Should lawyers, doctors, dentists, and other professionals need business licences from the town when they already are licensed by their respective governing bodies?
Local lawyer Clare Brunetta doesn’t think so—and made that point clear during an open house on the draft business licence bylaw last Wednesday afternoon at the Civic Centre.
“You’ve got all of these professionals here in the Town of Fort Frances,” he said.
“You’ve got accountants that are under the Accounting and Professions Act, 2010.
“They’re licensed specifically, they have standards of practice, they must be insured, they must practise the highest standards,” Brunetta noted.
Similarly, architects fall under the Ontario Association of Architects, doctors are licensed by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, and lawyers are overseen by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Likewise, dentists, engineers, optometrists, pharmacists, and surveyors all are licensed by the province and by their respective professional associations, and “not by some local bylaw officer,” Brunetta added.
“Not one of these [professions] is licensed by any other community in this area,” he noted, stressing Dryden, Kenora, and Thunder Bay are communities which Fort Frances is in competition with to get those professionals.
“They don’t license professional people because the professionals are licensed and insured by their own licensing bodies,” Brunetta explained.
At the same time, the town does not require lawyers from Thunder Bay or Kenora, who come here to defend a client, to get a business licence.
Furthermore, Brunetta said the town’s bylaw officer is not qualified to assess these professionals on health and safety, nuisance control, or consumer protections.
“We have specific provincial legislation that governs us for all of those things, and set the standards,” he remarked.
“And if we don’t meet those standards, if we don’t practise to the highest standard, if we don’t have the insurance, if we don’t follow the rules and regulations and the codes of professional ethics, we get our licence pulled already.”
Brunetta asked what the town would do if a taxpayer complained about a local doctor, dentist, architect, or accountant?
“Are you guys going to go and make that assessment and disqualify that person from practising their trade?” he wondered.
“Because that’s what you’re trying to do.”
Brunetta said he’s been sending the town letters of complaint every year when he renews his business licence.
“Lawyers have a difficult job to do,” he noted. “We have to stand up for our clients when they feel that they’ve been wronged.
“My specific concern as a lawyer is that when a taxpayer comes to me and wants to sue the Town of the Fort Frances, or one of the councillors, I don’t want to have to fear retribution from the town bylaw officer who may, under some pressure from council members or whoever, and say, ‘We don’t really see the merit in this lawsuit you’re doing.’
“‘In fact, it’s so outrageous, that we think you’re a danger to the public . . . we’re going to pull your licence.’”
Brunetta conceded the idea might sound “ludicrous.” But if it were to happen, to either a lawyer or any other professional, he argued the town is not qualified to judge that
professional—only their qualified licensing body is.
Local bylaw enforcement officer Patrick Briere said the town has the authority to ensure health and safety and consumer protection for its residents.
But if there was a complaint about a lawyer, for example, he added the town would bring in the expert at hand (in this case, the Law Society of Upper Canada).
“Then why do I need a licence from you [the town]?” asked Brunetta.
“Even if I’m the most highly-qualified lawyer in the whole province, I can’t qualify in the Town of Fort Frances if somebody here decides that I don’t deserve a business licence,” he stressed.
Dental hygienist Dawn Gustafson, who owns and operates LifetimeSmiles here and also attended last Wednesday’s open house, said she doesn’t have a problem with the town having professionals get business licences.
“I see what Clare Brunetta brought up, and it makes sense,” she remarked. “But I don’t care that the other municipalities don’t license professionals— I don’t mind.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Gustafson added. “If it has to be done, it has to be done. It’s part of business.
“And I don’t think it’s fair a business downtown has to have a licence but my business doesn’t because of my profession,” she noted.
“I don’t get that part.
“And I don’t think they’re going to take away my business licence unless they get a complaint from my college, which governs me strictly,” said Gustafson.
“I’m not worried about it. I’ve never felt threatened.”
Town clerk Lisa Slomke said the bylaw working group is going to revisit the part of the bylaw regarding professionals, but ultimately will take direction from council.
“Where do they [professionals] fit in and what are our requirements for them? We’ve been licensing them for years,” she noted.
“We have to take all of the recommendations back to council and see which direction they want us to go,” Slomke added.
“In many cases, a couple of the small ones, I know they’ll be supportive of it,” she said.
“But some of the more significant changes, they’ll want us to confer with them and make [sure] that is the direction they want us to go.”
The draft business licence bylaw is available for review at the Civic Centre, as well as online at www.fort-frances.com