Rescinding Registration

Can a regulator rescind a person’s licence once it has been issued? This complex question received a partial answer in Amendola v. Law Society of Ontario, 2023 ONSC 4123 (CanLII).

In that case a paralegal was issued a licence after declaring on their application that they had not been disciplined by a professional organization and had never had a penalty imposed by an administrative tribunal. More then ten years later the regulator learned that the paralegal had been disciplined and ordered to pay an administrative penalty of $10,000 by the discipline committee of the Real Estate Council of Ontario, the licensing body for Ontario real estate professionals. Rather than sending the matter for a conduct (discipline) hearing, the legal regulator referred the matter for a registration hearing, which determined that the paralegal had deliberately failed to disclose the sanction.

The regulator’s enabling statute stated that an applicant who made a false representation or declaration “is deemed thereafter not to meet, and not to have met, the requirements for the issuance of any licence under the Act”. The regulator’s hearing and appeal panels employed that provision to deem the paralegal inadmissible as a licensee. They did not consider whether the paralegal was currently of good character.

The paralegal challenged the jurisdiction of the regulator to reverse a decision to issue a licence once it had been issued. The Court accepted as reasonable the statutory interpretation that the deeming provision authorized the reversal of the licensing decision taken ten years previously.

Whether an applicant’s false statement is discovered before or after licensing, its bearing on the applicant’s integrity and character, and the risk to the public, is the same. The interpretation that the Applicant urges would provide the LSO with authority to address the false statements in licence applications only if discovered before a licence is granted. As the majority of the Appeal Division found, such an interpretation would “[pave] the way for applicants to falsify information the Law Society considers critical to an application for a licence, in the hope that they can get away with the lie, become a member of the legal professions and continue to practise, effectively with impunity”: Appeal Decision, at para. 14. That situation would frustrate the legislative purpose of the licensing regime and impede the LSO’s ability to fulfill its statutory duty of public protection, maintenance of high ethical standards, and maintenance of public confidence in the legal professions.

The Court rejected the statutory interpretation arguments of the paralegal, especially given the phrase “deemed … not to have met”. The Court also rejected the argument that the result of automatic licence revocation was too harsh to have been intended. The Court also rejected the argument that this result was also not intended because it would raise questions as to the validity of the services already rendered by the paralegal during the past decade, such as commissioning documents.

The Court held that since a hearing was provided as to whether the false declaration was deliberately made, procedural fairness was provided. The fact that the paralegal could not attempt to prove that they were now of good character was not unfair, especially since it was open for the paralegal to make a fresh application for licensure based on any changed circumstances. The holding of a hearing distinguishes this case from that of Haramic v. College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario (Registrar), 2017 ONSC 5668 (CanLII).

Questions remain about rescinding registration in other circumstances (e.g., where the regulator made an error about an applicant’s meeting an education or examination requirement). However, where the enabling legislation provides for rescission of registration based on a false declaration, such action is within the regulator’s jurisdiction.

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