Responding to Complaints at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario

Complaints against chartered professional accountants, students, firms, and professional corporations at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (“CPA Ontario”) have the potential to result in stress and professional consequences. To assist, we have prepared this overview to responding to complaints at CPA Ontario.

The Director, Standards Enforcement, and/or the Professional Conduct Committee, which is comprised of volunteer accountants and public members, will review every complaint against accountants. When a complaint contains information suggesting that an accountant may have breached a rule of professional conduct, CPA Ontario will formally investigate the matter, and may appoint an investigator in more complex cases. 

Accountants must comply with the requirements of the formal complaint process, including submitting any relevant, non-privileged records and materials to CPA Ontario. As a general practice, accountants should always keep their documentation, working papers, and any other materials in compliance with the CPA Code of Professional Conduct and CPA Ontario regulations. Accountants who fail to comply with procedural requirements, including providing requested documents, may become subject to professional discipline.

Where the Professional Conduct Committee has concerns that an accountant may pose a significant risk of harm to the public, it may apply for the imposition of a preliminary suspension or restrictions on the accountant’s practice. CPA Ontario may also make a potential capacity application where there are reasonable grounds to believe an accountant may be incapacitated.

After the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator, when applicable, will prepare a report for review by a subcommittee of the Professional Conduct Committee. Often, the subcommittee will directly question the accountant in person prior to making its disposition. It may be prudent for accountants to retain a lawyer, as legal counsel can assist with preparing written responses and oral statements, and with navigating the formal complaint process as a whole.

Upon the conclusion of its investigation and review, the Professional Conduct Committee may make any of the following dispositions:

  • Take no further action;
  • Provide guidance, advice, or an admonishment to an accountant/student/firm; 
  • Negotiate a settlement agreement with an accountant/student/firm; 
  • Refer a matter to the Discipline Committee; 
  • Refer a matter directly to the Registrar for consideration; or
  • Take any other appropriate remedial action.

If it receives relevant new information, documents, or materials, the Professional Conduct Committee may reconsider any disposition other than a referral to discipline. When a complaint is dismissed or results in the issuing of guidance, advice, or an admonishment, complainants may apply to the Reviewer of Complaints for an independent review. In cases in which accountants are also licenced to practice public accounting, complainants may apply to the Public Accountants Council for the Province of Ontario to review the decision of the Reviewer of Complaints. Otherwise, the decision of the Reviewer of Complaints is final. 

In cases in which accountants are referred to the Discipline Committee, a formal hearing will take place, which is similar to a trial. The CPA Ontario website will provide notice of any upcoming discipline hearings. If the Discipline Committee finds an accountant guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence, it may do any of the following: 

  • Issue a formal reprimand and/or fine;
  • Order further training or study;
  • Order a period of practice monitoring
  • Impose terms, limitations, or conditions on an accountant’s practice;
  • Suspend or revoke an accountant’s membership or registration; or
  • Take any other action allowed by the legislation.

CPA Ontario will publish the allegations, decisions, orders, and written reasons for findings of professional misconduct on its website. An accountant or other party may appeal the Discipline Committee’s final decision to the Appeal Committee.

Receiving a complaint at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario can be challenging. Legal counsel can assist accountants through such a situation. When subject to a complaint, accountants should be aware of the potential for a negative outcome, and should respond accordingly.