The importance of the mandatory annual declaration for professionals
All professionals know that when they renew their accreditation with their professional order, they must carefully complete the annual declaration form specifically prepared by that order. Among other things, the document is used by the professional order to identify the member, their field of practice, and any situations experienced in the course of their work or outside the workplace that could affect the practice of their profession or the honour or dignity of the profession as a whole.
The case of Frédéric Murray is interesting as the decision rendered by the Disciplinary Council of the Quebec Order of Chartered Professional Accountants highlights the importance of completing the mandatory annual declaration (hereinafter, MAD) truthfully.1
The following is a summary of the facts of this case. In January 2020, the respondent pleaded guilty to the criminal offence of common assault, punishable on summary conviction.2 A few months later, in March 2020, in his annual declaration, he was asked if “I have been convicted of a criminal offence in Canada,” and he answered “No.” At that time, his sentence had still not been handed down. His sentence was delivered in June 2020, after Murray’s MAD had been completed and signed.
The syndic of the Quebec Order of Chartered Professional Accountants filed a disciplinary complaint against the respondent, consisting of one count of failing to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the information provided to the Order in his MAD by failing to disclose that he had been convicted of a criminal offence.3 The respondent entered a plea of not guilty to this count.
He claimed that as of the date of signing the MAD, he had not been “found guilty.” He argued that at that time, the record of the criminal proceedings showed a guilty plea, not a conviction, and that the sentence had not yet been imposed. In its analysis of guilt, the Council makes the following ruling on this argument:
Under the Criminal Code, a person’s guilt is determined either by the acceptance of their guilty plea or by a declaration to that effect.
Sections 2, 606(1) and 730(1) of the Criminal Code illustrate this principle […]
Thus, on January 22, 2020, the Municipal Court judge accepted the respondent’s guilty plea. Moreover, he did not have to render a judgment in this sense. The judge only had to proceed to the next step: the sentence. The “judgment” rendered in June 2020 concerns the sentence.
The guilty plea is a sufficient acknowledgement […] 4 (our translation)
The Council found the respondent guilty of this offence. It noted that by pleading guilty to an assault charge, the respondent admitted his guilt regarding a criminal offence. He was therefore required to report this to his professional order, not only in his MAD but also under section 59.3 of the Professional Code.
This decision is also interesting in that it reiterates the importance of this declaration to the order by stating:
The fact that a professional pleads guilty to a criminal offence is likely to constitute a serious breach. It should not be trivialized, even if the prosecutor proceeds summarily as in the respondent’s case. […] 5 (our translation)
Questions on this subject, contained in annual declaration forms, must be completed conscientiously to allow the professional order to exercise control over its members. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each professional to ensure that they are providing accurate information. When a professional fails to fulfil their obligations, they are preventing the professional order from fulfilling the mission assigned to it under section 23 of the Professional Code, namely the protection of the public.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that any conviction or guilty plea to a criminal offence must be reported to a professional order without delay, in accordance with section 59.3 of the Professional Code. In addition, professionals must ensure that they complete their MAD conscientiously. Section 59.3 P.C. states:
“A professional must, within 10 days from the day on which he is himself informed, notify the secretary of the order of which he is a member that he is or has been the subject of a judicial or disciplinary decision referred to in section 55.1 or 55.2 or a proceeding for an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of five years or more.”
This decision is a good illustration of this professional obligation. It provides an important clarification that, even if the sentence for the offence of which a professional has been convicted, either by judgment or by plea, has not yet been imposed, the conviction must be disclosed to their professional order.
1 Comptables professionnels agréés (Ordre des) c. Murray, 2021 QCCDCPA 12.
2 s. 266(b) of the Criminal Code.
3 s. 61 of the Code of Ethics of Chartered Professional Accountants, CQLR c. C.-48.1, r. 6 and s. 59.2 of the Professional Code, CQLR c. C.-26.
4 Para. 88-91 of the decision.
5 Para. 64 of the decision.