Complaints at the College of Veterinarians of Ontario: What You Need To Know

Complaints at the College of Veterinarians of Ontario: What You Need To Know


ere is an experience that is common to many veterinarians. You look through your daily mail and see a letter bearing the mark of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (the “CVO”). The letter is stamped “Personal and Confidential”. You open the letter and discover that a complaint has been lodged against you at the CVO relating to your professional conduct. If you are like most veterinarians, you are unfamiliar with the complaint process and understandably concerned.

The letter advises you of the complaint lodged against you, and asks that you respond to the allegations once the exact substance of the complaint is confirmed by the College.

The initial letter will provide you with some information about what the complaints process consist of. You should be aware that once the CVO investigation into the complaint has been completed, the entire file will be provided to the CVO’s Complaints Committee, which is tasked with objectively reviewing the file and determining the most appropriate course of action. The Complaints Committee, after reviewing the evidence gathered in the investigation, has the power to: close the matter having taken no action, provide written or verbal advice to you on how to improve your practice, seek an agreement with you with regards to remedial activity such as education or, in the most serious cases, refer the matter to the CVO’s Discipline Committee for a full hearing.

The fact is, once you have received a letter advising you of a complaint against you, regardless of how trivial you think the complaint may be, action must be taken. You must prepare a response. Beyond simply the time and effort required to respond appropriately, the process that you are now engaged in and the prospect of professional consequences can put great strain on you and your family. In these circumstances, it is prudent to consider contacting legal counsel who can guide you through this unfamiliar territory.

Each case is different, and these differences should be considered in the course of preparing a written response. Factors such as the complexity of the care provided, how long ago the care was provided, and the potential that a lawsuit will be commenced in relation to the same care are all matters that may complicate the preparation of a written response. It is often helpful for the written response to include a clear and factual chronology of the events in question.

You will not have an opportunity to explain your decision-making process to the Committee in person. Your written response is therefore your only chance to make submissions to the Committee. For this reason, it is generally important to ensure that each and every one of the complainant’s concerns has been addressed in your response. If the Committee reviews your response and notes that you have failed to address particular complaints, they may not grant you an opportunity to provide further comment before disposing of the matter.

Where there is merit to a complaint, it may be appropriate to demonstrate in your written response that you have taken appropriate action to ensure that all issues of concern have been corrected. In certain circumstances, demonstrating insight into any possible failings typically reflects well on you and gives confidence to the Committee in finding that you genuinely seek to improve your practice.

Once your written response has been finalized, you should submit it to the College’s investigator assigned to deal with the complaint. Along with your response, you should attach the complete records pertaining to the matter in issue, which includes communication notes, surgery anaesthetic log, laboratory reports, controlled drug log, x-ray log, x-rays, invoices and electronic record audit trails. Even if the Committee determines that the care provided to the patient was appropriate, they may still evaluate the quality of your records. It is important that your records strive to be in compliance with the CVO’s Professional Practice Standard on Medical Records.

More minor complaints, such as miscommunication or minor standards issues, may be referred by the CVO to the Mediated Resolutions Program (“MRP”). This would divert the complaint out of the “Complaints” stream outlined above and into the “Mediation” stream. The member and complainant must both consent to a matter being referred to MRP, in which case an independent facilitator will work with both parties to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution. Any agreement under the MRP must be approved by the College’s Complaints Committee. If an agreement cannot be reached within the MRP, the complaint would proceed through the regular complaints process.

Both you and the complainant have the opportunity to appeal the decision of the Complaints Committee to the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (“HPARB”). When a decision is appealed to the HPARB, it will consider whether the investigation undertaken by the CVO was adequate, whether the decision made by the Committee was reasonable.

A complaint made against you may carry significant professional consequences. Retaining specialized legal counsel can assist you in preparing your written response and guide you through the process. Complaints to the CVO happen to many veterinarians during their career. However, a failure to take these complaints seriously could have adverse consequences to a veterinarian.