Weaponization of Regulatory Colleges: I Too Was Targeted

Weaponization of Regulatory Colleges: I Too Was Targeted
Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Toronto, explains the communist roots of postmodernism during an interview with The Epoch Times on June 15, 2018. (The Epoch Times)
Chris Milburn

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will have heard that Jordan Peterson is currently the target of a modern-day witch hunt by his regulatory college. I pray for his success and I can truly sympathize, as I’m one of many health-care practitioners (HCPs) who has been the target of attacks by activists due to my political views, using my professional regulatory college as the weapon.

I’m a physician in Nova Scotia. In 2019, I wrote an op-ed for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald about the death of personal responsibility in the criminal justice system, and how dealing with criminals in hospital emergency rooms in a world without consequences creates an unsafe situation for staff. Over time I had noticed more and more aggression toward nurses, paramedics, police, and physicians—the team that is charged with dealing with people in the midst of violent altercations, mental health crises, or drug intoxication.

It seems to me that we have created a world where those defined as victims have all rights and no responsibilities. Those of us who are not victims—working people who keep our society running—have all the responsibilities and no rights. This situation is divisive, destructive, and unsustainable. And it is deranging for those of us charged with responsibility. Many ER nurses are voting with their feet and quitting.

The article I wrote struck a chord with many readers but became a bit too viral for my own good. A little over a month later I was the target of a 33-page complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia (CPSNS)—the organization with the power to grant or withdraw my licence to practice medicine.

Dr. Chris Milburn and his wife Dr. Julie Curwin. (Handout/Courtesy Chris Milburn)
Dr. Chris Milburn and his wife Dr. Julie Curwin. (Handout/Courtesy Chris Milburn)

This complaint was written in legalese and signed by 14 left-wing activists. They decried my use of the word “criminal” and other aspects of the piece, and suggested that expressing this particular opinion was unprofessional. I spent countless hours over the next year dealing with lawyers, writing and re-writing letters, and finally sitting through a hearing process (by video conference – COVID y’know). I have faced other attempts to censor my speech, as well as being fired as chief of ER for eastern Nova Scotia for criticizing public health policy during the pandemic.

During my quarter-century in medicine I have witnessed “professionalism creep.”  Being “unprofessional” used to mean egregious behaviour such as having sex with a patient, prescribing yourself oxycontin, or coming to work drunk. But it can now mean writing an op-ed that offends those on the political left (it’s fine to offend those on the right), prescribing ivermectin for COVID, using the wrong pronouns, criticizing mask mandates, or saying that vaccines can cause myocarditis. It can even mean—as Jordan Peterson found out—criticizing Justin Trudeau too vigorously.

Although many people see this issue as having begun during COVID, it has actually been going on for decades, starting with the “political correctness” of the 1980s that over time metastasized into wokeness. The boundaries of free speech have been closing in on HCPs and the Overton window is now a peephole.

The college complaints process is now a bludgeon, swung by those on the left of the political spectrum to reputationally injure or silence those on the right. I have not yet heard of a health-care practitioner who was complained about for a view that was too far left.

The complaints process is free and easy for the complainant. Years ago it was moved online, so now a disgruntled newspaper reader can complain with just their phone and their two thumbs, from the comfort of their parent’s basement couch. Complainants are well aware that “the process is the punishment.” A frivolous complaint that takes an activist five minutes to submit costs the physician days of time writing responses, speaking with lawyers, and appearing at hearings. (In the midst of a physician shortage, these are times where they cannot see patients.)

As well as costing nothing financially, complaints pose no threat to a complainant’s reputation, as their identities are confidential. Confidentiality made great sense when complaints were about interactions during a medical assessment, as they involved private medical details. But when a complaint is simply a political war waged on the battlefield of the college complaint process, there is no reason to keep a complainant’s identity secret (but not the physician’s). In a fair fight, if the physician’s reputation is put to the test publicly, so should the complainant’s.

Colleges seem only too happy to rake doctors over the coals. They present themselves as “protecting the reputation of the profession,” and such witch-hunts play very well to their political masters and mainstream media.

My wife (a psychiatrist) and I started the FreeSpeechInMedicine.com initiative and held our first conference in 2022. The CPSNS was invited to send a representative to clarify what they saw as the legal boundaries of free speech for physicians, and what they saw as their legislated power to police this. I naively thought they would jump at an opportunity to clarify boundaries around free speech for physicians.

It has since become clear to me that the lack of firm definition as to what is “unprofessional” is a feature, not a bug, for colleges. Say “Keep off the grass” and people know they can walk everywhere else. But say “Watch where you walk or else!” and people get scared to leave their house. HCPs don’t know what they can and can’t say, but they know there are invisible lines they can get into trouble for crossing. As one said to me, “I keep my head down, my mouth shut, and see my patients.” In private, among trusted friends, many HCPs may be against “gender-affirming care,” “safe supply” of drugs, or racial discrimination in medical school admissions. But publicly they are silent, creating the impression that all HCPs agree with these ideas—what some call “the illusion of consensus.”

If colleges were forced to clearly define boundaries it would empower health-care practitioners to speak their minds. Politically motivated complaints could be dismissed without wasting everyone’s time. Colleges who violate a physician’s free-speech rights could be held to account. But none of these are desirable outcomes for our current political masters.

My hope is that the high-profile Peterson case will force provinces and the feds to clarify legislation around free speech as it pertains to licensed professionals. More likely, however, given the lily-livered nature of most politicians in modern Canada, we will end up with this issue being decided by an unelected group of judges. And I doubt their decision will be beneficial to free speech in medicine.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Chris Milburn is a family and ER physician in Nova Scotia who has been speaking out on medical and social issues for over 20 years. Along with his wife, he is an advocate for free speech and honest debate through their FreeSpeechInMedicine.com initiative.
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