The expression that the best defence is a good offence does not necessarily apply in the professional regulation context. In Bégin v. Chartered professional accountants (Ordre des), 2023 QCTP 53 (CanLII), an accountant was the subject of an investigation initiated by a former colleague. The accountant filed formal complaints against both the colleague and the regulatory official investigating him. The accountant later acknowledged that the complaints were frivolous and vexatious.
The regulator imposed a cumulative suspension of three years, a cumulative fine of $20,000, and terms and conditions upon reinstatement. The accountant appealed and argued that there was undue delay and that the sanction was excessive.
Even though the accountant had contributed to part of the delay, the Court had no difficulty in finding that the proceedings, which took almost 15 years, involved excessive delay. However, the accountant was unable to demonstrate that he had been prejudiced by the delay. As such there was no abuse of process.
The Court also upheld the sanction. The conduct was seen as very serious, involving the use of a process designed to protect the public to instead intimidate and threaten those holding the accountant accountable. The accountant also had a significant prior discipline history, including one matter in which he received a more lenient sanction because he had retired only for him then to seek reinstatement a few months later. Thus, there was a risk of recidivism even though the accountant was older and no longer in full-time practice. It was also considered an aggravating factor that the accountant had sought to withdraw his guilty plea five years after entering it. The accountant’s seniority in the profession was seen as an aggravating factor on the basis that he should have known better.
Despite the mitigating factors of the accountant not having engaged in further misconduct in recent years and of the excessive delay in the proceedings, the sanction remained appropriate.
Filing frivolous retaliatory complaints is serious misconduct.