Sometimes an incident occurs in life which crystallizes all that is wrong or all that is right about a given situation.   A recent ruling by the Complaints Committee of the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP), and subsequently upheld by the Health Profession Appeal & Review Board (HPARB), against an Ontario pharmacist is one of these crystallizing moments.  In this case this ruling could not better exemplify all that is wrong with the OCP (and with HPARB).  It’s a classic.


The piece, published on the Canadian Healthcare Network (CHN), garnered 109 reader comments, maybe a record.  All comments were highly critical of the ruling and came from incensed pharmacists right across the country.

In law, “Justice must not only be done, it must seem to be done”.  In this case not only was justice not done, but a great injustice was perpetrated, not only on the unfortunate pharmacist involved, but on the pharmacy profession as a whole, and indeed all pharmacists across the country.

First, the incident involved an individual who was neither a patient of the pharmacy nor a customer of the pharmacy involved; the individual was a post office customer.  Under what jurisdiction did the OCP exercise its duty?  Why did the irate customer complain to the OCP in the first place?  The incident whereby the pharmacist did not “fetch” the parcel on demand did not involve a patient/ pharmacist encounter.  The irate customer could have complained that she was not satisfied with the retail service she received from an employee to the owner of the store, a retail service matter, not a professional misconduct matter.  The pharmacist’s reaction or behaviour had nothing to do with his professional duties as a pharmacist.  Maybe if he wasn’t wearing the ubiquitous white coat, she might not have known he was a pharmacist.  The white coat and the pharmacy setting made him the target for her misplaced and rude behaviour and subsequent complaint.

What if the incident occurred in a parking lot, or between disputing neighbours, or between spouses?  Where does the jurisdiction of the OCP to meddle in the lives and personalities of pharmacists’ end?  What did this incident have to do with the pharmacist’s lack of knowledge of jurisprudence?  This was not a statutory or legal issue, it was behavioural on both the part of an irate customer and a store employee.

The OCP could have simply indicated that this incident did not fall under the definition of a pharmacy activity and was therefore not within its purview.  But no, in its over zealousness to appear to always be “acting in the interest of the public”, the OCP did not hesitate to take down the pharmacist and apply ridiculous punishments which went far beyond what was justified under the circumstances.

The compulsion for the pharmacist to attend a ‘Managing Conflict when People are Angry Course” borders on imposing mind-bending central state tyranny.  The course happens to be given by a company which one of the HPARB panel members was once a VP of.  Conflict of interest anyone?

What business does the OCP have trying to alter the behavioural characteristics of its members, most of whom are less than perfect.  This ruling could not reveal more how far off track the OCP is in exercising its mandate.  The OCP does nothing to attempt to impact on the total loss of control of the profession to big business interests but chooses to focus on hammering a frustrated pharmacist trying to deal with an unreasonable angry retail customer.

He probably does not have the money or the time, but if this unjustly persecuted pharmacist took this matter to civil court, the outcome would likely be very different.  Wouldn’t this be a neat thing for the OPA to support and drive?  Just dreaming in technicolour of course.

The other aspect of why this whole incident sparks such an angry reaction from the pharmacist community has nothing to do with the OCP.  It has to do with what pharmacy has become, largely a retail business with employee pharmacists required to suck up to customers lest they take their business elsewhere, or to the internet.

Professionals are supposed to be frank, and sometimes firm, with their patients.  Ask any physician or nurse how often they need to be less that smiley and effusive when dealing with patients in the patients’ own self interest.

This philosophy does not apply to lowly retail clerks who are expected to ‘run and fetch’ whatever is demanded of a retail customer.  Anything short of grovelling could cost a clerk his/her job, or in this case the intervention of his regulatory body’s unjust and self-fulfilling judgement, and it did cost him his job too.  Time for the notion of pharmacy self regulation to be reviewed for this, and for so many other reasons.

The reality is that customers are always right, but patients are not.  Too bad this poor guy had everything stacked against him, and not a single person or entity came to his aid.

Wonder if they will review this case in pharmacy schools as an example of what graduates can look forward to.


