E-Hearings: The New Normal for Discipline Hearings During COVID-19

  • January 04, 2021
  • Carina Lentsch, ACL Law - www.acllaw.ca

Electronic hearings have become the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the lockdown and emergency measures put in place by the Province of Ontario in March 2020, regulatory Colleges have shifted their operations to virtual platforms. Eight months on, e-hearings remain the reality for regulated health care professionals that are subject to discipline or other proceedings.

The prospect of an e-hearing can be unsettling to health care professionals who face potentially serious consequences and whose license to practice their profession may be at stake. A common question is therefore: Can the hearing be deferred until a time that in-person hearings resume? This issue was recently addressed by the Discipline Committee of the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) in College of Nurses of Ontario v Ramos, 2020 CanLII 82614 (ON CNO), where such a request by the nurse was denied.

Statutory Basis for Electronic Hearings

The Statutory Powers Procedure Act (the “SPPA”) provides the statutory basis for Colleges to conduct electronic hearings, with the exception where “a party satisfies the tribunal that holding an electronic hearing rather than an oral hearing is likely to cause the party significant prejudice.” See ss. 5.2 (2).

In addition, the Ontario legislature enacted the Hearings in Tribunal Proceedings (Temporary Measure) Act (the “HTPA”) on March 25, 2020, which permits and encourages administrative tribunals in this province to use electronic hearings to help in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.