Limits to the Duty of Confidentiality by Registrants to Clients

To obtain the best possible services, clients need to be forthcoming and candid with their service providers. For that reason, there is a strong duty of confidentiality imposed on registrants (i.e., the service providers). However, there are exceptions to that duty of confidentiality; disclosure of child abuse is one of them. The case of Chatillon c. R., 2022 QCCA 1072 (CanLII), https://canlii.ca/t/jr9jv explores the tension between these competing principles.

An individual with addiction issues sought treatment. The individual believed that, in order to obtain effective treatment, they needed to be honest with their treating professionals. The individual disclosed that they had sexually abused a child, believing that this confession would be confidential. The treating professionals ensured that the information was reported to the child protective authorities who, in turn, informed the police. The ensuing criminal charges and finding were based entirely on the confession of the individual to their treating professionals.

The majority of the Court found that the communications were protected by privilege and could not be used in the criminal proceedings. The Court even questioned, in passing, whether disclosure to the child protective authorities was required under the provincial law because there was, on the facts of the case, no ongoing threat to the child. In ruling that the confession could not be used in the criminal proceedings, the majority of the Court was concerned about the ability of the individual to receive effective treatment if their confession was used in this way.

The majority of the Court was particularly troubled that the treating professionals did not have a clear protocol on disclosing to the individual the limits of their duty of confidentiality before obtaining the confession. Those comments may be of special relevance to regulators in establishing standards of practice and educating registrants about the need to warn clients as to the limits of confidentiality of the information provided by clients.

Addendum: On March 20, 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the decision of the majority of the Quebec Court of Appeal, holding that the patient had waived the confidentiality of the communications such that they could be relied upon by the criminal court: R. v. Chatillon, 2023 SCC 7 (CanLII), <https://canlii.ca/t/jw7p0>.

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