What is the Discipline Committee?
The Discipline Committee (Committee) will hold a hearing to determine whether a psychologist or psychological associate committed professional misconduct or is incompetent. Allegations of professional misconduct or incompetence are referred to the Discipline Committee from the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC). The ICRC may refer these allegations after investigating a complaint or report.
Hearings are held by a panel of the Committee. A panel is drawn from the whole Committee, and must consist of:
- Three professional members, one of whom must be a member of Council; and
- Two public members.
The full list of Committee members is available here.
Jurisdiction of the Discipline Committee
The Committee’s powers come from the Health Professions Procedural Code (Code), which is Schedule 2 to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991. Sections 36 to 56 of the Code apply to the Discipline Committee.
The Statutory Powers Procedure Act (SPPA) gives tribunals like the Committee powers and governs most procedural steps in a hearing. Where the Code is silent, the SPPA applies.
The Committee’s Rules of Procedure fill in the details not specified by the Code or the SPPA.
What is Professional Misconduct?
Professional misconduct is set out under s.51 of the Code and includes:
- Sexual abuse of a client;
- Having been found guilty of an offence relevant to suitability to practice;
- Professional misconduct in another jurisdiction that would be an act of professional misconduct in Ontario;
- Failure to co-operate with the Quality Assurance Committee; and
- Failing to maintain the Standards of the Profession.
What is Incompetence?
Incompetence is defined under s.52 of the Code. It means that a psychologist or psychological associate displayed a lack of knowledge, skill or judgment of a nature or to an extent that demonstrates the member is unfit to continue to practise, or that the member’s practice should be restricted.
How do allegations get referred to the Discipline Committee?
The ICRC investigates complaints and reports. The ICRC is a screening committee. It cannot make any findings of fact or credibility.
The ICRC considers matters according to a Risk Assessment Framework. Where the ICRC has concerns that a matter poses high risks overall, it may refer the matter to the Discipline Committee for a full hearing. The ICRC considers both impact and recurrence risks. With impact risks, the ICRC considers whether the conduct could negatively affect the public and the profession. With recurrence risks, the ICRC considers whether any conduct of concern might recur.
These considerations are summarized in the Risk Assessment Framework.
Duties of the Discipline Committee
When specified allegations are referred to the Committee by the ICRC, a panel of the Committee determines:
- The facts of the case, based on the evidence with respect to the allegations;
- Whether the allegations have been proven on the basis of these facts;
- If the allegations are proven, whether the psychologist or psychological associate is guilty of professional misconduct or is incompetent; and
- The appropriate penalty for any professional misconduct or incompetence.
Procedures Prior to the Hearing
Notice of Hearing
As soon as possible after the ICRC decides to refer a matter to the Committee, the College will prepare a Notice of Hearing. The Notice of Hearing will include:
- A reference to the statutory authority under which the hearing will be held;
- A narrative summary of the allegations against the psychologist or psychological associate;
- References to the relevant Code provisions, paragraphs of the Professional Misconduct Regulation and the Standards of Professional Conduct;
- A statement of the time, place and purpose of the hearing; and
- A statement indicating that if the psychologist or psychological associate does not attend the hearing, the panel may proceed in their absence and they will not be entitled to any further notice in the proceedings.
It is the College’s practice to serve the Notice of Hearing on the psychologist or psychological associate. If a panel is satisfied that the Notice of Hearing was received, and/or that attempts to contact the member were made, the panel may proceed to hear the case in the member’s absence.
The College will provide the member with the documents in its possession in relation to the case. This includes the documents already disclosed by the ICRC in its investigation. It can also include additional information such as an expert opinion. It will also include any further information gathered for the hearing.
In most cases, the College and the member will participate in a pre-hearing conference before the hearing. The pre-hearing conference is a chance for the parties to try to resolve some or all of the issues in dispute prior to the hearing.
A pre-hearing conference chair is appointed to mediate this conference. The pre-hearing conference chair is an experienced member of the Committee, who is familiar with the hearing process and with College functions.
The pre-hearing conference is informal, confidential, and without prejudice. The pre-hearing conference is not open to the public. The complainant does not attend the pre-hearing conference. Information shared in the pre-hearing conference cannot be used outside of the conference, including in the subsequent hearing, unless agreed to by the parties.
