On June 19, 2019, the Honourable Jason Copping, Alberta Minister of Labour and Immigration (“Minister”), introduced Bill 11 in the Legislature for first reading. If enacted, it will become the Fair Registration Practices Act (“Act”).
The Minister highlighted the importance of the Act by noting that Canadians would earn $17 billion more each year if their credentials were fully recognized. The Minister also noted that similar legislation currently exists in Manitoba (The Fair Registration Practices in Regulated Professions Act), Ontario (Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act) and Nova Scotia (Fair Registration Practices Act). The Nova Scotia legislation provides fair access to 58 occupations and 68 designated trades under the jurisdiction of 49 regulatory bodies.
Schedule 1 to the Act currently lists 40 regulatory bodies that will be required to comply with the new fair recognition rules. Schedule 1 may be amended at any time by regulation.
The Act is intended to help newcomers secure timely recognition of their professional, technical, managerial and trade qualifications. The Act will achieve its objective through the following initiatives:
- The Minister will establish a Fair Registration Practices Office (“Office”);
- Reductions in red tape associated with the assessment of foreign credentials will be implemented by Alberta regulators;
- Collaboration amongst the Office, the Minister and regulators will ensure that registration practices are transparent, objective, impartial and fair;
- Regulatory bodies will be required to comply with domestic trade agreements;
- Decisions on registration will be made within six months;
- Internal appeals of adverse regulatory decisions will be allowed by each regulatory body;
- Audits of compliance with the Act will be conducted by the Minister; and
- Compliance orders will be available to the Minister for purposes of enforcement action in the event of non-compliance with the Act.
The Act follows a recent decision by the Court of Appeal of Alberta in the case of Mihaly v The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, 2014 AHRC 1; 2016 ABQB 61; 2017 ABCA 15. In that case, the Alberta Human Rights Commission found that the regulator had failed to comply with the Alberta Human Rights Act, RSA 2000, c A-25.5 when it did not give Mr. Mihaly individualized consideration. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta overturned that decision on the basis that the regulator was free to discriminate in the establishment of testing conditions for graduates of educational institutions in certain nations, but not others. The Court of Appeal did not disturb the Court of Queen’s Bench decision.
The Act will allow the Minister to audit rules that prevented Mr. Mihaly from practicing his profession in Alberta. However, it will not allow the Minister to review individual decisions.
Dr. Bryan Schwartz and Natasha Dhillon Penner considered the fair recognition legislation in place in Canada in 2011 and concluded that “Human rights laws and fair access legislation may prove to be useless in practice unless they are accompanied by legislative efforts to enact and coordinate appropriate enforcement mechanisms.”[i]
The Act may provide an “appropriate enforcement mechanism,” as it allows the Minister to proactively audit the rules that prevented Mr. Mihaly from securing a license to practice engineering, notwithstanding his training and experience in the European Union. Effectively, the Act substitutes the decision of the Minister for that of the Court of Appeal on the question of whether the requirements of a regulator meet the “reasonable and justifiable” defence found in section 11 of the Alberta Human Rights Act.
[i] Chapter 2: Effective Foreign Credentials Recognition Legislation: Recommendations for Success, 11 Asper Review 33, 56 (2011) (Professor and student, respectively, at the time, at the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall Faculty of Law).