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Our Experience

Donich Law is one of the few Firms to have litigated and defeated contested sexual abuse allegations before the College of Nurses of Ontario Disciplinary Committee. We have attended the CNO in person and regularly defend Nurses and members of the Health Care industry facing regulatory complaints or criminal charges. The Firm has also defeated CNO investigations where patient data has inappropriately been accessed and used by nurses without authorization.

In Canada, regulated professionals like nurses, teachers, and doctors are regulated by a regulatory body. Regulatory bodies get their authority to regulate from legislation. Regulatory bodies ensure that regulated professionals are properly qualified for the position, properly licensed, and continue to be qualified to practice. Regulatory bodies also have the power to prosecute their members for professional misconduct. Regulatory legislation outlines the processes and procedures for investigating professional misconduct, outlines the types of professional misconduct is prosecutes, the rights of Members, and the penalties when a member is found guilty of professional misconduct.

Nurses in Ontario are regulated by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO). The CNO derives their authority, in part, from the Ontario College of Teachers Act. The Act outlines various rules and regulations regarding the structure of the CNO and many other topics. It also outlines the processes and procedures in place when a complaint is filed against a Member of the CNO, including the rights of the Member.

In File No. 0*****8, the Firm successfully defended a nurse who was alleged to have made inappropriate and derogatory comments to a dementia patient. It was further alleged that the nurse had physically assaulted the patient and had asked the physician on call to sedate the patient to make them more manageable, despite not needing to be medically sedated. The Firm resolved the complaint without a finding of professional misconduct, protecting the nurses license to practice.

In 2023, the Firm represented a nurse who was reported to the College while at the hospital visiting a sick family member in File No. 2*****8. The nurse’s family member had spent a significant amount of time in the hospital and over time the relationship between the care team and the patient’s family, including the client, had begun to deteriorate. After an alleged disagreement over patient care, one of the nurse’s caring for the client’s sick family member alleged that the client had been engaging in nurse practice with her family member, despite not being on duty. The Firm reviewed a significant amount of information regarding the patient’s lengthy stay in the unit and discovered numerous deficiencies in the care provided to the patient. The Firm brought the deficiencies to the attention of the College, providing evidence of the relationship breakdown and various issues the family had been experiencing on the unit. Ultimately the College closed the file without taking any action against the member.

In 2022, the Firm successfully defended a nurse who had been targeted by her colleagues and reported to the CNO in File No. 2*****3. The client resigned from her position as an RN at a hospital due to a toxic work environment with several of her colleagues, whom she believed to be targeting her and blaming her for mistakes that were not hers. Following her departure, a complaint was made to the CNO, outlining various fabricated allegations including failing to administer medication to a patient in crushed form causing him to choke, and various issues with documentation. The Firm carefully analyzed the material provided as evidence and discovered that the alleged incidents noted in the complaint were not noted anywhere on any hospital documentation provided, suggesting the incidents did not occur. The Firm prepared lengthy legal submissions noting all the discrepancies with the allegations and the material provided. The Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee reviewed the Firm’s written submissions and made the decision to close the file without taking any action against the Member.

In 2018, the Firm represented a nurse accused of unilaterally altering a patient’s care plan in File No. 8*****2. The patient further alleged that they had been sexually assaulted in the unit and that the nurse had failed to report it. The Firm litigated the matter for more than one year before the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) and successfully resolved it with no action taken against the member.

Professional Regulation in Canada

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In 2021, the Firm successfully represented a nurse accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with the daughter of one of his patients after a breakdown in their relationship in File No. 2*****6. The nurse, with over a decade of experience, was reported to the CNO by the daughter of a patient who alleged that he had made sexual advances towards her on several occasions inside the hospital. She further alleged that she had met the nurse on several occasions outside of the hospital where they had engaged in sexual intercourse. The Firm litigated the matter with the CNO for over three years before a contested discipline hearing was scheduled. The Firm intended to call the complainant to testify to prove that the sexual conduct she was alleging had not occurred, and that the complainant was fabricating allegations to hurt the nurse member. Prior to the hearing, the College made the decision to withdrawal the charges against the nurse, resolving the issue without a notation on his license.

In 2020, the Firm represented a nurse with two separate complaints filed at the same time in File No. 2*****7. One complaint related to an incident with a patient that was reported by the family of the patient. The second complaint proved to be a vexatious complaint regarding illicit drug use made by the ex-partner of the client during a contentious divorce. The Firm successfully negotiated with the College to resolve the matter without a finding of professional misconduct on the first complaint and proved that the second complaint regarding illicit drug use was vexatious, leading to its withdrawal.

In 2020, the Firm represented a registered nurse who became the subject of a complaint after allegedly destroying documents prior to leaving her position as RN at a hospital in Northern Ontario in File No. 2*****9. The client was reported to the College by her ex-employer after she left on poor terms. The employer alleged that prior to leaving the hospital for the last time, the client had taken a large number of patient records and other hospital documents and shredded them. The Firm gathered evidence of its own, ultimately proving that there was no way the client could have shredded the material prior to leaving, and that the allegations had been fabricated. The complaint was dismissed, and the file closed.

