The following analysis discusses the rules in the Code of Professional Conduct (the “Code”) that outline a licensee’s ethical obligations towards the College, CIPO and other persons. This scenario, while providing a helpful example to illustrate a licensee’s ethical obligations, is loosely based on an agent conduct inquiry which was successfully resolved. The agent conduct inquiry process is a means by which the College can, where appropriate, employ early resolution mechanisms for concerns raised about licensees. An agent conduct inquiry may be initiated by anyone, whether it be a member of the public, another licensee, a CIPO employee, etc.
Licensees should be aware that if they are submitting an agent conduct inquiry about another licensee, they have an ethical obligation to ensure that their “correspondence and remarks…concerning another agent…must be fair, accurate and courteous” (Rule 8-2).
A licensee and a government employee had a discussion in which the licensee became frustrated with a government policy. When the government employee shared the policy with the agent, the licensee made a remark using language that could be considered inappropriate/unprofessional. The government employee contacted the College with an agent conduct inquiry and the College, with the consent of the government employee, contacted the agent to discuss.
Under the Code of Professional Conduct (the Code), a licensee must conduct themselves in a professional manner and must refrain from conduct that brings discredit to the profession (see Rules 7-1 and 7-2).
Under the Code, a licensee must also be courteous and civil and act in good faith with all persons with whom they have dealings in the course of their practice (see Part 7 – Principle and Rule 8-1(1)).
According to the Code, a licensee also has an obligation to “assist in maintaining the standards of the profession in dealings with the College and members of the profession generally” (Part 7 – Principle).
When the College contacted the licensee, the licensee explained that in their conversation with the government employee they were expressing their frustration with the policy and not the employee’s work. The licensee said, however, that they regretted their choice of words. The licensee offered to call the government employee to repair the relationship.
The College relayed this message to the inquirer/government employee, who declined a call with the licensee and told the College that they considered their concern satisfactorily resolved. The College then notified both parties that it considered the concern resolved.
Ultimately the agent conduct inquiry process, an alternative to the complaints process, provides an opportunity for concerns to be received, heard and dealt with proportionately and expediently. The agent conduct inquiry process also provides the College an opportunity to meaningfully connect with licensees about their ethical obligations under the Code in the public interest.
The Code does not require a standard of perfection, and recognizes, as does the College, that people make mistakes. Sometimes, an informal approach to problem solving is most effective – it can de-escalate a situation, help both parties gain a more healthy and holistic perspective, understand the harm that can be caused by apparently simple Interactions, and engage the parties in identification and resolution of the harm rather than having a solution imposed on them.
We look forward to receiving more inquiries and providing more guidance to licensees. It helps us identify areas where further information or analysis might be instructive and it will help to inform our consultation on the Code, which will be rolling out in early 2023.