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Doctor has no right to francophone panel, Ontario discipline committee rules


TORONTO — A francophone doctor accused of misconduct by Ontario's medical regulator has lost his bid to have his case heard by a French-speaking disciplinary panel.

In ruling against Dr. Mathieu Belanger, the discipline committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario decided he had no right to a panel that could operate in French without an interpreter.

Belanger, owner of Inovo Medical in Ottawa, argued the law governing the college grants him the right to have his case heard by people who can fully understand and speak French. He sought a stay until such a panel could be struck.

"He submits that a discipline hearing with interpretation is not sufficient to guarantee his language rights," the committee said in its ruling.

For its part, the college argued Belanger had no free-standing right to a bilingual hearing panel. It said it didn't have the power to ensure one was constituted given that it is partially dependent on government appointees.

"The fact that there is only one bilingual public member appointed to the college’s council, it is currently impossible to convene a bilingual discipline panel," the recent ruling states. "If Dr. Belanger were deemed to have the right to a bilingual panel in a discipline hearing, it would result in the indefinite stay of his discipline hearing."

Belanger whose clinic focuses on chronic pain management previously had his licence suspended for five months in 2018 for running afoul of college rules. Documents show he treated patients with nerve blocks although the clinic was not approved for the procedure.

He is now accused of misconduct and incompetence. The unproven allegations, among other things, relate to providing medical care to relatives, performing out-of-hospital procedures without approval, and failure to provide appropriate care to patients.

Neither Belanger nor his lawyer had any comment.

The language dispute turned on Section 86 of the Health Professions Procedural Code, which guarantees the right "to use French in all dealings with the college" where reasonable. 

Among Belanger's arguments, he expressed concern about the accuracy of simultaneous interpretation, saying nuances of testimony and evidence could be lost or misunderstood. He maintained the college ignored case law and had an outdated understanding of language rights.

In the first decision on the right to a bilingual panel, the committee said it had the "difficult task" of interpreting the section but ruled against Belanger.

"This section provides for the use of French in the giving or receiving of communications at a hearing, but this wording does not confer an express right to a bilingual panel," the committee found. 

While the committee agreed a hearing through an interpreter is not the same as having a bilingual panel, it said Belanger would not suffer any prejudice or disadvantage with interpretation.

The committee did decide Belanger could file documents in French, and that the panel would provide its reasons in French, by translation from English if necessary.

"There is no question that French-language rights should be vigorously promoted in Canada," the committee ruled. "Nevertheless, the committee finds that Section 86 of the code does not provide that the right to have all dealings in French is the same as requiring a matter to be heard before a bilingual panel."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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