Edmonton·In Depth

Regulator's PTSD suspension is 'unlawful,' says human rights lawyer

Some Alberta paramedics are having a difficult time renewing their licences, after disclosing they sought professional help for work-related mental health issues such as anxiety, acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder.

A paramedic lost his professional licence, even though he was cleared by a psychologist to return to work

They're experts in cheating death — but that expertise, which often creates debilitating stress, is now affecting their own livelihoods. 

Some Alberta paramedics are having a difficult time renewing their registration, commonly known as licences, after disclosing they sought professional help for work-related mental health issues such as anxiety, acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

CBC News has learned of at least two cases where that happened in Alberta: The Alberta College of Paramedics asked the workers for detailed medical records — despite the fact they had received professional treatment and were cleared by a psychologist through the Workers' Compensation Board to get back to work. 

"It was very shocking, very concerning," said Dave McAllister, a paramedic who is still employed but not allowed to have any contact with patients after the college restricted his licence. 

He took some time off last fall for treatment of work-related PTSD. A psychologist cleared him to return to work at the beginning of 2015. But that wasn't enough for the college. 

The college's registration committee, an organization made up of para-medicine practitioners who volunteer their time, asked McAllister for details about what medications he might be taking, a list of situations that could trigger his disorder, and whether he was addicted to drugs or alcohol. They also asked for a copy of his full psychological assessment.

'That's my livelihood'

When he refused, they did not renew his licence. 

"That's my livelihood, that's how I support my family," he said at his home, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter. 

Those well-versed in human rights and employment law question the lawfulness of the board's investigation in this case and McAllister's subsequent suspension. 

Brendan Miller, a constitutional lawyer, said the professional college does not have jurisdiction to take on such mental health investigations. 

"They most definitely did not even have jurisdiction to send this to a hearing, in my opinion," he said after reviewing the board's written decision on McAllister. 

Miller said McAllister met the requirements outlined in the law to have his licence renewed, so the board should have had no choice under but to issue it. 

"It's quite concerning, because it also is going to deter people from being forthright," he said. "And that could lead to even worse ramifications down the road."

The college will not answer questions about specific cases. A representative insisted the board does have provincial or legal authority to ask for personal information under threat of discontinuing someone's licence.


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