Important decisions are made every day in Québec based on the analysis, advice and activities of professionals. Every year thousands of professional services contribute to our quality of life and personal and economic development.
Despite the competency verification and monitoring activities of the order, a client may suffer prejudice while receiving a professional service. Given the variety of structures governing professional practice, a single problematic situation may be viewed from a number of perspectives and offer several forms of recourse to the injured client.
For instance, professional misconduct might be simultaneously considered from the angles of professional discipline, public liability and criminal law. This is the case, for example, of sexual misconduct.
It is important for wronged clients to accurately identify the nature of the allegation against the professional in order to choose the appropriate recourse.
Dispute on an account
A client who does not understand or contests the account presented by a professional may demand an explanation. Despite this explanation, the client may want the account to be changed.
In a dispute with a professional, a client may request a conciliation proceeding. A conciliation proceeding is usually conducted by the syndic of the order in question, who, within a prescribed time period, tries to bring the parties to an agreement on the account.
A client who disagrees with the dispute conciliation report may request arbitration. An arbitration council whose members are appointed by the board of directors of the order in question hears the request.
The arbitration council must render a decision within a time limit prescribed by regulation. It may maintain or reduce the disputed account, determine the amount of the refund or payment to which a party is entitled, or pronounce on the amount the client acknowledges owing.
Both conciliation and arbitration take into account the complexity of the required services, the nature of the issues at stake and the experience of the professional.
To exercise her or his recourse, the client must contact the order in question. There are no fees involved in an application for conciliation or arbitration. However, when a client loses before the arbitration council, he/she may be obliged to pay a percentage of the amount under dispute.
Breach, misconduct and incompetence
When a client observes that a professional is not fulfilling his or her obligations, has behaved inappropriately or demonstrated a failure of competence, they can contact the syndic of the order to which the professional belongs.
The purpose of the syndic’s investigation and disciplinary measure is to penalize infractions of the Professional Code and professional regulations and to prevent repeat offences.
It is important to know that this recourse is not about compensating an injured client. Note, however, that in cases of sexual misconduct on the part of the professional, the order may remit the imposed fine to the victim to cover the cost of therapy in connection with the misconduct.
There are no fees involved in lodging a complaint with the syndic(Hyperlien vers la page Fonctionnement d’un ordre professionnel), except when the injured client files a “private complaint” directly to the disciplinary council. In such cases, the client must assume the cost of preparing and presenting her or his complaint. In addition, if the professional is acquitted or the complaint is manifestly unfounded, the client may be ordered to pay costs related to the handling of the complaint (procedural fees, stenographic recording, expertise, compensation paid to witnesses, etc.).
Information about lodging a complaint with the syndic and reviewingthe syndic’s decision not to lodge a complaint, as well as other aspects relating to the disciplinary council are presented in the section of this site that deals more specifically with protection of the public.
Embezzlement of funds
When a professional appropriates sums entrusted to them by a client for their own use, the client may contact the order concerned to recover said funds. He or she may decide to inform the syndic. When the order has set up a compensation fund, clients may also submit a compensation request to this body.
Professional orders whose members hold sums of money for their clients’ account (chartered administrators, lawyers, certified accountants, certified general accountants, bailiffs and notaries) determine by regulation the terms of receipt, custody and disposition of these sums of money.
Such professional orders also establish a fund to be used to refund clients, under certain conditions, for sums of money or other securities misappropriated by a professional. The maximum amount the fund may reimburse to a claimant with respect to a particular professional and the maximum amount the fund may reimburse to all claimants with respect to a particular professional is set by regulation.
The objective of this recourse is to reimburse the injured client, according to parameters set by regulation.
To exercise her or his recourse free of charge, the client must contact the order in question.
Professional misconduct, errors, and negligence
When a professional commits misconduct, an error or act of negligence in the course of her or his practice and this causes damages to a client, the client may address a civil court to determine the professional’s liability and obtain compensation.
This recourse is not specific to the professional system; rather, it falls under the general system of the Civil Code of Québec. It may be used simultaneously with the recourse available under the professional system. For example, in a case of a professional’s non-compliance with the rules of his or her profession, the client may request an inquiry by the syndic.
To ensure the effectiveness of civil recourse, the Professional Code obliges professionals to furnish a security for their liability in case of errors or negligence committed in the practice of their profession. To this end, a regulation of the order provides the terms and levels of coverage for professional liability insurance.
The objective of this recourse is to compensate the injured client.
To exercise this recourse, the client must address the competent civil court (Small Claims Court, Québec Court, or Superior Court, depending on the amount being claimed). It is preferable to obtain legal advice before undertaking this procedure. The client pays the fees (lawyer, procedural fees, judicial fees, expertise, witness, etc.).
When a client witnesses a professional commit a criminal or indictable offence in the course of performing his or her professional activities, he or she can report the incident to the police. The professional may then become the object of a policy inquiry, and subsequently be charged and convicted. A sentence may then be pronounced against him or her.
Note that this form of recourse is not specific to the professional system, but rather comes under the general criminal and penal system. It may be undertaken at the same time as the recourse available under the professional system (for example, in cases involving fraud or assault).
The objective of this remedy is to punish offences against penal and criminal laws and prevent recidivism.
To exercise this form of recourse, the client must contact the police force having jurisdiction over the territory in question. It is available free of charge to the injured client.