The complaints process is often an area of uncertainty for employers, complainants and regulated members. Much of this uncertainty comes from misunderstanding the process, which often fuels many misconceptions.
Over the next few weeks, the College will be publishing information on the complaints process. In this article, we will discuss some of the things that happen when a complaint is referred to a hearing.
Once the investigation is complete, the Complaints Director decides to dismiss the complaint or refer the matter to a hearing. A hearing is held so that the Hearing Tribunal can determine if the allegations in the complaint have been proven and if the behaviours can be deemed unprofessional conduct, as defined in the Health Professions Act (HPA).
What is the Hearings Process?
When the Complaints Director has referred the matter to a hearing, the College’s Hearings Director has 90 days to schedule the hearing. The Hearings Director will notify the complainant and regulated member of the hearing and works in consultation with necessary parties to determine the date(s), time and location of the hearing.
The regulated member will receive a Notice of Hearing that outlines the allegations of unprofessional conduct that will be reviewed at the hearing. The Notice of Hearing will also confirm the date, time and location of the hearing. Further information may be provided depending on the requirements of the hearing.
It is important to note that not all elements of the original complaint may be included in the Notice of Hearing. Only those allegations that the investigation process deemed to be founded will be discussed during the hearing.
The complainant will be provided with a copy of the Notice of Hearing; however, they are not a party to the hearing. They may be called as a witness or advised they may attend the hearing but the two parties of the hearing are the regulated member and the College.
Who is the Hearing Tribunal?
The Hearing Tribunal consists of four individuals – two regulated members of the paramedic profession and two public members appointed by government.
The role of the Hearing Tribunal is to hear submissions (oral/written submissions, evidence, witness testimony, etc.) from the regulated member and the College with respect to the allegations and determine if they have been proven.
During the hearing, both the regulated member (who may retain legal counsel) and the College’s Complaints Director (and legal counsel for the Complaints Director) will present arguments to the Hearing Tribunal. This will happen as either a consent hearing (agreed statement of facts and joint submissions on penalties) or a contested hearing (which may include witness testimony, arguments and rebuttals) to assist the tribunal in rendering a decision. A consent hearing usually lasts one full business day, and a contested hearing can take significantly longer.
During the course of the hearing, the Hearing Tribunal may respond to questions about the procedure used in conducting the hearing or ask clarifying questions of the investigated regulated member, the Complaints Director, legal counsel for the Complaints Director, or witnesses. However, the Hearing Tribunal must not respond to questions regarding the merits of the complaint or Standards of Practice. The Hearing Tribunal will have legal counsel present to:
- Provide the Hearing Tribunal with advice on issues that may arise at the hearing
- Review the Hearing Tribunal’s reasons to ensure legal principles are met
- Assist the Hearing Tribunal in writing the decision
Under the HPA, hearings are typically open to the public (there is limited space for all hearings and anyone that wishes to attend a hearing must pre-register with the College). All hearing dates must be posted on the College website with information on how to attend; however, the Hearing Tribunal is authorized to order all or parts of a hearing be held in private. The investigated regulated member is entitled to be present throughout the entire hearing whether or not the hearing is held in private.
Decisions regarding the merits of the complaint are made once all evidence has been submitted and considered by the Hearing Tribunal.
If a finding of unprofessional conduct is made, the tribunal may:
- Make orders such as practice permit restrictions, suspensions or cancellations;
- And/or order the regulated member to pay costs;
- And/or order the regulated member to pay fines;
- And/or order the regulated member to complete additional training;
- And/or order the regulated member to apologize to the person harmed;
- And/or order a reprimand on the member’s file for a specified length of time.
If the Hearing Tribunal has reasonable grounds to believe the regulated member has committed a criminal offence, the decision will be sent to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General.
Regulated members are required to comply with Orders of the Hearing Tribunal and will be monitored by the Complaints Director.
Appealing a Hearing Decision
Following the hearing, the complainant and regulated member will be provided with a copy of the Hearing Tribunal’s Decision.
Either party (the regulated member or the Complaints Director for the College) may appeal to College Council within 30 days after receipt of the hearing decision.
A regulated member may appeal the decision of the Hearing Tribunal to the College Council by submitting a written notice of appeal that (a) identifies the appealed decision and (b) states the reasons for the appeal. New information will not be considered. A notice of appeal is to be served within 30 days after the date of the decision.
Beyond the College Council, the only further appeal possible is to the Alberta Court of Appeal.
If you would like more on the Complaints Process, please view the Complaints section of www.abparamedics.com.