* The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has overturned the decision of a Discipline Committee of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists, which found an agrologist guilty of professional misconduct. The Court concluded that the Discipline Committee breached the provisions of the Agrologists Act (Saskatchewan) and basic principles of natural justice by convicting the agrologist on grounds other than those alleged in the formal complaint, without notifying him that the Committee was considering these grounds, and without giving him an opportunity to defend the charges on these grounds. The Court also overturned the decision of a Chambers Justice who had upheld the Discipline Committee's decision on the basis that it was reasonable and justified by the Committee's findings. (Meier v. Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists, CALN/2016-022,  S.J. No. 474, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal)
NEW CASE LAW
Meier v. Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists;
Full text:  S.J. No. 474;
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal,
R.G. Richards C.J.S., R.K. Ottenbreit and J.A. Ryan-Froslie, JJ.A.
September 8, 2016.
Agrologists -- Professional Misconduct -- Right to a Fair Hearing.
A Saskatchewan agrologist, Garry Meier, appealed to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal from a decision of a Justice of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench who dismissed his appeal from a decision of a Discipline Committee for the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists.
Mr. Meier is a professional agrologist and a member of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists (the "Institute"). He had published photographs and commentary indicating that differences in crop performance in a particular field were a function of how fertilizer had been placed by two competing models of seed drills. It was alleged that he had done this even though he was aware that the differences were due not to fertilizer placement, but the seeding depth. The specific charge was that:
Between April 1, 2009 and February 1, 2011, you published photographs and text to the effect that the difference in crop development at Redland Farms in the Balcarres area of East Central Saskatchewan was due to the crop's response to fertilizer placement despite the fact that you were aware that the difference in rate of development was due to the depth of seed placement, contrary to Section 28(1) of The Agrologists Act, 1994.
The Discipline Committee found Mr. Meier guilty of professional conduct because "...he did not follow proper scientific methods and/or did not qualify his conclusions when presenting them." [See the Court's analysis of the decision at para. 49 to 51].
Mr. Meier appealed his conviction to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench [2014 SQB 389; CALN/2014-038,  S.J. No. 686]. The Chambers Justice concluded that Mr. Meier's argument that the Discipline Committee had erred in concluding there had been a seeding depth error was inconsequential because it had found problems with his research methodology and that the Chambers Justice was satisfied that the Discipline Committee's decision was reasonable.
Before the Court of Appeal, Mr. Meier argued that the key findings of fact made by the Discipline Committee were not supported by the evidence; that the conviction was based on a different ground than the one set out in the formal complaint, and that the Discipline Committee erred in relying on the knowledge and experience of their own members, rather than the evidence placed before them.
Decision: Richards, C.J.S. (Ottenbreit and Ryan-Froslie, JJ.A. concurring) allowed Mr. Meier's appeal and set aside the decision of the Discipline Committee [at para. 59].
Richards, C.J.S. concluded that it was apparent Mr. Meier had been convicted of unprofessional conduct on a broader and different basis than what was alleged in the formal complaint - on which he had mounted his defence [at para. 52].
Richards, C.J.S. concluded the Discipline Committee ran afoul of s. 26(10) of the Agrologists Act, 1994, SS 1994, c. A-16 (the "Act") which provides:
(10) If, during the course of a hearing, the evidence shows that the member whose conduct is the subject of the hearing may be guilty of a charge different from or in addition to any charge specified in the formal complaint, the discipline committee shall:
- notify the member of that fact; and
- if the discipline committee proposes to amend, add to or substitute the charge in the formal complaint and unless the member otherwise consents, adjourn the hearing for any period that the discipline committee considers sufficient to give the member an opportunity to prepare a defence to the amended formal complaint.
and which "reflects a basic principle of procedural fairness" which required the Discipline Committee to notify Mr. Meier that the evidence showed that he might be guilty of a charge other than the one specified in the formal complaint [at para. 53].
Richards, C.J.S. also concluded that the Discipline Committee's approach ran afoul of the audi alteram partem principle which requires that a party be given adequate notice of the case to be met, relying on the following passage quoted from James T. Casey in The Regulation of Professions in Canada, loose-leaf (2012 Rel 4), Vol 1 (Scarborough: Carswell, 1994) at s. 8.4:
The charge must set out the offence in "relatively precise terms". As always, the overriding question is whether the combination of the formal charge and disclosure of particulars by the professional body provides sufficient notice to the professional of the case that he has to meet to ensure that there will be a fair hearing. Tribunals must not operate pursuant to a hidden agenda when the rights of individuals are at stake.
Richards C.J.S. also relied on the decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Kapoor v. Law Society of Saskatchewan (1987),  S.J. No. 804, 52 Sask R 110 (CA), and concluded [at para. 57 and 58]:
 In shifting the ground for a binding of misconduct as it did, the Discipline Committee acted in precisely the way Kapoor says is inappropriate. It found professional misconduct on a basis that did not conform to the allegation of misconduct as particularized in the Formal Complaint.
 It follows from all of this, in my respectful view, that the Discipline Committee both acted contrary to s. 26(10) of the Act and breached a basic principle of procedural fairness. As a result, the Committee's decision must be quashed.
Richards, C.J.S. concluded that the appeal could be resolved on this ground, without considering the other grounds of appeal [at para. 26].
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.