Issues dealt with at a pre-hearing conference include:
- Simplifying the issues and matters in dispute;
- Understanding or admitting to issues;
- Specifics of the penalty, such as the length of any suspension, and the terms, conditions and limitations on the member’s certificate of registration.
If the parties resolve all the issues in dispute, the hearing may be uncontested. This means that the parties will have an agreement on the facts and a joint position on the appropriate penalty. The parties will present these positions to the hearing panel. If there is an agreement on some of the issues, or no agreement at all, a contested hearing will be held on those outstanding issues.
Setting a Date for the Discipline Hearing
After the pre-hearing conference the parties will propose potential dates and times for the hearing. The Committee Chair will select the date and time.
Once the hearing date is set, the College will inform the complainant of the date, time and venue of the hearing. The College will also post this information on the College website.
Parties to the Discipline Proceedings
The parties to a hearing are the psychologist or psychological associate against whom the allegations are made, and the College.
A complainant is not a party to the proceedings. In a contested hearing, a complainant may need to testify as a witness. In a sexual abuse case, a complainant may also make an impact statement.
Hearings are public, subject to specific exceptions, so anyone may attend as an observer. The College will notify the complainant of the date and time for the hearing associated with their complaint so that they may attend if they wish to do so.
Role of the Discipline Committee Panel Members
Committee panel members are the decision-makers at a hearing. They are triers of fact and credibility. If they find professional misconduct or incompetence, they impose a penalty.
Role of the Discipline Panel Chair
The Discipline panel Chair acts as a moderator for the proceeding and ensures that the hearing is conducted properly.
The Chair also speaks for the panel. The Chair recites the opening statement at the start of the hearing, states any decisions made by the panel. The Chair will request the advice of independent legal counsel as needed.
Role of Counsel for the College
College counsel is the prosecutor in a disciplinary matter. The prosecutor presents the College’s case and attempts to prove the allegations made against the member. College counsel will present first.
Role of Defence Counsel
The role of defence counsel is to represent the psychologist or psychological associate. Defence counsel will present the member’s case after the College has presented its case.
Not all members will be represented by counsel at a hearing. A hearing can be complex and stressful, especially for those without the support of defence counsel. In these cases, the panel will attempt to be flexible with respect to procedural issues. The panel will also seek advice from independent legal counsel should procedural issues arise.
Non-appearance of the Member
All efforts are made to notify and contact the member about a hearing. This includes:
- Serving the Notice of Hearing on the member;
- Making efforts to contact the member and/or their legal representative; and
- Ensuring that the member has not been unavoidably delayed or detained.
If, despite all this, the member still does not appear, a panel may decide to proceed with the hearing without the member present.
Role of the Witness
A witness has relevant information about the issues, who are asked to testify at the hearing.
Role of the Expert Witness
An expert witness provides an impartial opinion based on their training and experience. The hearing panel will decide whether to accept an expert as a witness.
Role of Independent Legal Counsel
Independent Legal Counsel (ILC) is the lawyer for the Discipline Committee. The role of ILC is to advise the Committee panel on matters of law and procedure with respect to the hearing. ILC is not a member of the panel, is not an advocate, and does not make submissions, except on matters of law or procedure.
ILC will attend pre-hearing conferences to advise the pre-hearing conference chair. ILC will also attend hearings to advise hearing panels.
Statement about the Impact of Sexual Abuse
If a panel makes a finding of sexual abuse, the affected client can make a statement about the impact of that abuse. This statement may be written or oral. The panel must consider this statement before making an order on penalty.
A Disciplinary hearing is a formal process, similar to a court proceeding.
Hearing parties and attendees are encouraged to dress formally. This can include clothing similar to what might be worn to a job interview.
Arrival at the Hearing
Upon arrival, hearing parties and attendees should identify themselves to venue staff. Venue staff will direct parties and attendees to the appropriate place.
The Hearing Room
The hearing room is set up like a courtroom. The hearing panel sits at the front of the room in a row, facing the room. Name placards are placed on the table in front of each seat to identify each panel member.
