Irwin Fefergrad’s ill-timed, unhelpful, inappropriate intervention

As everyone knows by now, Dalhousie University is in crisis over a series of repulsive Facebook posts by certain male students in the fourth year of its dentistry program. The students’ actions have provoked nearly universal anger and condemnation.

Dalhousie President Richard Florizone is charged with sorting out the mess. His decision to proceed deliberately, in particular his support for a restorative justice process as opposed to a purely punitive one, has been criticized by many, supported by some.

Florizone has been firm that any punishment, “must follow a just process—a process which is consistent with the law, with university policies, and which upholds the rights 0f all of those involved.”  Or as the Globe and Mail put it in an editorial this week, “Punishment has to come after adjudication, not before.”

I’m inclined to give the president the benefit of the doubt, for now.

Surprisingly, one whose support for a deliberative, evidence-based process has been less than obvious is the Registrar of the Royal Ontario College of Dental Surgeons.



Irwin Fefergrad has conducted no investigation, taken no evidence, heard no testimony from the impugned students, nor from any other witnesses. He is not even, as they say in the pesky law biz, “seized with the case.” Ah, but he has seen media reports, and he’s ready to pass judgement. So eager to pass judgement, in fact, that he popped up in a string of media interviews this week to condemn the students and chide the Dal president.

  • “There’s no room in the health care system for this,” he told the Toronto Star. “Zero, zero, zero.”
  • “(We) couldn’t sit back and just let Dal do its thing,” he told QMI Agency on Monday. “(It’s) just awful that these are people that are intending to offer health-care services to the public.”

Consider for a moment that Fefergrad is a regulator. As such, he is charged by law with serious adjudicative responsibilities. He holds these responsibilities, not in Nova Scotia, but in Ontario, a province 1,000 km. to the west.

Yet Fefergrad feels no compunction about waltzing before the cameras and bloviating about matters of which he has no first-hand knowledge. Zero, zero, zero.

This is the Alice-in-Wonderland approach to natural justice: First the verdict, then the trial. It’s akin to a judge calling a talk show and demanding police hurry up and name the suspects in a sensational assault case so he can pass sentence. Except, for the analogy to work, the judge would have to be from a distant province, preferably one known for its disdain toward colonials. It’s breathtakingly inappropriate behaviour for anyone with quasi-judicial responsibilities.

Faced as he is with a gravely complicated adjudicative challenge in an atmosphere of fevered emotion, one can only imagine how grateful President Florizone must be to receive pre-emptive, unsolicited, public advice from his betters in Canada’s largest province.

There may come a time when Fefergrad will have a legitimate role in the Dalhousie matter. If any of the impugned students ever receives a degree in dentistry from Dalhousie, an outcome that seems far from certain at this point, and if such a hypothetical student ever applies for certification from the Royal College of our sister province, Fefergrad will have an opportunity to pass judgment—though even then, one hopes he would first want to inform himself and consider actual evidence in a dispassionate manner.

Until then, he helps no one by piling on against those whose disgraceful behaviour has already earned the widest opprobrium. Showboating is easy, but it has no place in medical regulation. Zero, zero, zero.