Ontario College of Pharmacists Defence and Discipline Lawyer

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The Firm defends pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and registered pharmacy students in Ontario facing criminal and regulatory allegations of misconduct. The Disciplinary Committee is made up of professional and publicly appointed menders of the College Council. The Firm defends members facing allegations associated with failing to maintain standards of practice of the profession, falsified pharmacy records, contraventions of the Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act and Health Professions Act among others.

Pharmacists, like many professionals in Canada, must be adequately educated, licensed and regulated by the province in which they practice. Each province regulates their professionals in their own way. The Firm defends pharmacists facing allegations associated with excessive billing and overcharging to the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan and/or patient(s) for prescription balances owing.  The Firm defends allegations where drugs have been dispensed improperly or sold for improper purposes by the licensee. In the Firms Case No. 95724 it defended a pharmacy manager belonging to a large Canadian business who was alleged to have shipped Fentanyl to a patient’s front door and left it unattended without proper  dispensing or counselling standards. The matter was resolved without any finding of professional misconduct. The Firm has also dealt with allegations associated with sexual impropriety and conflicts of interest between pharmacist-patient boundaries.

The Firm’s exceptional background in criminal defence pretrial resolution and litigation often resolves proceedings without any formal disciplinary action or sanctions by the regulatory body. The Firm has successfully defended Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, Paralegals, Law Society Discipline Investigators, Nurses, Accountants, Real Estate Agents, Health Care Professionals, Teachers, Financial Service Sector Employees, City of Toronto and Provincial Government Employees, Police Officers and Canada Boarder Service Officers, Canada Revenue Agency Auditors and many other professionals belonging to regulatory bodies and facing prosecution or criminal charges.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Regulates Pharmacists in Ontario?

Each province in Canada is responsible for regulating the professionals working within that province. In Ontario, the Ontario College of Pharmacists is responsible for regulating the practice of pharmacy. The goal of the Ontario College of Pharmacists is to ensure all members practicing pharmacy are held to the highest professional standards of knowledge and integrity to ensure the highest quality of care to all patients. The Ontario College of Pharmacists is responsible for enforcing the Pharmacy Act 1991, which is discussed in more detail below. They ensure that pharmacists have received the proper education from an accredited institution prior to beginning practice, that practicing members keep up to date with any necessary on-going education and that all members abide by all the regulations laid out in the Pharmacy Act 1991. The main goal is to protect the public from professional misconduct. As such, the Ontario College of Pharmacists also accepts formal complaints regarding licensed members and investigates as necessary. If professional misconduct or unethical behaviour is discovered, the Ontario College of Pharmacists will also be the regulating body responsible for punishing the offending pharmacist.

How are Pharmacists Regulated?

Pharmacists in Ontario are regulated by the Pharmacy Act 1991 which is enforced by the Ontario College of Pharmacists. This statute outlines various regulations that apply to the practice of pharmacy including various registration requirements and regulations, controlled acts regulations, quality assurance regulations, the inspection of pharmaceutical premises and professional misconduct and conflict of interest regulations. The statute contains a great deal of regulations pertaining to becoming a registered pharmacist in Ontario. These provisions include regulations outlining the various classes of registration, registration processes for pharmacists, students, interns and pharmacy technicians. The statute also discusses regulations surrounding the termination of a pharmacists registration, through resignation and suspension.

In addition to registration requirements the statute also outlines detailed regulations regarding the administration of controlled acts in reference to patients. This section stipulates which controlled acts pharmacists, students, interns and pharmacy technicians are legally permitted to carry out including regulations on how to correctly carry out and document these actions. The statute then goes on to list numerous quality assurance regulations. Quality assurance regulations deal primarily with insuring all registered pharmacists maintain the highest quality of care when practicing pharmacy. This is accomplished through ongoing educational programs as well as practice and premises inspection and review systems put in place to ensure all regulations are followed adequately.

The Pharmacy Act 1991 also contains a detailed section relating to professional misconduct within the practice of pharmacy. This section outlines 40 enumerated acts that have been deemed professional misconduct by the Ontario College of Pharmacists. If a pharmacist has committed any of the acts outlined in this section, they will be found guilty by the College of committing professional misconduct and will likely face serious consequences. In addition to regulations regarding professional misconduct, the statute also regulates conflicts of interests between pharmacists and their patients. The statute states that a pharmacist may not practice where a conflict of interest is present. An example of a conflict of interest as noted in the statute are situations where the pharmacist requests, accepts or receives a benefit by reason of the referral of a patient to another person.

What Types of Act or Omissions may Lead to a Finding of Professional Misconduct?

There are many different reasons a pharmacy patient may wish to file a formal complaint against their pharmacist. Generally, the patient will have had a bad experience with their pharmaceutical professional which likely resulted in some sort of injury to the patient. Some actions or behaviours that commonly lead to pharmaceutical professional misconduct complaints include; failing to maintain a standard of practice of the profession, abusing a patient emotionally, verbally or sexually, performing a controlled act that is otherwise authorized to the member where the performance of that act is for an improper purpose, practicing the professional while the member is in a conflict of interest and failing to provide an appropriate level of supervision to a person whom the member is professional obligated to supervise. Committing any of these acts, or any of the other acts listed in this section will likely lead to serious consequences for the practicing pharmacist. If you have had a formal complaint filed against you it is important to contact qualified legal counsel immediately.

