The following information is provided to assist members in understanding the College’s complaint investigation process. Effort has been made to answer the questions most frequently asked. Should you have other questions which are not addressed or wish further clarification of the process, please contact the College.
Notification of Complaint or Report
Pursuant to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, (RHPA) the College of Psychologists of Ontario has a mandate to protect the public and is statutorily required to investigate every written, or otherwise recorded, complaint unless the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, made in bad faith, moot, or otherwise an abuse of process. Once a complaint is received by the College, investigative staff review it and, in many cases, will ask the complainant for clarification of the concerns. The complainant will then be asked to provide written consent to proceed with the investigation, and to release the complaint material to you.
The letter notifying you of a complaint lodged against you will arrive on College letterhead, accompanied by a copy of the complaint materials provided by the complainant and a document explaining the College's procedures for investigating complaints.
The College also investigates concerns on the part of the Registrar, if the Registrar believes, on reasonable and probable grounds, that a member has committed professional misconduct or is incompetent. The Registrar will request that the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) approve the appointment of an Investigator. Once such an investigation has been completed, the Registrar will provide you with a copy of the report and an opportunity to make submissions to the College with respect to it.
You may have heard a rumour about an outstanding complaint or you may fear that a complaint may be lodged against you and wonder if you should provide a response prior to receiving official notification from the College of a complaint. Until you receive official notification of the complaint by means of a College letter, you need not consider that a complaint has been lodged against you.
College staff members are obliged to keep confidential all matters related to complaint investigations. Nevertheless, in some cases, complainants may inform other individuals of the complaint or the possibility of lodging a complaint. As the College only regulates the profession, it has no authority to prohibit a complainant from providing other parties with information related to a complaint. If the complainant discusses the matter with College staff, staff will attempt to explain why it is generally in the best interests of the investigative process to maintain confidentiality during the investigation.
Response to Complaint or Report
After you have been notified of a complaint, College investigative staff may request information to assist the ICRC in arriving at a decision regarding the matter. While you are not obligated to respond to the letter of complaint or report, or to answer additional questions raised in the letter of notification, if you do not provide adequate information, the ICRC may be left in a position of having to dispose of the matter without complete information. It can be stressful to be notified of an investigation into your practice. Nevertheless, it is suggested that you ensure that all relevant information has been provided and that the tone of your response is appropriate in the circumstances.
As the College is the regulatory body investigating the complaint, staff cannot provide advice to either party to the matter. Members of the College may always contact College staff with procedural questions arising from receipt of a letter of complaint, however staff cannot discuss the substance or merits of the complaint.
Upon being notified of a complaint, it is not necessary for you to contact a lawyer although some members find this helpful. You may wish to consult with your insurance company to ascertain when they need to be notified of the complaint and to review the provisions of your insurance coverage in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to retain a lawyer.
Members are advised to consider seeking legal advice before deciding not to respond to allegations raised in a complaint or to questions from the College.
Once you have been notified of a complaint, it is recommended that you not contact the complainant to discuss the matter. If you are contacted by, or are considering communicating with, the complainant, you may wish to seek legal advice before doing so. It is not appropriate to attempt to discourage the complainant from proceeding with the complaint.
If you do not understand the nature of a concern raised by the complainant in a complaint, it is appropriate to make note of this in your response to the College. College staff typically attempt to elicit clarification of concerns from complainants. In some cases however, it may be difficult to obtain a clear and precise description of the concerns from the complainant. The ICRC is cognizant of this fact when considering your response. If you cannot answer a question, for lack of information, please advise the Investigator of this.
The College's Regulatory Scope
If it is your opinion that any of the concerns raised by the complainant do not fall within the regulatory scope of the College, it is appropriate to indicate this in your response and to explain why you have reached this conclusion. While it is the role of the ICRC to make such a determination, your explanation will be of assistance to the Committee in evaluating the merits of the complaint rather than having no information from you in response to a concern raised by the complainant.
It may be appropriate for you to acknowledge an error or change in practice, if such a situation has occurred. In many cases, the ICRC may acknowledge the recognition of the error and/or change in your practice in its decision.
It may be helpful to provide all relevant additional documentation, e.g., clinical notes, test results, etc., which would support your response or address the allegations. While it may be evident to you why a particular course of action was taken, without supporting documentation it may be impossible for the ICRC to evaluate whether such action was appropriate in the circumstances. It may be to your benefit to include such supporting documentation with your response, as it minimizes delay and may clear up confusion with respect to why you took a particular action. You need to include such supporting documentation only if it is relevant to your response. There is no obligation to provide this information unless it has been requested, or if you are of the view that it will be of assistance.
In many cases, the College requires information from the clinical file relevant to the matter for the purpose of conducting an investigation pursuant to the Regulated Health Professions Act,1991.
Members are often concerned about their authority to disclose personal health information to the College without their client’s consent. Section 43(1)(b) of the Personal Health Information Protection Act,2004, permits a health information custodian, which includes a member of the College, to disclose personal health information about an individual “to a College within the meaning of the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 for the purpose of the administration or enforcement of the … , Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 or an act named in Schedule I to that Act.”
The purpose of our request for such records is the enforcement of the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991. If your services fall outside of the authority of the Personal Health Information Protection Act and the College has not obtained the consent of the client for you to release the file to the College, or if you have concerns about releasing information, you may wish to seek legal advice.
The College is required to notify a member of a complaint within 14 days of it being received by the College. Under section 25.2 of the Health Professions Procedural Code, Schedule 2 of the RHPA you are generally permitted to respond to the complaint or report within 30 days of receiving this notification.
Under the Code, notices are deemed to be received five days after they are mailed by the College or no later than the following day if faxed.
Extensions on the response deadline may be granted in exceptional circumstances. Should you need to request an extension, please do so by contacting College staff by telephone, fax or mail as soon as the circumstances necessitating the request present themselves. Please provide specific information about the reasons for the request.
Review of Decisions
Once the ICRC has made a decision, both the complainant and the member have the right to request a review of the Committee's decision by the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (HPARB) unless there has been a referral to the Discipline Committee or the Fitness to Practice Committee. The purpose of the Board is to ensure that an investigation was adequate and the decision was well reasoned. At present, a request for a review by the Board occurs in about 26% of eligible cases.
College procedures are designed to keep confidential information about a complaint or a report, even to members of the College Council or College staff, outside of the complaints process. If allegations are referred to the Discipline Committee, and a Notice of Hearing is issued and served on a member, the allegations, and the fact of an impending Hearing related to the matter, become public information. Discipline Hearings are generally open to the public.
Additionally, the College cannot give assurances regarding confidentiality in cases reviewed by HPARB. The Review Board has the authority to review a complaint investigation and/or a decision of the ICRC and make its own determination regarding the maintenance of confidentiality of materials reviewed in this process.
If you have any questions regarding the process for investigating complaints or reports, please contact the College.