Acupuncturist who held overlapping leadership roles guilty of misconduct: Alberta Court of Appeal

She sat in the Alberta College of Acupuncturists’ council and served as president of a non-profit

Acupuncturist who held overlapping leadership roles guilty of misconduct: Alberta Court of Appeal

The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled that an acupuncturist who held overlapping leadership roles is guilty of professional misconduct.

In Wanglin v College of Acupuncturists of Alberta, 2023 ABCA 25, Dr. Boxin Wanglin is an acupuncturist and former president of the College of Acupuncturists of Alberta. She served in the College's governing council in 2016 and assumed the president position from 2018 to 2020.

Wanglin was also a founding member of the Alberta Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner Association (AATCMPA) in 2005 and served as its first president. The AATCMPA is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization for alternative medicine.

In 2019, the College received a complaint against Wanglin, alleging that she breached the College's conflict of interest policy and bylaws by holding a leadership role with AATCMPA while she was a member of the College's council and its president. Wanglin claimed her term as AACTMPA president lasted ten years and ended in 2015 before she assumed a position in the College's governing council.

Leadership roles overlapped

The complaint alleged that Wanglin attended the AATCMPA's continuing education event in April 2019. She appeared to represent both the College and the AATCMPA at the seminar, resulting in a potential conflict of interest. After an investigation, the College's hearing panel ruled that Wanglin was guilty of professional misconduct, finding that she remained in a leadership role with the AATCMPA while she was the College president.

The hearing panel gave weight to several pieces of evidence, including website screenshots in 2018 and 2020 identifying Wanglin as AATCMPA president. The panel also considered the AATCMPA's website, stationary, and corporate registry documents, listing Wanglin's office as the corporate address, and AATCMPA cheques dated 2018 and 2019, which Wanglin signed as president.

Wanglin appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal, arguing that the documentary evidence was inaccurate and supported "innocent inferences." However, the court found that Wanglin's argument failed to demonstrate that the hearing panel made a palpable error in finding that she was an executive member of the AATCMPA after 2015 while she was also the College's president. Accordingly, the court upheld the College's finding that Wanglin held overlapping leadership roles in the AATCMPA and the College.

Professional misconduct

The court found that Wanglin's holding of overlapping leadership roles contravened the College's bylaws and conflict of interest policy. The court agreed with the College's findings that Wanglin was more than just affiliated with the AATCMPA, and she did not make a complete and accurate disclosure sufficient to meet the College's conflict of interest policy requirements.

Wanglin further argued that even if she breached the College's bylaws and policy, it did not amount to professional misconduct. The court explained that under the Health Disciplines Act, a hearing panel might find professional misconduct if, in its opinion, the acts of the registered member "is detrimental to the best interests of the public."

The court said that the College's hearing and review panels are better positioned than the court to assess the impact of Wanglin's conduct on the public interest and the profession's reputation from the perspective of a reasonable member of the public. As a result, the court decided to defer to the College's findings in the absence of a clearly unreasonable conclusion or clear mistake of fact or error of principle.

While the court agreed with Wanglin that not every breach of a policy necessarily amounts to professional misconduct, the factual record, in this case, is extensive and nuanced. The court found no basis for interfering with the College's conclusions that Wanglin's overlapping involvement as the College's president and executive member of the AATCMPA constituted professional misconduct. 

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