, the disciplinary council then decides on a sanction. The disciplinary council can make one or more of the following decisions:
- reprimand the member of the order who committed the offence
- impose a fine
- temporarily or permanently strike the member from the roll
- revoke the permit or specialist certificate
- restrict or suspend the right to practise
- recommend to the board of directors that the member be required to successfully complete a training period or refresher course
- oblige the member to refund a particular sum
- oblige the member to communicate, complete, erase, update or correct a document or piece of information
Appeal of a decision
The complainant or professional may appeal a decision of the disciplinary council at the Tribunal des professions.