Recently, the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel report was released. The report focuses on how the provincial government responded to COVID-19, reflects on current legislation and makes recommendations, with the goal of enhancing future governance responses to public emergencies. In Chapter 8 of the report, there are multiple recommendations on potential amendments to the Health Professions Act ("HPA") and other legislation that, if accepted, could have a significant impact on professional conduct processes and professional regulatory organizations.
In arriving at their recommendations, the Panel reviewed decisions from colleges in Alberta and other jurisdictions that referenced COVID-19, freedom of expression, public health orders and standards of practice relating to COVID-19. The report concludes that the protection of rights of members of colleges need to be strengthened, specifically referencing freedom of expression. Some of the recommendations that may be relevant to regulators are summarized below:
- Clarify the definition of "unprofessional conduct," preservation of the "integrity" of the profession, "harm" to the profession, and service to and protection of the "public interest," especially in how these terms are interpreted during a state of public emergency.
- Require the "standard of practice" of all colleges empowered by the HPA to include "recognition and protection of the rights of members to freedom of expression," including on matters related to public health emergencies.
- Require that all members of a college have professional liability insurance with adequate coverage and ensure that members are provided with sufficient resources to enable them to participate fully and completely in college processes.
- Restrict colleges from publishing the name or other identifying information of a member on their website regarding alleged misconduct until all related appeals and reviews have been completed.
- Prescribe the standard of review applicable to college decisions being reviewed by a court that are alleged to infringe certain rights and freedoms as a "correctness" standard.
There are additional recommendations on employer-based obligations and regulation generally that may also be relevant. We will continue to monitor any outcomes of the recommendations and how they may impact you.
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