In the recent decision of Goodwin v Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors, 2022 ABQB 177 (Goodwin), the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta affirmed that individuals subject to an administrative disciplinary process are required to first exhaust the remedies before the administrative tribunal before applying for court intervention, including matters involving a Charter claim.
In Goodwin, a chiropractor (the Applicant) brought an application against the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors (the College) in the face of an upcoming disciplinary hearing. The Applicant was alleged to have entered into a sexual relationship with a patient, in contravention of the College’s Standards of Practice (the Standards of Practice). However, the patient in question remains the Applicant’s romantic partner, and the Applicant asserts they should be considered “spouses” and therefore be exempt from the relevant Standards of Practice concerning a professional’s relationship with a patient. As it stands, the Applicant and the patient are romantically involved but not cohabitating, which would arguably not meet the definition of “spouses”. The Applicant claims that his religious beliefs prohibit cohabitation before marriage and, as a result, the relationship is unable to meet the definition of “spouse” as defined in the exemption.
The Applicant brought forward the application requesting: (i) a declaration that the definition of “spouse” within the Standards of Practice unjustifiably infringed on his right to the freedom of religion under the Charter, or (ii) a declaration that he and his partner were “spouses” within the meaning of the Standards or Practice.
The Applicant argued that the application ought to be heard ahead of the disciplinary hearing. The argument was based on the fact that, since the College referred the matter to a disciplinary hearing, it must have already determined that the Applicant and his partner did not fit within the definition of “spouses” under the Standard of Practice.
Relevant legislative and regulatory framework
The Health Professions Act, RSA 2000, c H-7 (HPA) permits healthcare professionals to self-regulate their profession through governing bodies, an example of which is the College, the governing body for chiropractors. The HPA at s. 66(3)(a) states that the complaints director of a College must, upon completion of their investigation, refer the matter to a disciplinary hearing, unless they determine that it is a trivial matter or that there is insufficient evidence.
The College’s Standards of Practice outline the restrictions on its members regarding patient relationships, including a prohibition on dating and/or sexual relationships with a current patient. However, the exception to the prohibition is that the College’s Standards of Practice does “not preclude a regulated member from engaging in clinical encounters with a spouse, common-law spouse or partner in an adult interdependent relationship as defined by the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act of Alberta.”
The role of administrative tribunals
In rejecting the application, the Court concluded that the College’s disciplinary hearing was the appropriate venue for the matter to be heard and that the Applicant’s Charter rights could be sufficiently considered and protected through the disciplinary process set out by HPA.
The Court in Goodwin affirmed that when an administrative disciplinary process is available, it is inappropriate for a court to pre-emptively step in and grant declaratory relief to a claimant. Instead, a claimant must proceed through the administrative dispute resolution process, and should bring the matter to the Courts only when the permitted to do so under the relevant administrative legislation.
Further, the Court made this ruling despite the Charter challenge raised by the Applicant, finding that the HPA disciplinary process sufficiently protected the Applicant’s right to bring forward a Charter issue.
Goodwin reaffirmed that Courts “should decline to grant declaratory relief ‘where there exists an adequate alternative statutory mechanism to resolve the dispute or protect the right in question.” Notably, in Goodwin, the Court found that, even in the face of a Charter challenge, it was the disciplinary tribunal that was in the best position to make an initial determination. Given the Applicant had the ability to appeal the tribunal’s decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal, there was sufficient jurisdiction present in the College’s complaint procedure for the Charter challenges to be heard. As such, Goodwin stands as a good reminder that the administrative dispute resolution process cannot be bypassed, and a claimant subject to such a process must state their case first in front of the administrative tribunal before bringing the matter to the Court.
This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.
 Goodwin v Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors, 2022 ABQB 177.
 Ibid at para 1.
 Ibid at paras 1-3 and 10.
 Ibid at para 3
 Ibid at para 29.
 Ibid at para 30.
 Ibid at para 15.
 Ibid at para 28.
 The Standards of Practice are standards of professional behaviour and conduct set by the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors that are required of all chiropractors in Alberta to ensure that chiropractors interact safely and appropriately with their patients and the public.
 Ibid at para 20 and 21; The Standards of Practice for Chiropractors, section 6.3
 The Standards of Practice for Chiropractors, section 6.2
 Goodwin at para 48.