Chiropractor behind controversial vaccine posts has licence suspended

A controversial Halifax-based chiropractor is facing a hearing with the provincial college related to posts she's made online that include unfounded and disproven claims about vaccinations and immunizations. Dena Churchill's licence was suspended Friday.

Dena Churchill faces hearing for 16 allegations, including 15 of professional misconduct

A hearing into the professional conduct of Halifax-based chiropractor Dena Churchill has been scheduled for next spring. (Facebook)

A Halifax-based chiropractor who faces a hearing next year with the provincial college related to controversial posts she's made online about vaccinations and immunizations has had her licence suspended.

The notice of suspension for Dena Churchill, who operates Oxford Chiropractic Inc., was posted Friday on the website of the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors. The suspension remains in place "until further notice," according to the website.

The college's executive director, John Sutherland, said he couldn't offer further comment.

"I'm prevented under legislation from doing that, but in this particular instance it is appropriate that the public be advised," he said in a phone interview.

Hearing scheduled next year

On Thursday, a notice on the college's website said a hearing committee will consider 15 allegations of professional misconduct and one of conduct unbecoming a chiropractor against Churchill.

All 16 allegations are related to her posting vaccination and immunization materials — subjects outside the chiropractic scope of practice — to five different social media platforms between May and September of this year.

Those posts included linking vaccinations and health conditions that are not rooted in fact.

It was the college that brought the complaint against Churchill, something Sutherland called "significant."

'Activities that were not professional'

The notice of hearing alleges Churchill's online activity constituted "marketing activities that were not professional, truthful, verifiable, [or] clear," "conduct not meriting the respect of the public for members of the profession" and "posting information, comments and images that may be perceived as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional."

The allegation of conduct unbecoming a chiropractor relates to Churchill posting information "when she knew or ought to have known that such posts were prohibited by or contrary to" the college's policies and the chiropractic regulations.

On Thursday, Sutherland said Churchill was able to continue seeing patients. Less that 24 hours later, the notice of suspension was posted.

Churchill could not immediately be reached for comment.

Second suspension

Last month, Churchill advised patients in an email the college had suspended her licence and ordered her to shut down her practice. However, in a subsequent email to patients last week, Churchill wrote that her licence had been reinstated, although she said "there are still a number of unanswered questions that call for clarity before we reopen the office."

The hearing into her conduct will be held May 22-24 and May 27-28 at the college's office in Halifax.

It operates like a legal proceeding, with each side able to bring legal representation, present evidence and call witnesses. Both sides will present to a hearing panel comprised of at least two members of the college's board and a member of the public appointed by the province to the board who is not a chiropractor.

Investigation continues

Sutherland said the panel would render a decision at the end of the hearing based on the evidence and "determine whether or not there is professional misconduct, to what extent and then, with legal advice, will determine what the appropriate penalty is" if in fact wrongdoing or professional misconduct is found.

Although the hearing has been scheduled, Sutherland said the investigation into Churchill's conduct continues. The portion of the investigation that's been completed is what will be addressed at the hearing next spring. 

Sutherland said he could not comment on the outstanding portion of the investigation.

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Michael Gorman

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Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca