Responding to Section 75 Investigations at the OCP
We often assist pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with a variety of matters at the Ontario College of Pharmacists (“OCP”). This includes responding to formal investigations under subsections 75(1)(a), (b), and (c) of the Health Professions Procedural Code (“HPPC”).
The OCP initiates section 75 investigations to determine if pharmacists have committed acts of professional misconduct or are incompetent. These investigations grant the OCP significant powers to seek and obtain a wide range of information, and have the potential to result in serious professional consequences for pharmacists.
Appointments of investigators
Section 75 investigations can be initiated in three ways:
- Section 75(1)(a) – the Registrar of the OCP may appoint one or more investigators if the Registrar:
- believes that a pharmacist has committed an act of professional misconduct or is incompetent;
- has reasonable and probable grounds for that belief; and
- obtains the approval of the Investigations, Complaints, and Reports Committee (“ICRC”) for the appointment;
- Section 75(1)(b) – the ICRC may, after receiving information about a pharmacist from the Quality Assurance Committee, request that the Registrar conduct an investigation; or
- Section 75(1)(c) – the ICRC may, after receiving a written complaint about a pharmacist, request that the Registrar conduct an investigation.
When facing a section 75 investigation, pharmacists may also be subject to interim orders. Interim orders place terms, conditions, or limitations on a pharmacist’s certificate of registration during the course of an investigation. As part of an interim order, the OCP may suspend a pharmacist’s certificate of registration for the duration of the investigation.
Scope of the Investigation and Investigative Powers
The scope of a section 75 investigation can be expansive. Investigators may inquire into any information that is relevant to the matter under investigation. Under the HPPC, some of the investigative powers in a section 75 investigation include:
- searching a pharmacist’s place of practice at any reasonable time;
- inspecting records from the office of the pharmacist under investigation;
- inspecting records of other involved practitioners and institutions;
- interviewing witnesses, including a pharmacist’s employer, employees, and colleagues;
- interviewing the complainant, if applicable;
- interviewing the pharmacist under investigation;
- placing a practice under surveillance or using undercover patients;
- obtaining a search warrant; and
- obtaining expert opinions.
Duty to Cooperate
Pharmacists are generally required to cooperate with the OCP under any circumstances. Under the regulations of the Pharmacy Act, failing to cooperate is considered disgraceful, dishonourable, or unprofessional conduct. Such conduct constitutes an independent act of professional misconduct.
Obstructing an investigation is even more serious than failing to cooperate. Acts of obstruction might include hiding a chart, refusing the entry of investigators to a practice site, or lying to investigators. Obstruction can also amount to an act of professional misconduct.
Investigators have the power to issue summonses to any witnesses, including pharmacists and third parties. A summons legally compels a witness to provide a statement and/or documents. Failing to comply with a summons may result in a contempt of court order, among other consequences.
Registrar’s Report and Pharmacist’s Response
After a section 75 investigation is complete, the investigator will provide the results to the Registrar, who must then provide a report to the ICRC. Generally, the OCP will then provide pharmacists with the report of the investigation, as well as the opportunity to make written submissions within 30 days. The ICRC generally does not hold oral hearings. It is prudent for pharmacists to review the report with legal counsel and determine what, if any, submissions they should make in response to the Registrar’s Report.
Possible Outcomes of a Section 75 Investigation
Following its receipt of the Registrar’s Report, the ICRC may make the following dispositions:
- refer the allegations to a discipline hearing;
- refer the matter for an incapacity inquiry;
- require pharmacists to appear before a panel of the ICRC to be cautioned;
- require pharmacists to complete a specified continuing education or remediation program (“SCERP”);
- take other action, including ordering further investigation; or
- take no further action.
The ICRC will provide pharmacists with a copy of its decision. In cases in which the ICRC decides to caution a pharmacist or requires their completion of a SCERP, the OCP will publish a summary to the public register. Referrals to the Discipline Committee are also made public.
Appealing Section 75 investigation decisions
There is no statutory right to appeal or review decisions of the ICRC that arise from the appointment of an investigator under section 75. However, a judicial review application may be available in certain circumstances. Pharmacists considering a judicial review application of a section 75 decision should consult legal counsel.CONNECT WITH US