Slave River Journal
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
The charge of “causing undue alarm” against a former Fort Chipewyan doctor for revealing concerns over higher than average cancer rates in the community has, after two years, still not been dismissed by the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons (ACPS). That is in spite of an Alberta government study confirming higher than normal cancer rates there.
The Slave River Journal sought a legal opinion from an Edmonton lawyer and was told the charge against the doctor may remain outstanding indefinitely. Apparently it is not unusual for a regulatory body such as the ACPS to start an action and never bring it to an end. The following are points made by the lawyer:
The senior federal government official who brought forward the complaint, along with the Government of Canada and possibly the Alberta government could be subject to lawsuits for defamation of character if the determination is O’Connor did not exceed standards and he is cleared, but no court action can be undertaken while the matter is unresolved. They are being protected as a result of the approach by the ACPS, where the matter is still technically in process. It is possible the ACPS is in collusion with government on this, but it may also be the case they (government) are benefiting indirectly and the ACPS is simply stalling the matter on its own. Called “regulatory blackmail” in legal circles, the tactic is not uncommon by agencies who find it convenient to not deal with a matter, and just leave it in eternal limbo.
The ACPS has the power and responsibility to govern its members in the interest of public safety. It is a regulatory body that protects standards of practice in its jurisdiction, which is to maintain high standards of care in medicine. It has been given a lot of power for good reasons, if used for good reasons. A body like that can easily abuse its power, for example if it wants to punish one or some of its members, since it answers to no one. In the case of someone like Dr. O’Connor, there is no defence because the threat of losing his license to practice medicine as well as the destruction of his reputation as a doctor is always there, and he can do nothing about it.
Although Dr. O’Connor was apparently just doing what he saw as his job, protecting his patients and the greater community he served as a doctor, he is regarded as a “whistle blower.” Having a whistle blower in health may be seen as a problem for a body like the ACPS. The broader matter of protecting whistle blowers, perhaps even with legislation, is being debated across the country. Whatever the case, if the ACPS is not going to move the process forward and dismiss the complaint, it may have decided it is in their best interest to never provide an answer. ACPS always assesses the compliant before they accept it and only commence disciplinary proceedings against a member where determined to be appropriate. After the initial assessment the proceedings against a member are the proceedings of ACPS, owned by them. They have in a very public way determined they believe there was unacceptable conduct by a member. When new facts come to light that would prove otherwise and it is obvious their proceedings will fail, the responsible thing for ACPS to do would be to admit they jumped the gun and withdraw the proceedings against the member. Justice delayed is justice denied.
There are obviously two issues afoot here:
• If, as evidence suggests, the charge of “Causing undue alarm” against Dr. John O’Connor is unfounded, the federal and Alberta governments appear to be so in favour of development at any cost, they are willing to do anything, including sacrificing the health of Canadian citizens to encourage it. That is unbelievable, and quite frightening.
• It also appears the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons willingly undermined the reputation of one of their members by laying charges and leaving them unresolved, and in the process abdicated their primary role of protecting public safety.