Seated on the right side of the room, or to the left of the panel, is the College prosecutor, accompanied by College staff. Seated on the left side of the room, or to the right of the panel, is the member and their legal counsel. ILC will usually be seated behind the member and their counsel. Any members of the public attending the hearing will be seated behind both parties and ILC.
A podium is set up at the front and center of the room, between the College and member tables, facing the panel. The individual presenting information to the panel will stand at the podium while addressing the panel.
A court reporter will also be present in the hearing room. Where the court reporter is seated will depend on the layout of the room, but is usually at the front of the room, to the panel’s side, so that the reporter my see all the panel members as well as the counsel for both parties. The court reporter will confirm the spelling of every participant’s name prior to the commencement of the hearing.
Before the hearing starts, College staff, the College prosecutor, the member and their counsel will be present in the hearing room. The court reporter and any public observers will also be present.
When all parties are ready to commence the hearing, ILC will escort the panel into the hearing room.
Those in the room stand when the panel enters and sit once the panel members are seated. Similarly, those in the room will stand when the panel stands to exit the room.
All attendees are expected to act in a respectful and courteous manner, and to follow the panel’s instructions.
Opening Statement by the Chair
The panel chair calls the hearing to order. The chair will identify who is present and will ask the parties to raise any preliminary matters.
Where the facts are uncontested, the College and the member will have agreed upon the facts of the case. This is set out in a document called an Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF). The College prosecutor will present the ASF to the hearing panel. The member’s counsel will make submissions on the ASF as well. The ASF will normally be entered into evidence and marked as an exhibit.
The hearing panel will exit the hearing room to consider the ASF in private. When the panel returns to the hearing room, the panel chair will announce whether the panel has found the member guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence based on the ASF.
If there is agreement between the College and the member on the appropriate penalty, there will also be a Joint Submission on Penalty (JSP). The JSP is often presented in the form of a draft Order for the hearing panel’s consideration. The College prosecutor and the member’s counsel will make submissions regarding the JSP.
The hearing panel will again move to its deliberation room. It will consider whether to accept the draft Order and will also take this time to draft a reprimand should the panel accept a reprimand as part of the outcome.
If there is no agreement on the facts, the penalty, or both, there will be a contested hearing.
If there is no agreement on the facts, the panel will need to make findings of fact and/or credibility. To do this, the parties may call witnesses. Witnesses give evidence under formal oath or affirmation, as is their preference. The chair administers the oath or affirmation. The panel will then need to decide whether, based on their findings, the member is guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence.
If there is no agreement on the penalty, the parties will make submissions to the panel on what the appropriate penalty ought to be. To do this, the parties will call evidence and make submissions about the appropriate outcome. This may include submissions related to the facts of the case, as well as the applicable law.
Hearings may be held virtually. Virtual hearings are available for viewing by the public through a temporary YouTube link, which is posted on the College website. A court reporter will also attend a virtual hearing. The hearing is not recorded.
What is a Motion?
A motion is a formal procedure where one of the parties seeks something specific from the hearing panel. The procedure for dealing with motions is set out in the Rules of Procedure.
One example of a motion is to seek a publication ban. It is the College’s practice to make this motion with respect to the identity of any clients involved in a hearing matter. The Committee panel may then make an order banning the publication or broadcasting of this information.
Reaching the Decision
A decision does not need to be unanimous but must be reached by a majority of the hearing panel.
The panel must provide written reasons for its decision. If one or more panel members does not agree with the majority decision, they may write a dissenting opinion, with reasons.
Degree of Proof Required
The standard of proof required is on a “balance of probabilities.” This means that the panel must believe it is more likely than not that the member engaged is professional misconduct or is incompetent.
In a contested hearing, the onus is on the College to prove the allegations to this standard.
If a panel finds a psychologist or psychological associate guilty of professional misconduct, it may make an order doing any one or more of the following:
- Direct the Registrar to revoke the member’s certificate of registration;
- Direct the Registrar to suspend the member’s certificate of registration for a specified period of time;
- Direct the Registrar to impose specified terms, conditions and limitations on the member’s certificate of registration;
- Require the member to appear before the panel to be reprimanded;
- Require the member to pay a fine of not more than $35,000 to the Minister of Finance;
- If the act of professional misconduct was sexual abuse of a client, require the member to reimburse the College for funding provided for that client under the funding for therapy for counselling program for clients alleging sexual abuse.