The Complaint Process

Pharmacists, like any professional, owe a duty of care to their patients. Failure to discharge this duty of care may result in a formal complaint being filed with the Ontario College of Pharmacists against the practicing pharmacist and will be handled in accordance with the Regulated Health Professionals Act 1991. Virtually any member of the public can file a formal complaint against a pharmacist. Formal complaints can be filled out online on Ontario College of Pharmacists website. The complaint must be filed out in writing or using audio or visual recording and must include the following information; a concise statement outlining the complaint with as much detail as possible, the full legal name of the pharmacist as well as any other pharmacist, health care professionals or other persons who may have relevant information and the contact information of the complainant. There is no time limit on when a complaint can be filed.

What Happens when a Complaint is Filed?

Once a complaint has been received by Ontario College of Pharmacists, the College will open a file regarding the matter and will request any additional information required to begin the investigation process from the complainant. The College will also contact the pharmacy’s Designated Manager to request any relevant records relating to the pharmacist. In some cases the College will also request the complainant sign an Information Release Form which will allow the College to collect information regarding the complainants confidential medical records and also speak to other health care professionals related to the complainant who may have necessary information. Once the College has collected all the information it requires at this stage of the complaint process, they will send a complete copy of the complaint to the impugned pharmacist. The pharmacist will then have thirty days to provide a written response to the complaint to the College, which will then be given to the complainant who will then have the opportunity to return the response with comments to the College.

At this point in the process the College will conduct a full and impartial investigation into the alleged misconduct. It is expected that both the complainant and member will cooperate fully during all stages of the investigation. Once the investigation is complete the results will be sent to the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee for review. After review the Committee will make a decision as to the appropriate next steps to take.

It is important to note that a finding of professional misconduct can have very serious implications on a pharmacists ability to practice. As soon as a member becomes aware that a complaint has been filed, they are advised to contact qualified legal counsel. Our Firm can help guide you through this process to ensure you receive the best possible outcome in your case.

What Penalties can Pharmacists Face as a Result of a Complaint?

The Inquiries, Complaints and Report Committee have various options regarding how it can dispose of a matter. If the Committee feels that no misconduct has occurred they can choose to take no further action and close the file. If they do find that misconduct has occurred the Committee may require the member to complete remedial education courses such as the Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Program, issue a caution to the member regarding their behaviour, refer the member to a health committee if they believe the misconduct was caused by a health issue or refer the member to the Discipline Committee for further review. The Committee may also take any other action they deem appropriate in the circumstances barring the actions being in contravention of the Regulated Health Professions Act 1991.

Upon review, if the Discipline Committee determines that professional misconduct has occurred, the Committee will determine the best course of action to remedy the issue. There are several options available to the Committee when determining an appropriate punishment. The Committee may choose to; suspend the members license, revoke the members license, impose limitations on the members ability to practice, impose a fine or formally reprimand the member. Additionally, the finding that the member committed professional misconduct as well as the punishment associated with that finding will be published on the College’s website and open to the public. It should be noted that both the pharmacist and the complainant may appeal the decision if they do not agree with the decision.

How to Defend a Formal Complaint made to the Ontario College of Pharmacists

As with any legal matter, the best defence will depend largely on the allegations being made and the facts surrounding the case. It is important to contact qualified legal counsel immediately upon receiving notice that a formal complaint has been filed. In some cases, the allegations against the pharmacist will be unfounded, or will not amount to professional misconduct. In these situations the pharmacist may simply state that they have not violated any of the rules or regulations surrounding the proper practice of pharmacy on Ontario in their formal reply to the complaint. In situations where a more substantive response is required, a common way to defend a professional misconduct allegation is to argue that the pharmacist did not deviate from the applicable standard of care and that by doing so they sufficiently discharged their duty of care to their patient. This essentially means that the pharmacist did everything that was necessary and appropriate in the circumstances and as a result are not responsible for any negative outcome. In any case, the best plan of defence is to contact qualified legal counsel as soon as possible and allow them to assist in drafting a response to the complaint.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

In addition to the formal complaint process utilized by the Ontario College of Pharmacists, the College also employs a more informal alternative dispute resolution process. The alternative dispute resolution process is a totally voluntary program implemented to negotiate and facilitate settlements in certain cases. The process is focused on improvement and continuing education and aims to help the impugned member and the complainant reach a settlement that is agreeable to both parties. It should be noted that the agreed upon resolution must be approved by the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee. This process is generally more simple and less costly than the formal complaint process, however it is not appropriate in all cases. Only cases where there is a low risk of patient harm or harm to the public will be considered suitable for the Alternative Dispute Resolution process.

How does Alternative Dispute Resolution Work?

The alternative dispute resolution process is handled much differently than a formal complaint. Once the College has agreed that the issue is appropriate for the alternative dispute resolution process, they will hire an independent mediator to oversee the negotiations with the goal of helping the complainant and pharmacist reach a settlement that is agreeable to both parties. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the settlement will be sent to the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee for approval. If approved, the settlement will be carried out as agreed upon and the file will be closed. If the process is ultimately unsuccessful, the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee will investigate and come to their own decision regarding the complaint.

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