The Petitioner applied for judicial review of two decisions made by the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the British Columbia College of Chiropractors, the first dismissing the Petitioner’s complaint against the Respondent, and the second confirming that dismissal. The Court dismissed the petition, finding that the Petitioner did not have standing to require the Court to review the College’s decision. However, the Court accepted the Petitioner’s submission, in obiter, that the College’s interpretation of section 20 of the Chiropractors Act was incorrect.

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – College of Chiropractors – Disciplinary proceedings – Use of title – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Interpretation of legislation – Jurisdiction – Standard of review – Correctness

Pound v. Lunney, [2007] B.C.J. No. 794, British Columbia Supreme Court, April 20, 2007, Halfyard J.

The Respondent had practiced as a chiropractor from 1976 to 2000. Since 2000, he had served as a Member of Parliament, while continuing to be registered under the Chiropractors Act of British Columbia. The Petitioner was a resident in the Respondent’s riding.

Since becoming a Member of Parliament, the Respondent had described himself as “Dr. James Lunney”, and “Dr. James Lunney, M.P.” on signs and in written publications intended for his constituents. The Petitioner lodged a complaint with the College, asserting that the Respondent had used the title “Dr.” in front of his name, while failing to identify himself as a chiropractor, in contravention of section 20 of the Chiropractors Act.

The Ethics and Discipline Committee of the College investigated the complaint and decided that the Respondent’s conduct did not contravene section 20 of the Act. The Committee’s Reasons were that the Respondent, while still a member of the College, was retired and therefore his use of the title “doctor” or the abbreviation “Dr.” could not give rise to any risk of confusion. Some months later, the Petitioner’s counsel wrote a detailed letter requesting the Committee’s reconsideration of its decision. The Committee did so and confirmed its earlier decision.

The Petitioner applied for a judicial review of the College’s decisions. In accordance with section 15 of the Judicial Review Procedure Act, the Petition and Affidavit of Verification were served on the College, which entered an Appearance, filed a Response, and presented evidence and argument on the hearing of the application, along with the Respondent. It was common ground that the Respondent’s use of the title “Dr.” was not intended to convey to his constituents that he was a medical doctor, or that he intended to conceal the fact that he is a doctor of Chiropractic.

The Court first considered whether the Petitioner had standing to bring the lawsuit. The Petitioner could properly challenge the handling of his complaint if he could establish unfairness. However, the College had given full and fair consideration to the Petitioner’s complaint, before deciding to dismiss it. Reasons had been given for the dismissal and Rule 12, governing the handling of complaints against members, was followed to the letter. The College had then reconsidered its decision at the Petitioner’s request. The Court concluded that, taking all the circumstances of the case into account, the Petitioner had failed to establish that he had the standing necessary in law to require the Court to review the College’s decision to dismiss his complaint, on the ground that it had erred in interpreting the Chiropractors Act.

The Court proceeded to consider whether the College had erred in interpreting section 20 of the Chiropractors Act. This was a pure question of law, on which the standard of review was correctness.

Section 20(1) of the Act permits registered chiropractors to use the title “Dr.”, but only in conjunction with “chiropractic”. Section 20(2) provides that despite subsection (1), the chiropractor must not use the title “Dr.” in such a way as to suggest an occupation relating to the treatment of human ailments, other than as permitted under the Act. The Court found that the plain and ordinary meaning of subsection (2) was that it creates an additional restriction on the use of the title “Dr.” It did not create an exception to the restricted use prescribed in subsection (1), nor did it override subsection (1). The Court also rejected the College’s submission that the Respondent was saved by the fact that he was a non-practising chiropractor. The issue is whether any registered chiropractor, whether practising or not practising, can ever use the bare title “Dr.”

The Court next considered whether the College was right to have made submissions on the merits of the application, in defence of its own decision. The Petitioner relied on the principle that an administrative tribunal should not make submissions on the merits, on an application for judicial review of its decision. The Court concluded that it had been proper for the College to address the issue of the scope of the submissions it should be permitted to make. The College was also entitled to take the position that the Petitioner had no standing to bring the application, and to support its position with full argument. However, the College should not have defended its decision on the ground that it was correct.

In the result, the petition was dismissed. The Court declined to award costs to the College, and denied the Respondent’s claim for special costs.

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