The Ontario NDP government has presented a bill that angers both pro-lifers and the pro-abortionists.

Let’s not stop there.  It angers a coalition of twelve churches (including Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists and Mennonites).  It angers Jewish rabbis.  It also angers a host of social workers and previously non-regulated people such as naturopaths and other private counseling groups.

The new legislation includes Bill 43, The Regulated Health Professionals Act (the Professions Act); Bill 55, An Act respecting the regulation of the Profession of Medicine (the Medicine Act); and Bill 63, An Act respecting the regulation of the Profession of Psychology (The Psychology Act).

All three interact to affect the practice of clergy, social workers and non-regulated practitioners.

The Professions Act (Bill 43) states that no person shall perform a “controlled act” unless he is a member of a regulated “Health Professions.”

A “controlled act” is defined in s. 26(1) as the communication of a “diagnosis”.  This word, says the author of the legislation, is broad enough to encompass “telling my child, you have a cold.”

Subsection 28.1(4) of the Professions Act (Bill 55) purports to exempt unregulated counselors as follows:
“Subsection 26(1) does not apply with respect to a communication made in the course of counseling about emotional, social, educational, or spiritual matters, as long as it is not a communication that a health profession act authorizes members to make.”

However, the exemption is rendered ineffective by the last phrase in that section.  These three acts authorize members of those professions to communicate about the very matters listed in s.28.1(4), thus making them “controlled acts,” and thereby removing the  protection granted to unregulated counselors.

In its most literal sense, this legislation means that a mother who says to her child in the morning: “You’ve got a cold,” is giving a “medical opinion”, says Alan Schwartz, speaking before the Standing Committee on Social Development on September 16, 1991.  This could be a violation of the law, he admits.

“I do believe that if push comes to shove it does mean diagnosis, as it would be defined by a court looking at the facts,” Mr. Schwartz added.

When a pro-life counselor calls out to a woman going in for an abortion: ‘Don’t kill your baby!’ a police officer could ask the counselor ‘Are you her doctor?’  If the answer is ‘No’ he could rightly say that the pro-life counselor was giving out ‘medical’ advice regarding a ‘health condition’ that under the bill he is not qualified to give.

Social workers, clergy and volunteer counselors could face criminal charges and/or fines up to $25,000.

Under the Regulated Health Professions Act of 1991 and the companion legislation Bill 43, “medical opinions” may only be provided by the members of medical professions; these include practitioners of medicine, nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy and psychology.

But most priests and ministers, for example, do not have degrees in psychology.

Coalition of Churches

One of the legislative committee members insisted that the bill wasn’t meant to stop clergy “talking to their members.”  Rev. Bob Cuyler, an Anglican priest, replied: “I guess that’s all you think we do is sit around and drink tea all day and ‘talk’ to our parishioners.  We don’t.  We counsel, preach, lecture and teach.”

Fr. Cuyler, who heads up the Coalition of Churches that fought the bill, said that the committee didn’t listen to him.  He thinks that freedom of speech suffered on November 22 of last year when Premier Rae’s NDP government rammed through the bill in the Ontario legislature.

Queen’s Park was supposed to convene a Committee of the Whole where criticisms of the ill might have been voiced and amendments moved, said Fr. Cuyler.  Then suddenly there was a flip-flop from some assumed supporters and the bill went directly into third and final reading.  It was passed without any serious further debate on November 22.

Dangerous intrusion

“In my opinion this legislation represents a very dangerous intrusion by the established healing professions into the province of spiritual and ethical institutions, and indeed, into the rights of all Canadians,” said Victor Urban, a Toronto barrister, who gave his legal opinion to Rev. Hay.

His legal opinion is backed up strongly by a number of other lawyers who were contacted by Fr. Cuyler.  The whole problem could have been resolved, said Cuyler, if the committee would have accepted the phrase: “As long as they are operating within the sphere of their competence.”  This phrase was rejected outright.

History of Bill 43

The history of Bill 43 is fascinating.  It was initiated by the provincial Conservatives about seven or eight years ago on request of the medical professionals.  The Liberals drafted the bill and had it all ready to go when they too were thrown out of office.

The NDP, according to Fr. Cuyler, not expecting to get elected, found themselves in desperate need of some bill to fill in their agenda and they lit on Bill 43.  It was something.

Liberal Elinor Caplan, a former Minister of Health in the Liberal government of David Peterson, chaired an all-party committee of twelve.  This committee made alterations to the bill and pushed it through.

Bob Hay, a Protestant minister from British Columbia, has been in Toronto since September fighting Bill 43.  He explained that the B.C. government introduced a similar bill in 1978.  It was passed but never enacted.  Two years later, Mr. Hay said, the province’s minister of health was forced to resign over its freedom-denying contents and the bill was abandoned.  Let’s hope that the new law meets a similar fate.

It’s a dangerous law.