Butterworth failed in his application seeking a stay of his disciplinary hearing before a committee of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario where the court found that prospective damage to Butterworth’s personal and professional reputation did not constitute “irreparable harm”

Administrative law – Veterinarians – Disciplinary proceedings – Stay of proceedings – Jurisdiction – Judicial review – Standard of review – Correctness test

Butterworth v. College of Veterinarians of Ontario, [2001] O.J. No. 5265, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, August 10, 2001, MacFarland J.

Butterworth, a veterinarian, was scheduled to have his case heard before a disciplinary hearing commencing August 27, 2001. On July 31, 2001, Butterworth brought a motion before the Discipline Committee to stay the hearing, which was dismissed. Neither party at this application filed written materials to address the jurisdiction of the court to entertain Butterworth’s motion for a stay in the circumstances where the Committee of the College of Veterinarians had dismissed the same motion.

Counsel for Butterworth relied on section 35 of the Veterinarians Act as providing a broad right of appeal. Alternatively, counsel for Butterworth said that if the subject decision was to be judicially reviewed (as opposed to appealed), the standard of review should be that of correctness. The court reviewed section 35 of the Act and held that it was directed toward final decisions of the Committee rather than to interlocutory decisions of those bodies. Therefore, the court held that the motion before it was, in effect, seeking to judicially review the decision of the Discipline Committee, which refused to stay the hearing. The court noted that whether to grant a stay is not a matter within the specialized expertise of that Committee. It is a question of mixed fact and law and, applying the legal principles set out in RJR Macdonald (1994), 111 D.L.R. (4th) 385 (S.C.C.), the test was one of correctness. The court noted that from the reasons of the Committee, it was clear that it had considered the proper test.

With respect to the test for granting a stay, the court agreed that there was a serious issue to be tried. The second branch of the test required Butterworth to establish “irreparable harm” if a stay was not granted. The Committee had disagreed that prospective damage to Butterworth’s personal and professional reputation constituted “irreparable harm”. The court agreed with the Committee and stated that if Butterworth’s argument prevailed, then the same argument might be made in every disciplinary case against a professional. The court indicated that it did not agree that merely embarking on a disciplinary hearing would irreparably harm a professional’s reputation. In the result, the court could find no error in the decision of the Discipline Committee and dismissed Butterworth’s motion for a stay of proceedings.

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