Dalhousie may be headed to court and they would probably lose.
The press conference on January 21 from Bruce and Sarah MacIntosh—lawyers of Ryan Millet, one of 13 students from the DDS Class of 2015 Gentlemen Facebook group—was shocking, sensational and disturbing. The lawyers revealed the multiple violations of procedural fairness that may lead to Dalhousie University facing litigation.
In a letter sent on January 23 to Alan Pinder, chair of Dalhousie’s senate, Bruce MacIntosh said that Millet will move forward with his disciplinary hearing, which reconvened on Wednesday. MacIntosh says if his client is unsuccessful in overturning his current suspension, they will continue to push for the senate to appoint an independent arbitrator.
Procedural fairness is a set of fundamental legal principles to ensure a fair and just administrative process. If Millet’s case is eventually appealed before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, any breaches in procedural fairness could lead to ordering a new hearing. From what’s been revealed so far, Millet would have a strong case.
The major claim is that Millet didn’t know about the six posts that were used to decide to suspend him. Students have the right to full disclosure of documents in order prepare their defense. In Section D, part 5 of Dalhousie’s Student Code of Conduct, students have a right to be informed in writing, “of the nature of the allegation, the complaint, the evidence, the procedures to be followed, the possible penalties and possible sources of advice and support.” These rules apply to Dalhousie senate disciplinary hearings.
The Academic Standards Class Committee is a separate administrative group from the senate, but the faculty of dentistry has similar procedures for academic integrity offenses in the Academic Policy Manual. It’s not clear why the ASCC wouldn’t use these procedures. Millet’s lawyers could be successful on appeal based on the argument that the lack of full disclosure was unfair to their client and that the process should start over.
The lawyers claim that Ryan Millet was not given any opportunity to student legal aid. Student advocacy services has free student advocates to provide support in academic disciplinary hearings, but Katelyn Ellins, assistant director internal at DSAS, confirmed they’ve not been contacted by the faculty of dentistry. Even though Millet has legal counsel, this adds to the argument that the process is fundamentally flawed.
Impartiality is another major concern. The ASCC, who made the initial decision to suspend Millet, is also the committee to hear the appeal. More importantly, the ASCC is made of up of faculty members—the same members who are part of an external investigation. According to Bruce MacIntosh, the chair of the ASCC said “they have a lot of pressure to get this right.” Certainly there’s a case to be made that the appearance of impartiality has been lost.
While the legal deck is stacked against Dalhousie, there’s also the major issue of patient confidentiality. It was revealed in Millet’s hearing that there’s a post of a patient taken by one of the male students observing a procedure from another doctor. If the patient is from the clinic, it’s clearly a breach of student responsibilities laid out in the Clinic Policy and Procedures manual, which requires students to, “protect the confidentiality of patient information (paper charts and electronic records, including photos and radiographs).” The posting is also in violation of provincial dental board regulations. This could lead to civil litigation against Dalhousie University, the doctor and the male student who posted the photo.