Responding to Complaints at the College of Dietitians of Ontario: What Dietitians Need to Know

Any dietitian may become subject to a complaint at the College of Dietitians of Ontario. Formal complaints have the potential to result in professional consequences, and can be stressful. To assist dietitians, we have prepared this basic guide for responding to complaints.

The College of Dietitians of Ontario typically provides dietitians with the following: notification of the complaint against them, a copy of the complaint, and their prior complaint history, if applicable. The matter will typically be investigated, after which a panel of the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (“ICRC”) will make a disposition. The ICRC is comprised of both dietitians and government appointed public members.

The College of Dietitians of Ontario generally must address all formal complaints, and may request interviews with dietitians. Failing to comply with this or any other requirement may result in professional discipline.

Whether or not dietitians consider complaints to be worthwhile, they should typically prepare a response. The formal complaint process operates through documentary exchange and review rather than oral hearing, which means that responses must be made in writing. Responses should be comprehensive, as dietitians will not have the opportunity to otherwise explain their conduct to the ICRC.

The College of Dietitians of Ontario typically requires a response from dietitians within 30 days. Preparing a response may be time consuming and challenging. Dietitians should consider speaking with lawyers who are experienced in the area of professional regulation. Once retained, legal counsel will typically become the primary point of contact with the College of Dietitians of Ontario, and will assist with the response and any other issues.

When writing their response, dietitians should consider any unique aspects of their case, including when they provided care, the complexity of care, and the possibility of a civil lawsuit. In our experience, it is often useful to format the response as a chronological account of the event.

Dietitians should enclose any relevant patient records and materials in their response to the College of Dietitians of Ontario. As a general practice, dietitians should always keep their records in compliance with the guidelines of the Dietetics Act, 1991. The ICRC can evaluate a dietitian’s records at any time, and can make a negative disposition on the basis of inadequate recordkeeping. 

After the investigation into a dietitian’s matter has concluded, the ICRC will receive and review the complaint file and may make any of the following dispositions: 

  • Take no further action; 
  • Caution a dietitian in person before the ICRC; 
  • Inquire into a dietitian’s professional capacity; 
  • Refer the matter to the Discipline Committee; or 
  • Make any other appropriate action, including ordering further investigation. 

Dietitians will typically receive written reasons explaining the ICRC’s decision. The ICRC will not provide written reasons if it has referred a dietitian to discipline or for incapacity proceedings.

The College of Dietitians of Ontario must post details of the following ICRC dispositions on the Public Register: Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Programs (“SCERP”); cautions; and referrals to discipline. This information will be available to anyone accessing a dietitian’s online profile. 

In serious cases where a dietitian’s alleged conduct exposes or is likely to expose patients to harm or injury, the ICRC may impose an interim order. Interim orders are imposed prior to final dispositions, and can last for the entirety of the formal complaint process. Interim orders can take the form of terms, limitations, or conditions on a dietitian’s certificate of registration, including licence suspension. The Registrar may also appoint a special investigator to investigate serious complaints against dietitians. Under section 75 of the Health Professions Procedural Code, this investigator has much broader powers than in the standard complaint process.

Dietitians and complainants are both able to request a review of the ICRC’s decision. Reviews take place before the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (“HPARB”), which will consider whether the College of Dietitians of Ontario’s investigation was adequate and whether the ICRC’s decision was reasonable. A review at HPARB will be based on the documents and materials that were available to the ICRC. HPARB will typically provide these materials to dietitians and complainants in advance of the review.

Responding to a complaint at the College of Dietitians of Ontario can be challenging. Legal counsel can help dietitians navigate this process. Regulatory proceedings have the potential to negatively impact dietitians, and should be approached with care.