Self-regulation—a privilege not a right

The privilege of self-regulation for all self-regulating bodies comes with a high level of responsibility to serve and protect the public. For example, Professional Engineers Ontario for engineers, Law Society of Upper Canada for lawyers, and College of Physicians and Surgeons for doctors.

To preserve this privilege, it is essential for the members of a self-regulating profession to hold themselves to a higher standard than anyone would, always act in such a way that they are part of a compliance regime, and report any misconduct promptly and voluntarily.

Failing to fulfill the regulatory mandate, a body risks losing the privilege to self-regulate. The following are examples in which the government has revoked the privilege of self-regulation from professionals:

March 2017—Tarion new home warranty corporation loses its responsibility to regulate the province’s homebuilders. Citing conflict of interest issues, the Ontario government will create a standalone home builder regulator, separate from the warranty provider.

July 2016—The Quebec government places the province’s Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec under trusteeship because of an internal crisis in the professional body and being unable to fulfill its primary responsibility of protecting the public.

June 2016—British Columbia puts an end to real estate self-regulation since it has failed to protect the public from illegal practices and has lost the public’s confidence in its ability to police itself.

Regarding public welfare as paramount, it is essential for members of each self-regulating body and they need to have a broad mindset of public interest. Concurrently, education of individual members about the importance and benefits of self-regulating, and its difference from advocacy, is the key to preserving this privilege.

Having public trust is an indispensable factor in self-regulating. It is essential for members to fully understand the Code of Ethics and its purpose and be aware of disciplinary actions resulting from any professional misconduct (breach of the code).

A major impediment to this public trust is adjudication by members of the profession. Lawyers judging lawyers, doctors judging doctors, and even former police officers investigating police officers creates a conflict between protecting the public and protecting a profession’s reputation.

In conclusion, having an independent panel of professionals to prevent any conflict of interest would be very effective, as the profession tends to avoid disciplinary actions against its own members.

Amin Mali, P.Eng., North York, ON