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Professional associations are guardians of the public interest

By: Ken Allred

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 22, 2014 06:00 am

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The recent decision of the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Mihaly and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) certainly raises cause for concern amongst all professional associations in Alberta, and in fact across Canada.

In essence the decision challenges the process of evaluating the credentials of foreign applicants for registration to practice in Canada. The tribunal decision centres around an application for registration by a graduate of a Slovak university for registration with APEGA.

The board of examiners for APEGA reviewed the application and transcripts of the individual and being that they had no detailed and reliable information on the applicant’s program, required that he sit for three academic examinations to confirm his credentials, take a course in engineering economics, get one year of Canadian experience and sit for a standard professional examination. The later examination is required of all candidates, including graduates from Alberta engineering schools.

The candidate actually sat for the professional examination on three occasions and failed it on all three attempts. He objected to having to sit for the three academic examinations claiming his masters of science diploma from the Slovak Technical University and certificate in corrosion engineering qualified him to practice as an engineer in his home country.

It is interesting to note that his degree was only a five-year program and was obtained in the 1970s. These issues do not appear to have been considered by the tribunal, nor did they seem to put any weight on the fact that he had failed the professional examination, not once but on three occasions. In a review of the decision it is apparent that the APEGA process is comprehensive, rigorous and objective.

In its conclusion the tribunal ruled that APEGA’s evaluation process was discriminatory in that it applied standard rules for foreign academic institutions that were not accredited by either APEGA or the national engineering accreditation organization. It ordered APEGA to form a committee of internationally-educated engineers to re-evaluate Mihaly’s academic record, provide him with a personal mentor and pay him $10,000. APEGA has filed an appeal.

The tribunal’s decision is very troubling in that the responsibility of all professional associations – whether it be the College of Physicians and Surgeons, APEGA or whichever – is to ensure that all practitioners have the required academic and experiential qualification to practice in a safe and competent manner.

There are thousands of post-secondary institutions around the world, some with high standards, some with very low standards. The quality of service in many countries also varies from high to low. Canadians expect the highest of standards and we have systems in place, such as professional associations, to ensure that those standards are maintained.

The safety of our infrastructure is very important. Bridge collapses, pipeline explosions and roof cave-ins all cost lives and endanger our everyday living. We expect them to be safe and reliable.

Canada has a very sophisticated system of professional regulation that provides assurance to society that doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professional practitioners are competent to practice and in turn ensure the public a high degree of safety and confidence in the systems that we often take for granted. Our regulatory system works well and ensures that all practitioners, either foreign or domestic are competent to practice.

We, the public, entrust our professional associations to ensure that we can rely on the services they provide.

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.


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