  1. I’ve been increasingly concerned about how decisions are made at the OCP these days.

    I have seen calls to end self-regulation.

    I don’t know whether the problem is self-regulation in and off itself, or is it possible that the OCP is ineffective as a self-regulating body?

    I would also love to know, how does one go about complaining about processes and decisions made at OCP that aren’t related to individual discipline decisions. For example, if someone wanted to challenge their recent Council decision around mandatory cannabis education, what would that process look like?

    Asking for a friend. 🙂


  2. My opinion is that the problem is not self regulation itself, but that the OCP has lost its way. Unfortunately the culture is so far gone, and focus so misdirected, that the situation may not be fixable.

    As far as protesting decisions, this is the problem. These people are not answerable to anyone. They don’t even comment when under scrutiny; they remain regally silent.

    I am waiting to be “called in” one of these days as one of the lone voices of dissent.


  3. At para. 28: “The practice-related issue identified by the Committee was that the Applicant left the pharmacy unattended with the Respondent and her son still inside. Although there was an issue as to whether the Applicant remained in the parking lot or departed after he left the pharmacy for the second time, there is no dispute that he left the pharmacy unattended for some period of time and that the Respondent and her son remained in the pharmacy. The Board finds that it was reasonable for the Committee to find that this was a serious issue that required remedial action.”

    Need to clarify it’s not just an interaction or altercation with a post office customer. Furthermore, pharmacists need to be aware of their conduct no matter what the setting, whether at a baseball stadium or post office. Here’s an extreme example:

    A pharmacist is found guilty of sexual interference by luring underage boys. By your definition “the incident involved an individual who was neither a patient of the pharmacy nor a customer of the pharmacy involved”, therefore OCP should do nothing?


    • There are two issues at play here, one being the “leaving the pharmacy” (for whatever reason; one should be able to state their reason for it, as it could range from getting a breath of air outside, to a life-threatening situation for which the person in the moment reacts instinctively, plus everything in between).

      The second is the issue regarding the alleged ability of the member to deal with an angry “customer.” BUT DON’T FORGET THE WOMAN AND CHILD THAT WERE ALSO THERE FOR PHARMACY SERVICES. That aspect, being taken into the mix here, is what most are expressing their disdain for and that alone is what is appalling colleagues right across the country.

      As for your example of sexual interference, in that type of situation, normally the OCP would “back off” during a police investigation so as not to prejudice it, then act upon completion. And it would involve Discipline, not Complaints. No action would be taken in a discipline matter during an active police/criminal investigation so as not to prejudice the final outcome, since a finding in criminal court would become automatic misconduct without needing to prove the case at OCP. Completely different set of circumstances.


    • No issue, this guy broke the rules. Whether it was justified is up to debate. Was he threatened by this woman? Were his actions justified in the interest of his personal safety? Was the situation out of control? Was this woman becoming hysterical? We do not know.

      Notwithstanding, if the OCP wants to enforce this no leave rule, why does it not apply this to the hundreds of locations where physical circumstances force the pharmacist to leave the pharmacy several times a day and for much longer periods that this particular incident? In all grocery and Big Box locations, this is standard procedure. Why not force these locations to install washrooms within the pharmacy as conditions for accreditation?

      Could it be that what the OCP really did not like the way this guy handled this inter personal event, but OCP got to him through the no leave rule by way of punishment?

      Why is there a double standard? Could it have anything to do with the fact that over 60% of OCP council seats are held by individuals in some way connected to Big Pharmacy Retail?

      Further, are you stating that the OCP has jurisdiction over pharmacists’ personal lives and behaviour? Like even at a baseball game? What about at a mud wrestling match?

      The example you give of a sexual predator is a good one. Clearly this is a hideous criminal act. This is the jurisdiction of the courts and the criminal justice system, not the OCP. If the OCP discovers such behaviour, it is mandated by law to report it to the police. Then get out of the way, along with the church, synagogue, mosque, or any other institution which does not have the authority, moral or otherwise, or any other means to provide a fair assessment of the facts and a fair trial including cross examination.


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