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Article

Did the regulatory body for BC dental care go too far in taking the public to task in the courts?
According to the dental laws of the province, it is the duty of the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia:
    (a) to serve and protect the public, and
    (b) to exercise its powers and discharge its responsibilities under all enactments in the public interest.
Dentists Act and Rules

college of dental surgeons of bc

In an unprecedented move by a Health care regulatory body in Canada, the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia made an application to the Supreme Court Of British Columbia claiming that BC dental patients could not appeal its decisions under the British Columbia laws of Dentistry.

The College's action arose out of a written complaint to the College from a dental patient about the professional conduct of Dr. Dennis Nimchuk, a prosthodontist practising in Vancouver, in connection with a dental implant which failed, and with the level of care he provided after the procedure was performed. The patient also alleged that the dentist's office assistant obstructed her attempts to have the dentist attend to her needs as complications arose and her condition deteriorated, and, further, that the dentist allowed the assistant to behave in this way. The College investigated the complaint, decided to take no action and closed the file.

When the patient tried to appeal the College's decision to the court (the College's Registrar had referred her to the Appeals section on the College's web site which indicated that appeals had to be made to the Supreme Court of British Columbia), the College without forewarning counteracted by making its own application to the Court claiming that BC dental patients were not entitled to have appeal rights under the provincial laws of dentistry.

The College is the regulatory body for the dental profession and one of its functions is to process and investigate dental patients complaints arising from dental services provided in British Columbia by its membership (the dentists and dental assistants). Considering that almost all the complaints that the public submits are eventually dismissed (according to the College, between 2000 to 2005, two dentists "were found guilty of ... contravention of the Act or Rules") one wonders why
Dental complaints bin
the College would bother to take the public to task in the courts. Particularly since some years back, the College had told a government appointed Task Force that under the BC laws of dentistry BC dental patients had the right to appeal the College's decisions (Health Professions Council preliminary report, 1998).

According to the dental laws of the province, it is the duty of the college at all times:

    (a) to serve and protect the public, and
    (b) to exercise its powers and discharge its responsibilities under all enactments in the public interest.
The College's Mission Statement assures
    "British Columbians of professional standards of oral health care, ethics and competence by regulating dentistry in a fair and reasonable manner."
The College apparently didn't see any wrongdoing in regard to its own conduct when it made the claim to the BC Supreme Court that dental patients had no appeal rights under BC dental laws. Nor did the College provide any reasons or justification that the public interest would be best served by the application that the College made to the court.

There were some serious complications and possible setbacks for the Canadian public with the College's position in its application to the courts: The obvious was the college's discriminatory stance - for example, if the dental patient was also a dentist (after all, dentists have dentists for their dental care too), then the College would allow an appeal under BC dental laws all the way to the courts. However, over three million British Columbian dental patients who are not dentists or in the dental profession, would have no appeal rights under the BC dental laws. It is hard to understand how the College justified its action as "regulating dentistry in a fair and reasonable manner".

The BC Health Ministry may have prevented the College from pursuing its court action. After all, the Ministry oversees the College. For some reason, the Ministry did not stop the College from pursuing the court action. Nor did the Provincial government.

Disturbing about the College's actions is that the dental patient had no forewarning of the College's intent to pursue the matter of appeal entitlement under provincial dental laws in court. The (former) College Registrar, Heather Laing, a lawyer, had failed to forewarn or inform the patient of the College's intentions. The College undertook the court action knowing that the patient was undergoing extensive and ongoing remedial treatments and surgeries as a result of the Prosthodontist's work and conduct. The College had in its employ Four lawyers against the patient which consisted of the College's then registrar, Heather Laing, and counsel from the Davis and Company legal firm. At court, two of the four lawyers represented the College. The patient had no legal counsel and could not afford legal representation at either the provincial Supreme Court level or the provincial Court Of Appeal level.

In the THE SUPREME COURT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA before Mr. Justice W.F. Ehrcke in June, 2005, British Columbia dental patients lost all rights to appeal the College's complaint decisions under the dental laws of British Columbia.

The outcome in the Court was particularly perilous because all Canadian provinces have dental regulatory bodies simillar to the BC College Of Dental Surgeons and the court's decision clearly paved the way for other Colleges to follow suit.

The decision was single-handedly appealed by the dental patient to the COURT OF APPEAL OF BRITISH COLUMBIA before The Honourable Chief Justice Finch and the Hon. Justices Donald and Low, where the decision was overturned and appeal rights were thereby restored for all BC dental patients under the dental laws of the Province.

The College battled from 2005-2007 in the two courts.

One of the reasons that the patient (F. Allen) believes that the College was able to take the action against her in the courts is that "the public is very under-represented on all the College's committees and the College Council." On the eighteen member Council, there are twelve college members compared to only six individuals representing the public. A partial list of College committees showing college and public representation is below:

Ethics Committee (January, 2009) 7 college members, 3 college staff, 2 public representatives
Inquiry Committee (January, 2009) 12 college members, 1 college staff, 5 public representatives
Practice Standards Committee (January, 2009) 9 college members, 1 college staff, 3 public representatives
Professional Conduct Committee (January, 2009) 11 college members, 2 college staff, 3 public representatives
Quality Assurance Committee (January, 2009) 7 college members, 3 college staff, 2 public representatives


In the patient's view, "Such a misrepresentation of the public's input in their dental care will continue to create a monopoly of power for the College (and the misuse of such power). I don't believe that the College would have used me to take action in the courts to quash the public's appeal rights if there had been equal public representation in any of the decisions leading to that court action."

One of the changes since the College's court action is that the Province will be placing the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia under new health legislation, The Health Professions Act (HPA) in 2009. In the HPA there will continue to be unequal representation of public representatives on all the College's committees and its Council.

Without at least equal public representation in all decision-making, the BC public cannot hope to have any say in their present and future dental care. The College can continue to overide the complaint process, the overall direction of dentistry to benefit itself and its membership, and to monopolize its actions over the unsuspecting and trusting public to serve its own self-interest.



Update Letter to BC Premier and Health Minister

British Columbians are also urged to email the following letter in support of equal public representation on all the committees and the Council of the College Of Dental Surgeons Of BC
(changes can made to the text):


Full Name:
My E-mail: 
Locale I live in:
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