If a panel finds a member has sexually abused a client, the panel must consider the client’s impact statement regarding the abuse, if available. The panel must then order the following, in addition to anything else the panel may order:
- Reprimand the member; and
- Revoke the member’s certificate of registration if the sexual abuse consisted of sexual acts specified in the Code; or
- Suspend the member’s certificate of registration if the sexual abuse is not specified.
A panel must reprimand a member and revoke the member’s certificate of registration if a panel finds that a member has been found guilty of an offence relevant to the member’s suitability to practice, and the offence is on a specified list of criminal offenses.
If a panel finds a member to be incompetent, it may make an order doing any one or more of the following:
- Direct the Registrar to revoke the member’s certificate of registration;
- Direct the Registrar to suspend the member’s certificate of registration for a specified period of time; and
- Direct the Registrar to impose specified terms, conditions and limitations on the member’s certificate of registration.
The panel may orally pronounce its decision after the hearing is concluded. Written reasons for this decision will follow. In a contested hearing, a panel will more commonly reserve its decision until the panel has worked through its written reasons.
A member has 30 days to appeal a panel’s decision. In an uncontested hearing, the member may waive their right to an appeal. If a reprimand is part of the panel’s order, the panel may deliver its reprimand on the same day as the hearing.
If the reprimand is not delivered immediately, the member and the panel will reconvene on a later date to deliver the oral reprimand to the member.
A reprimand is public, and a copy of the reprimand will appear on the public register.
As part of its order, a hearing panel may require the member to pay all or part of the College’s costs and expenses. This is not part of the penalty. If the panel believes that the hearing not warranted, the panel may also order the College to pay all or part of the member’s expenses.
It is the College’s policy to seek costs according to a fee schedule, as listed in the Discipline Committee Rules of Procedure. This cost value may be varied in a Joint Submission on Penalty (JSP).
Publication of Decision
Committee decisions are posted on the public register. They are also posted on the Canadian Legal Information Institute website (CanLII). The full decision and reasons are published. Appendices to the decision and reasons are not published.
Appeals to Court
Both the member and the College can appeal any part of the panel’s decision to the Divisional Court of Ontario. The parties have 30 days from the decision date to commence an appeal.
The penalty ordered will not ordinarily take effect pending an appeal. If there is an appeal, the penalty ordered by the Committee will not ordinarily take effect pending the appeal. However, if the findings relate to sexual abuse or incompetence, any revocation, suspension, or terms, conditions and limitations, take immediate effect.
Application to Reinstate a New Certificate of Registration
A member whose certification of registration has been revoked may apply to have a new certificate of registration. If the revocation was pursuant to a finding of sexual abuse, reinstatement is not available for five years after the revocation. Otherwise, a member may apply for reinstatement one year after the revocation.
A member whose certificate of registration was suspended for more than one year may also apply to have that suspension varied one year after the suspension was imposed by the Discipline Committee.
The onus is on the member to persuade the Committee panel to issue a new certificate of registration, with or without terms, conditions and limitations. If there was a complainant in the original proceeding, the complainant must receive notice of the reinstatement application.
The Discipline Committee will hold a hearing with respect to the application and will decide whether to:
- Direct the Registrar to issue a certificate of registration;
- Direct the Registrar to remove the suspension from the certificate of registration; and/or
- Direct the Registrar to impose specified terms, conditions and limitations on the member’s certificate of registration.
Appendix A – Glossary of Terms
The hearing ends to resume at a later date.
Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF)
The College and member can agree on some or all the facts of the case. This agreement is put in writing and presented to the hearing panel. The panel may then accept the agreed-upon facts as true.
The allegations are what the College believes the psychologist or psychological associate did wrong. The College will specify why it believes that this is professional misconduct or incompetence. The College needs to prove these allegations to a hearing panel.
Certificate of Registration
A certificate of registration is a psychologist’s or psychological associate’s license to practice in Ontario. A certificate is issued by the College after successful completion of the registration process. A certificate of registration provides authorization to practice psychology in Ontario.