In File No. 9*****2, the Firm defended a nurse who had a complaint filed against her with the College for the second time. It was alleged that the nurse had been conducting themselves in an unprofessional manner and in a matter unbecoming to the profession, which is a catch all area of misconduct. The Firm presented evidence to prove the allegations were untrue or exaggerated and resolved the matter without a finding of professional misconduct.

Understanding Workplace Investigations

In the case of File No. 1*****8, the Firm represented a nurse accused of assaulting a patient. The Firm engaged in an investigation of its own and carefully analyzed the evidence provided by the hospital and the College, ultimately proving that the allegations had been exaggerated. The matter resolved without a finding of professional misconduct for the nurse.

In 2022, the Firm represented a client accused of accessing the records of patients outside her circle of care in File No. 2*****5. The client was alleged to have looked at the files of more than 40 patients who she was not treating at the time, which was a serious privacy breach. When confronted about it by staff at the secure forensic unit she worked at, she allegedly indicated she did so for safety purposes. The Firm provide lengthy legal submissions to the College, indicating that the unit the Member worked on was a secure forensic unit, which is where individuals who are found not criminal responsible of serious crimes are sent. The Firm presented evidence of numerous violent attacks on staff at the facility, providing context for the Member’s actions. Ultimately, the Member was cautioned, and the matter resolved without a finding of professional misconduct.

In File No. 2*****6, the Firm successfully defended a client accused of improperly wasting medication, physically restraining a patient, breaching patient privacy, and making numerous errors with documentation. The Member denied the majority of the allegations. The Firm was able to make a request for and gain access to security footage of the alleged incidents, proving that the Member was not guilty of the allegations noted in the complaint. The matter was resolved without a finding of professional misconduct.

In File No. 7*****3, the Firm defended a nurse who was about to retire when a complaint was filed against her for the first time in her career. It was alleged that the nurse had improperly handled and wasted medication, violated documentation standards and professional standards. The Firm successfully resolved the matter with no finding of professional misconduct.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What will Happen if I am Reported to the CNO?

Virtually anyone can report a nurse to the College of Nurses for alleged professional misconduct. If you have been reported to the CNO for professional misconduct, you will either be notified by the individual or institution who made the report, or by the CNO themselves. When a member is reported by their employer, their employer may notify them that a complaint has been made. Other times, the Member will find out that a complaint has been filed against them when the College sends them a Notification of Appointment of Investigator. This is a notice indicating that an investigation has been started.

A Notification of Appointment of Investigator is a notice sent to the Member indicating that the College has received a complaint about the nurses practice that has raised concerns. The letter will go on to indicate that the College has appointed an investigator to look into the matter and will provide the contact information of the investigator. From there, the Member will be provided with some general information about the complaint(s) being investigated.

Once the Member has been notified about the investigation, the investigator will begin collecting evidence. This typically includes gathering patient records, interviewing potential witnesses including other staff members at the Member’s place of employment, and anyone else who may have information about the alleged incident(s).

Once the investigator has completed their investigation, they will send the evidence gathered to the Member. The Member will then be provided with an opportunity to submit a written response to the allegations. The submissions are sent to the investigator who will then pass along the entire file to the Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee (ICRC). The ICRC will then review the file and make a determination regarding the outcome. The ICRC can choose to issue a penalty, close the file without issuing a penalty, or refer the matter to the discipline committee.

What to do if you have been Wrongfully Reported to the CNO

When the College of Nurses of Ontario receives a complaint about a member’s practice, they will briefly review the complaint to determine whether an investigation is necessary. Where the complaint is frivolous or clearly vexatious, the CNO will decline to appoint an investigator. Where the complaint raises a legitimate concern, the College will appoint an investigator. While the goal of this initial vetting process is to weed out any complaints that are not valid, in some cases more of an investigation is necessary to make a decision. This can lead, in some situations, to the College investigating a complaint that does not have merit.  Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true, the Member is required to participate in the investigation process. Failure to do so could result in an additional prosecution for professional misconduct.

If you have been wrongfully accused of misconduct by an employer or by a member of the public, it is important to protect yourself as early on as possible. Nurses are advised to document everything and preserve evidence. Typically, once a complaint is filed, it will be several months before the nurse is asked to provide a response. By documenting everything while evidence is fresh, the Member can ensure they do not lose any important evidence or misremember information in the future.

In addition to keeping detailed records of everything, a nurse who has been reported to the College is advised to seek legal counsel as soon as possible, regardless of whether or not the complaint is true. The College of Nurses has broad powers to limit a nurse’s ability to practice, and to place notations on the nurses online CNO profile indicating they have been investigated for or found guilty of misconduct. A lawyer can assist in preserving evidence, drafting submissions, informing you of your rights and obligations under the law, and ensuring that the investigation process runs smoothly. Due to the serious consequences that can result from a CNO prosecution, it is important to develop a strong legal theory of the case prior to submitting a response. In almost all cases, simply denying the allegations will not suffice.

What is the Role of the Investigator?

