Board affirms sanctions against doctor who posted vaccine-related misinformation online

Doctor sought review alleging breach of freedom of expression under the Charter rights

Board affirms sanctions against doctor who posted vaccine-related misinformation online

The Ontario Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (HPARB) has affirmed a decision of the Inquiries Complaints and Reports Committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) to discipline a doctor for posting vaccine-related misinformation online.

In Matheson v Pyle, the applicant, a general practitioner, posted online statements regarding diseases and vaccinations in 2018. In his social media posts, he stated that “measles was benign” and “there are too many vaccines” and described flu vaccines as a “failed public health initiative.” In his complaint, the respondent alleged that the applicant demonstrated unprofessional behaviour since the statements lacked clinical evidence.

The committee found that the applicant’s vaccine-related statements were inappropriate, posed a risk to public health and damaged public trust in the medical profession. As a result, the applicant must appear before the CPSO to be cautioned with respect to his statements and provide a written report reflecting on the CPSO’s Practice Guide and social media policy.

The applicant sought a review of the committee’s decision before the HPARB on the basis that his right to free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been breached.

In its decision, the HPARB upheld the committee’s decision to impose sanctions on the applicant.

According to the HPARB, the Supreme Court of Canada set out the appropriate approach when considering Charter challenges to administrative decisions in the case of Doré v. Barreau du Québec. In that case, the court held that an administrative decision is reasonable if it reflects a proportionate balancing of the Charter protection with the statutory mandate.

The HPARB noted that the the committee, in reaching a decision, must be consistent with the CPSO’s statutory mandate. Under s. 3(1)8 of the Health Professions Procedural Code, the CPSO must “promote and enhance relations between the CPSO and its members, other health profession colleges, key stakeholders and the public.”

In finding that the applicant’s vaccine-related statements were inappropriate, posed a risk to public health and damaged public trust in the medical profession, the committee reflected the CPSO’s mandate to promote relationships between its members and the public under s. 3(1)8, the HPARB said.  

Thus, the HPARB ruled that the committee’s decision, particularly cautioning the applicant and requiring him to provide a written report, was reasonable since it proportionately balanced the CPSO’s statutory mandate with the Charter right to free speech.

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