Across the board, professional associations inconsistent on transparency

Riddell library constructionThe Alberta Association of Architects (AAA) lists the well being of the public as one of its core principles. But only a small number of the association's members are in favour of informing the public about what happens when complaints are made about architects.

At a 2013 member forum, architects discussed giving the public more information.

But, according to AAA surveys, just 21 per cent of the group's members agreed that disciplinary hearings should be made public.

The AAA is the self-governing professional association charged with the registration and regulation of architects and licensed interior designers in Alberta.

It's also the group the public can go to if they have any issues or complaints with an architect or interior designer. After receiving a complaint, there is a review by a committee followed by a hearing and an opportunity for appeal.

Riddell library constructionArchitects and engineers work together on projects such as the Riddell Library and Learning Centre currently being built at Mount Royal University.

Photo by Brent Dufault
Punishment and sanctions from the AAA range from monetary fines around $1,000 to the publication of a case summary "for the education of the membership."

The names and details of this process have never been public, even the case summary.

Despite email exchanges and telephone calls, the AAA was unable to comment.

However, ethicist and Simon Fraser University professor, Mark Wexler, said professional organizations should publish disciplinary action "in order to protect third parties."

"For example, I have given a serious reprimand to a person but haven't disbarred them — I think that is information a third party might want to know," Wexler said.

Indeed, unlike the AAA, the Law Society of Alberta — the professional association that governs lawyers — makes disciplinary hearings public.

Ally Taylor, the society's communications director, said, "In many ways our processes mimic civil and criminal processes in the sense that we don't disclose complaints against lawyers, as they are unproven allegations," Taylor said.

"Generally, when a complaint is filed against a lawyer, it is formally investigated and a conduct committee decides whether citations should be made against the lawyer. It is at this point that the citations are made public," Taylor said.

Hearings, outcomes and suspensions are all posted on their public website. The Law Society even goes as far as pushing that information out to the profession through a broadcast email distribution list to all lawyers.

But not all ethicists believe such transparency is needed all the time.

Mount Royal University business ethics instructor Dave Ohreen said, "Public health and public safety is the primary demarcation whether or not you build in policies about disclosure."

So, in the case of the AAA, "If an architect is consistently engaging in consistently bad complaints from a consumer, homebuilder or what not, you can make the argument that the public needs to know."

Otherwise, Ohreen said, "It depends on the kinds of complaints that are being issued."

"If it's more innocuous complaints about a particular member and maybe how they handled a client for example," Ohreen said. "A lot of the time this stuff can be handled inside and you don't necessarily need robust policies."

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What do you think? Should professional associations report complaints against members to the public?


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