Allison Patton, a Surrey city councillor and naturopath, was fined and suspended from her practice recently by her profession's regulatory agency for referring to herself as a "physician".
The reference came about while Patton was campaigning during the most recent municipal election, in October 2018.
Patton ran successfully as a member of Mayor Doug McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition, finishing fifth out of the eight council candidates, with 33,036 votes.
In campaign literature at the time, Patton was referred to as a "community physician", she referenced her "thousands of patients", and McCallum called her "Dr. Patton". The same wording appeared in several local newspapers, and 14 out of 18 comments under one article in the Peace Arch News referred to Patton as "Dr.".
The college's advertising policy states that naturopaths "may use the title 'Doctor' or 'Dr.' as a prefix to their name and must use the title in a manner which denotes they are a naturopathic physician".
It also notes that "if writing about an individual doctor of naturopathic medicine, the term naturopathic or initials ND need to be attached to the word doctor at least once. Subsequent use of the term doctor or initials Dr. does not need further reference to naturopathic" and that "when using the term physician, the designation naturopathic physician must be used each time for NDs. Physician, as a stand alone term, could imply another type of physician, for example an MD, even in a naturopathic setting".
A member of the public lodged a complaint about Patton to the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia in November 2018.
In an email to the CBC at the time, Patton apologized, but in a follow-up email she said: "I can assure you that there was enough information out there that I was a naturopathic doctor. We can nitpick about [instances] where the information was not there.
"I can assure you there was no intent to mislead anyone."
In a public notice posted on its website on February 6, 2020, the college announced that Patton admitted that she "used the title Physician, Doctor, and Dr. without denoting she is a naturopathic doctor in violation of section 2.1 of the Advertising Policy and section 102 of the [college] Bylaws".
The notice also said that she agreed to an undertaking to "not repeat the conduct of using the title Physician, Doctor, and Dr. without denoting she is a naturopathic doctor or physician" and "to identify and represent herself as a naturopathic doctor or physician as required by the College bylaws and advertising policy" and "to abide by all current and future Bylaws, Standards, Policies, and Guidelines of the College".
The college went on to announce that Patton had been suspended from her practice for three days and had to pay a $500 fine and agree to a reprimand. The college's inquiry committee, it noted, "considers the Registrant’s conduct to be serious".
There was no indication as to why a period of more than 14 months had elapsed between the time of the complaint and the publication of the disciplinary action.
(Updated) The Straight attempted to contact college registrar and CEO Phillipa Stanaway by phone on February 13 at 2:50 p.m. but was told that she was "in a meeting" and would call back. A request for questions in writing in advance was denied, as per Georgia Straight policy. An email from Stanaway at 4:50 p.m. again said she was "in meetings and unable to return your call" and asked for questions in advance and was again denied. A request from the Straight in reply to supply a time to call was not answered.
In October 2012, Patton, then B.C. Conservative party constituency-association president for Surrey-White Rock, joined others and called on party leader John Cummins to resign.
The party responded by accusing her of breaking its bylaws and revoking her membership; she then requested that a "truth and reconciliation committee" be set up. Patton and two other dissident members of the party then petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court to obtain an order quashing their expulsions.
Patton's membership was restored the next year.