A Waterloo, Ont., chiropractor has lost his licence to practice after he violated a zero-tolerance policy by treating his girlfriend.
Courts cannot turn a blind eye to even the most marginal violations of zero-tolerance policies that prohibit sex with patients, the Ontario Court of Appeal said in a 3-0 decision yesterday.
"This decision unequivocally makes it clear to health-care providers that zero tolerance means zero tolerance," said Chris Paliare, a lawyer for the College of Chiropractors of Ontario. "It is crystal clear. You cannot have sex with a patient."
The chiropractor, Vincent Leering, moved in with the complainant, a teacher, in March, 2005. The complainant switched chiropractors and received 28 treatments from Dr. Leering, prior to leaving him in October.
Instead of the woman paying for her treatments, Dr. Leering routinely marked each bill as paid. The complainant then submitted them to her insurer for reimbursement, and passed on each reimbursement to Dr. Leering.
After the woman left him, Dr. Leering tried to collect a final bill from her for $567. When she failed to pay, he referred the account to a collection agency. The woman complained to the College of Chiropractors of Ontario.
The college concluded that Dr. Leering had embarked on an unacceptable relationship with a patient and further exploited his "power imbalance" to cause emotional harm to the woman after she left him.
However, its decision was later overturned by a Divisional Court panel.
Reinstating the college's finding yesterday, the Court of Appeal said it is wrong for any court or disciplinary body to probe into the particulars of a relationship.
"Their expertise is not in spousal relations or dynamics," Madam Justice Kathryn Feldman said, writing on behalf of Mr. Justice Russell Juriansz and Madam Justice Gloria Epstein. "Nor, would it be fruitful, productive or relevant to the standards of the profession for the committee to investigate the intricacies of the sexual and emotional relationship between the professional and the complainant."
The mere fact that Dr. Leering was having sex with the complainant was all that mattered - no matter the circumstances, Judge Feldman said.
Mr. Paliare said that zero-tolerance provisions were created expressly to prevent judges and disciplinary bodies from deciding whether they felt that a case was borderline.
"In many cases, the sexual relationship might be described as consensual in the sense that the practitioner isn't tearing somebody's clothes off," Mr. Paliare said. "But the legislature has determined that patients cannot be seen as inventory for health-care providers.
"You can't treat somebody 28 times, send the bill off to an insurance company, then claim that the care was incidental and that she wasn't a patient," he said.