Quebec has 44 professional regulatory bodies including the Quebec Bar Association, which regulate some 357,000 members. A disciplinary board (also called syndic) within each order hears the complaints submitted to it against their members. The disciplinary board is composed of two members of the profession and a lawyer appointed by the government.
The primary mandate of these professional regulatory bodies is to protect the public. Thus, each association must ensure the discipline of the profession it oversees, respect of ethics, rules of professional conduct and the proficiency of its members and of the people who want to join its ranks.
Although the vast majority of professionals provide expert and qualified services, occasionally a professional acts incompetently, or violates a law or a professional regulation. The disciplinary board within the regulatory body will investigate and provide disciplinary justice to protect the interest of the public and the profession.
In light of the ongoing revelations at the Commission Charbonneau and recommendations from l’Office des professions et du Conseil interprofessionnel du Québec, on February 13, 2013, the Quebec government tabled Bill 17, An Act to Amend the Professional Code With Respect to Disciplinary Justice to improve the effectiveness of professional disciplinary boards and to reform how they issue disciplinary measures when a complaint against a professional is made.
In addition, these amendments will increase the speed and processing of complaints against a professional, and provide the disciplinary boards with additional resources to fight against acts that are considered derogatory to the dignity of a regulated profession such as corruption, collusion, embezzlement, influence-peddling and fraud.
To this end, the Bill provides for the creation of a bureau of disciplinary council chairs within the Office des professions du Quebec (an independent government agency under the authority of the Minister of Justice responsible for the enforcement of laws that regulate professionals and their regulatory bodies). This bureau will consist of a maximum of 15 disciplinary professional board chairs appointed for a maximum of 5 years. The chairs will serve their terms full-time under the administrative authority of a senior chair. This bureau will ensure that the framework for managing disciplinary complaints will help reduce processing time while improving the consistency and quality of decisions related to disciplinary justice by a professional disciplinary board.
For the sake of transparency, the government will establish through regulations a rigorous, non-partisan selection procedure for the chairs of the disciplinary boards. The government will also establish a Code of Ethics applicable to the chairs and other members of the disciplinary boards. This will strengthen public confidence and the quality and administration of justice.
Bill 17 also contains a provision for the exchange of relevant information or documents between various professional bodies, with no limits on what type of information or documents can be exchanged. This measure also does not consider privileged information.
The hope is that Bill 17 will allow the best use and best results for established disciplinary mechanisms to protect the public.
Two of the 44 professional regulatory bodies, the Barreau du Quebec and the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec have publicly indicated their endorsement of the Bill, but with certain recommendations and amendments.
According to Daniel Lebel, Eng., PMP, President of the Ordre des ingénieurs in a press release, “The measures proposed by the minister will result in more efficient and swifter disciplinary justice. They will help maintain, and even improve, the credibility of the professional system in the eyes of the public.” However, the two groups have submitted to the government recommendations aimed at ensuring a smooth implementation of the Bill. These include having controls in place that professional orders can use to better supervise professional services firms and more control over the professional practice framework in firms that provide consulting engineering services in Quebec.
The Barreau du Quebec is concerned with the appointment process for board chairs of discipline. In their opinion, the appointment process must promote diversity and be representative of the group it serves. They are also concerned that there are no mechanisms or sanctions provided in the Bill to ensure compliance with the Code of Ethics that will be established for members of the disciplinary boards. In addition, while understanding the goal of the information-exchange provision, the Barreau believes that the provision raises serious difficulties and could undermine citizens’ constitutional right to solicitor-client privilege.
One key outcome of the Bill will be to promote the independent nature of the disciplinary boards from their respective professional bodies. The government hopes this simple fact will remove the public’s distrust provoked by some disciplinary justice done by peers. The Bill would make the professional disciplinary process more transparent and deter corruption therein. It is important to remember that the Charbonneau Commission is a response to widespread corruption in public construction contracts in Quebec. The commission’s findings have shaken the public’s confidence in public institutions and professionals, and Bill 17 is one method by which the government hopes to regain that trust.