On September 18, 2012 the Alberta Court of Appeal released a
decision in the companion cases of Wright v. CARNA and
Helmer v. CARNA. This decision will be of interest to
regulators. It is one of the first Canadian court decisions to
squarely address disability and capacity as defences to
professional discipline charges.
Two Registered Nurses were caught falsifying medical records to
conceal their thefts of narcotics. Both were charged with
unprofessional conduct and went through discipline proceedings
under the Alberta Health Professions Act. Both admitted to
falsifying records and stealing narcotics, but they argued they
were addicted to the narcotics and their conduct was caused by the
addictions. The RNs argued that punishing them would mean punishing
them for being addicted, which is a type of disability. They argued
this would be discrimination contrary to the Alberta Human
The RNs argued that their regulator CARNA was required to
accommodate them to the point of undue hardship and this meant that
CARNA should not have proceeded with discipline charges. The RNs
argued that CARNA had to follow an alternate complaint resolution
process or an incapacity assessment process under the Health
The Court of Appeal upheld CARNA's approach confirming that
professional regulators generally have the discretion to invoke and
manage their discipline processes. There was no discrimination here
because there was no differential treatment based on a disability.
The addictions may have motivated the RNs to steal narcotics and
cover it up, but the discipline charges were based on the RNs'
underlying misconduct of theft and falsification of records, not on
the fact that they were suffering from addictions. The Court stated
"While the law recognizes that an addict cannot always control
her addiction, the law does require that the addict control her
conduct sufficiently to comply with the criminal law."
To the extent professional discipline tribunals are required to
accommodate individuals suffering from disabilities, the majority
concluded those accommodations can be achieved through carefully
crafted remedial sanctions. The dissenting Judge would have
remitted the matter to the Appeals Committee to further consider
the accommodation issue.
James T. Casey, Q.C. and Anne Côté of Field
Law's Professional Regulatory group were counsel for CARNA.
Watch for a feature article about the impacts of this case for
regulators in the upcoming edition of our Perspectives for the
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