The role of a CNO investigator is to collect evidence to be presented to the Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee. The investigator is a neutral party in the investigation whose job is to collect evidence in an impartial manner. The investigator does not determine the outcome of the file, nor do they provide an opinion on the investigation. The ICRC is responsible for reviewing the investigation material and determining what steps to take next, if any.

What is the Role of the Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee (ICRC)?

The Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee (ICRC) is the committee responsible for determining the outcome of a file once the investigation is complete. Once an investigation into a member’s nursing practice has been completed and the Member has been provided an opportunity to provide a written response, the ICRC will review the whole file. They will then determine the appropriate next steps. The ICRC can choose to take no further action and close the file. This happens when the ICRC is of the opinion that there are no valid concerns related to the Member’s practice. This may be because the complaint was vexatious or fabricated, or because the contents of the complaint do not rise to the level of professional misconduct.

Where further action is deemed necessary, the ICRC may refer the Member to a remediation program, provide advice, or order a caution. These outcomes do not mean the Member has been found guilty of professional misconduct. Instead, it means that there is some concern with the nurse’s nursing practice, however it does not rise to the level of professional misconduct, and therefore it is not necessary to refer the Member for discipline. It is important to note that where the ICRC orders a remediation program, a caution, or provides the nurse with advice, a note of this will be made on the nurse’s profile on the CNO website.

In cases where the ICRC is of the opinion that the nurse may be guilty of professional misconduct, they will refer the matter to the Discipline Committee for prosecution. The Discipline Committee will then take over the file from that point on.

What Potential Penalties do Nurses Face for Misconduct?

When a matter is before the ICRC (prior to being referred to discipline), and the ICRC has concerns with the nurses practice, they have several options. They may choose to order a caution, provide advice to the nurse, or order the nurse to complete a remediation program. A caution involves the nurse attending a meeting before the Committee to discuss the alleged incident and to be cautioned by the Committee. The Committee may also provide the nurse with advice on how to avoid a similar situation in the future. A remediation program is an education program that nurse members must complete where there are concerns with their practice. The programs help to ensure the nurse is up to date on knowledge related to their practice. If the ICRC believes the matter rises to the level of professional misconduct, they will refer the matter to the Discipline Committee.

The Discipline Committee will determine if the Member is guilty of misconduct, and then determine the appropriate penalty. The Committee has several options in terms of penalty, depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct. On the low end of the spectrum, the Committee may order an oral reprimand, where the Member will attend in front of the Committee to be reprimanded for their actions. The Committee may order the nurse to complete a remediation program or some other education program to ensure their practice knowledge is up to date. They may order the nurse’s employer to audit and monitor their work to ensure there are no further issues. The Committee may place restrictions on the nurse’s ability to practice including requiring them to attend a meeting with a regulatory expert regarding their practice. In cases of serious misconduct, the Committee can suspend the nurse’s certificate of registration, prohibiting them from practicing for a period of time. In the most serious of cases, the Committee may revoke the nurse’s certificate of registration, meaning they can never practice again.

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Recent Cases

College of Nurses of Ontario v. Cuison, 2022. CanLII 135103

In the case of College of Nurses of Ontario v. Cuison, the member was accused of stealing money from a patient. Specifically, the member, who worked at an assisted living facility, was found guilty of entering the room of a patient on two occasions, going into her purse, and taking out $125 in cash without permission. The nurse was subsequently reported to police for theft and arrested. She was charged with two counts of theft under $5,000 and eventually found guilty. Following her conviction, the member failed to meet reporting obligations and report the matter to the CNO.

The CNO launched an investigation of their own into the theft and the failure to report, and the member was brought before the Discipline Committee. The member participated in the process and eventually pled guilty to professional misconduct. Counsel for the member and for the College reached a joint position on penalty. The Committee accepted the position and suspended the nurse’s license to practice for four months. She was also issued a reprimand, ordered to meet with a regulatory expert, complete reflective questionnaires and notify her employers of the Committee’s decision. In their reasons for decision, the Committee noted the serious breach of public trust, and the fact that the conduct was dishonest and repeated. The Committee also noted that the member had pled guilty to the allegations and had no prior history of disciplinary action.

College of Nurses of Ontario v. Anderson, 2022 CanLII 136848

In the case of College of Nurses of Ontario v. Anderson, the nurse member was accused of having a sexual relationship with a patient within one year of the patient’s discharge from the hospital. The member initially met the patient while the patient was an inpatient in the unit the member was working in. The member and the patient had various non-clinical interactions while in the unit and began a sexual relationship immediately upon the patient being discharged. The parties eventually moved in together after dating for some time. It was further alleged that the member revealed personal health information about another patient in the unit to the partner. The standards set by the CNO indicate that a member cannot have a sexual relationship with a patient, even where both parties are consenting.

The member participated in the discipline process and ultimately pled guilty to the allegations. The Committee determined that due to the seriousness of the allegations, the member’s certificate of registration should be revoked. The member was also issued a reprimand. In their reasons for revocation, the Committee indicated that the patient was in a vulnerable state at the time the relationship began and that the member had breached professional boundaries in a very serious way, violating the core principles of nursing.

About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.