Ontario court imposes twelve-month suspension on doctor seeking only six-month penalty

Discipline committee satisfies duty of fairness relating to joint submission on penalty, court says

Ontario court imposes twelve-month suspension on doctor seeking only six-month penalty

A court upheld a decision of the Discipline Committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to depart from a joint submission and to impose a penalty found to be fit and proportionate to the doctor’s clinical deficiencies.

In Sammy Vaidyanathan v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2021 ONSC 5959, the parties of a disciplinary proceeding filed an agreed statement of facts that included admissions about various instances of a physician’s professional misconduct over almost a decade. The admissions covered instances of self-treatment and billing the Ontario Health Insurance Plan while the doctor was on his shift at two emergency departments, his inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour at the hospital, his failure to maintain the standard of practice in his in-hospital emergency medicine practice and in his clinical practice and concerns about his prescription of narcotics, opioids and sedative agents.

The parties made a submission on the penalty to be imposed, which was partially joint considering that they agreed on a reprimand, a restriction on the doctor’s prescribing privileges of controlled substances and his completion of an instruction on ethics, but disagreed on the period of his practice suspension. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario wanted a 12-month suspension, while the doctor sought only a six-month suspension.

The Ontario Divisional Court disagreed with the doctor’s argument that the Discipline Committee erroneously departed from the joint submission on his prescription and administration privileges. The court found that the committee deliberately considered the proper penalty and extensively explained why it needed to impose a general prohibition against the prescription of narcotics and controlled substances to protect the public.

The court also deferred to the Discipline Committee’s decision to impose a 12-month suspension, finding this to be proportionate and fit to the doctor’s circumstances. The committee appeared aware of its role and obligation to impose a penalty that would safeguard the public and did not breach its duty of fairness, given that it asked the parties for written and oral submissions and for input regarding alternate remedies, the court added.

The committee also showed that it was uncomfortable with the proposed joint terms and addressed the high threshold for its departure from the joint submission, the court said.

Lastly, the court dismissed the motion to adduce fresh evidence, finding that it would not be substantial injustice to refuse to admit such evidence. The court found that the proposed additional evidence, when considered with the other evidence, would not have impacted the committee’s ruling.

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