The member of the public who made the initiating complaint considered by the ICRC. The complainant is not a party in the hearing but may attend the hearing as a member of the public. The complainant may also be a witness for the College.
A hearing will be contested if the parties do not agree on the facts of the case, or the appropriate penalty. A hearing can be fully or partially contested. The hearing panel will need to decide on the issues that are not agreed to.
A hearing panel may order a party to pay all or part of the other’s costs of the hearing. The College will normally seek some costs when a psychologist or psychologist is found to have committed professional misconduct.
The Discipline Committee conducts hearings into allegations of misconduct and/or incompetence. The Discipline Committee also hears applications for the reinstatement of certificates of registration revoked following Discipline proceedings.
An expert witness provides an opinion on the evidence, based on their specialized training and experience. Both the member and the College may call expert witnesses.
Determinations of fact regarding allegations of professional misconduct or incompetence. These are made by a panel of the Discipline Committee, after a hearing.
When a panel of the Discipline Committee convenes to hear evidence and submissions from the parties regarding allegations of professional misconduct or incompetence. A hearing is like a trial.
When a psychologist or psychological associate displays a “lack of knowledge, skill or judgement of a nature or to an extent that demonstrates the member is unfit to continue to practice or that the member’s practice should be restricted.” This definition comes from the Health Professions Procedural Code.
The hearing panel must in some circumstances impose a suspension after making a finding on the facts, and before it has decided on a penalty. The interim suspension is replaced by the hearing panel’s subsequent decision on penalty.
Investigations, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC)
The Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) investigates complaints and reports about psychologists and psychological associates. The ICRC is a screening committee and cannot make findings of fact or credibility. The ICRC may refer specific allegations of misconduct or incompetence to the Discipline Committee for a full hearing.
Joint Submissions on Penalty (JSP)
When the parties agree on a penalty, they may present their proposed agreement to a hearing panel. The proposed agreement is a Joint Submission on Penalty (JSP).
Notice of Hearing
A document, signed by the Registrar, setting out the particulars of allegations that have been referred to the Discipline Committee.
A penalty ordered the Discipline Committee, after a Discipline hearing.
The individuals or entities participating in a proceeding. For a Discipline hearing, the parties are the College and the psychologist or psychological associate.
The order the hearing panel will impose after making a finding of professional misconduct or incompetence.
Breaches of the Professional Misconduct Regulations and/or the College’s Standards of Professional Conduct.
A reprimand is a penalty open to the Discipline Committee after a finding of professional misconduct in a Discipline hearing. A reprimand is a message given to the member in person by the Discipline Committee and is open to the public. Reprimands are published in full on the public register.
A penalty available to the Discipline Committee revoking the psychologist’s or psychological associate’s certificate of registration. This means the member is no longer licensed to practice psychology in Ontario. They cannot use the titles “psychologist” or “psychological associate” in Ontario.
Sexual abuse has a specific definition under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991. It includes any sexual acts between a member and a client, regardless of whether those acts are consensual. It also includes remarks of a sexual nature.
Suspension (see also Interim Suspension)
A penalty available to the Discipline Committee, where a member is not allowed to practice psychology for a specified period of time.
Terms, Conditions and Limitations (TCLs)
A penalty available to the Discipline Committee, where there is a specific restriction on the member’s certificate of registration. For example, the member may not be allowed to provide psychological services to a particular population age group, or to perform a particular psychological service.
When the parties agree on all the issues, including the facts of a case and the appropriate penalty. In these cases the parties will submit an Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF) and Joint Submission on Penalty (JSF) to the hearing panel.
Witness (see also Expert Witness)
A person who has information that may be relevant to the hearing panel.
These are the arguments a party makes to the hearing panel to support their position.
Appendix B – Commonly Used Abbreviations and Acronyms
Act – Psychology Act, 1991
ASF – Agreed Statement of Fact
Code – Health Professions Procedural Code, being Schedule 2 to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991
CPO – The College of Psychologists of Ontario
ICRC – Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee
JSP – Joint Submission on Penalty
RHPA – Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991
Standards – The College’s Standards of Professional Conduct
TCL – Term, Condition or Limitation