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Professional law: considering important personal repercussions on the professional when asking a stay of proceedings

On July 17th, 2020, the Superior Court ordered the stay of two decisions by which the chief president of the disciplinary councils relinquished the Ordre des psychologues du Québec’s Disciplinary council’s president of certain files that were to be continued by another president. All while considering the professional’s right to be heard, the irreparable damage that would be suffered by said professional, as well as the balance of interests, the Court decided to suspend the decisions’ execution until a final judgement is rendered (Lévy v. Corriveau, 2020 QCCS 2217).

On February 27th, 2020, the chief president decided to relinquish the Ordre des psychologues du Québec’s Disciplinary council’s president of several files ,and to name another president to take her place. Among the files that were removed from the president’s workload was a disciplinary complaint regarding the plaintiff, initially filed on May 28th, 2015.

The hearing to determine the guilt of the psychologist had began on February 10th, 2016 and had lasted 42 days, spread out over a period of 4 years. During the hearing, a total of eight expert reports were presented to the Disciplinary council. In mid-December 2019, the case was taken under advisement by the Council.

Invoking the fact that the president of the Council was to remain on medical leave until summer 2020, as well as the chief president’s ability to take the necessary measures in order to ensure the celerity in the handling of the complaint and the decisional process, the latter decided to withdraw the complaint from the Disciplinary council’s jurisdiction. This decision was made, despite the fact that the file had already been taken under advisement and without the president of the Disciplinary council and the psychologist in question being consulted prior.

The psychologist thus decided to contest the decision, and refused to opt for either of the options that had been offered to her: restarting the entire disciplinary process or transferring the totality of the evidence presented before a new disciplinary council, who would then take the case under advisement and render a decision. In addition, the Council’s president confirmed that she could render a decision before the end of the summer, thus attempting to reassure the chief president that the nomination of a new president was not necessary.

Despite these developments, the chief president reiterated her original decision and designated a new president for the continuation of the professional’s file. Given the situation, the psychologist chose to contest both decisions before the Superior Court via an application for judicial review, and to ask a stay of proceedings.

To begin, the Court decided that the file raised a serious question that merited a legal debate before the court system, as the psychologist had alleged that the chief president had rendered her decision in violation of the principles of fundamental justice. In fact, the law requires that the chief president take into consideration the circumstances of the file, as well as the interests of the parties concerned, before relieving a Council’s president of his or her duties. On this specific point, the Court applied the teachings of the Supreme Court of Canada, in Vavliov, according to which persons have a right to a much greater procedural protection when the decision can result in important personal repercussions.

The Court also considered the irreparable damage that risked being suffered by the plaintiff if the restarting of the disciplinary process was imposed on her, notably the exorbitant costs and stress that would inevitably result from the resumption of the hearing. Finally, the Court confirmed that the balance of interests weighed in favor of the psychologist, as the protection of the public was not at stake seeing as the professional had retired five years earlier. In consequence, the Court ordered the stay of the two disciplinary decisions rendered by the chief president Dubé Légal inc., professional law lawyers.