A psychiatric nurse (“Bennet”) was successful in his appeal from a decision of the Discipline Committee of the Registered Psychiatric Nurses’ Association of Manitoba (the “Association”). The court found that the Committee’s decision finding Bennet guilty of professional misconduct for having sexual intercourse with a former client was not reasonable as the Committee did not have sufficient evidence before it on the threshold issue of boundaries and/or therapeutic relationships.

Administrative law – Psychiatric Nurses – Disciplinary proceedings – Professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming – Sexual relations with former patient – Boundaries and therapeutic relationships – Judicial review – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Evidence

Bennet v. Registered Psychiatric Nurses’ Assn. of Manitoba, [2003] M.J. No. 163, Manitoba Court of Appeal, May 15, 2003, Monnin, Hamilton and Freedman JJ.A.

Bennet was a registered psychiatric nurse since 1974. He started treating Ms. J. in 1989 and did so until May of 1997, when the file was closed for the last time. Bennet’s last professional meeting with Ms. J. was in August of 1996. In 1999, Bennet and Ms. J. had consensual intercourse in her home on two occasions. Following the second occasion, Ms. J. wrote a letter of complaint to the Association, which ultimately led to the filing of charges against Bennet. The primary issue at the hearing was whether or not a therapeutic relationship existed between Ms. J. and Bennet at the time the sexual contact took place. The Committee found Bennet guilty of professional misconduct.

At the appeal, Bennet argued that the Committee did not have any evidence before it that could justify its finding. Bennet further argued that the Committee members must have been relying on their own personal knowledge and experience and not on the evidence before them to reach a conclusion that a therapeutic relationship existed at the time of the sexual contact. The Court of Appeal noted that the only evidence before the Committee on the issue of boundaries and/or therapeutic relationships was the position statement of the Association and the evidence of Ms. J. that she considered the therapeutic relationship to be ongoing. The court held that this was insufficient evidence to establish this point. The court further noted that no evidence was advanced by the Association that any psychiatric nurse should have known, based on education, training and experience, that a therapeutic relationship was ongoing at this time. Based on the paucity of evidence before the Committee, the court agreed with Bennet that the members of the Association who sat on the Committee must have relied on their own knowledge and expertise in deciding that a therapeutic relationship was still ongoing at the time of the sexual contact. This was improper and the court cited from Huerto v. College of Physicians and Surgeons (Saskatchewan) (1996), 133 D.L.R. (4th) 100 (Sask. C.A.) for the principle that where a person’s rights are at stake and the statute affords a full hearing, that person has the right to meet the case against him. In the case at bar, the court noted that the principle that an accused individual is entitled to meet the case against him was “part and parcel of the rule that an adjudicator cannot rely on his or her specialized knowledge of an issue in arriving at a decision”. In this case, there was insufficient evidence before the Committee to make a proper determination on the issue of whether or not a therapeutic relationship was in existence and, consequently, a finding of guilt was not reasonable. In the result, Bennet’s appeal was allowed with costs.

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