A Toronto man lost his Ontario driver’s licence after admitting to a doctor he smokes marijuana on a daily basis.
The man, age 53, provided part of his medical file and other information to Global News for examination but asked not to be publicly identified out of concern for his employment.
Last October, the man was referred to Dr. Peter Phua, a medical doctor who works in a psychotherapy clinic.
He was seeking help with anxiety and claustrophobia, an extreme fear of confined places.
The man says he was honest and upfront about his lifetime use of marijuana, which by mid-month was legally obtainable in Canada. He said he has always been truthful with physicians.
“He’s a doctor, I thought I could trust him. If you can’t trust your doctor who can you trust?” he said.
Phua is listed as a family physician in the public record of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
At the initial meeting, the man says he told Phua he sometimes smokes five small joints in a day, usually mixed on a 50-50 basis with tobacco.
“I told him I don’t smoke and drive,” he said, explaining he owns his own business, has several employees, and is conscientious about his cannabis consumption.
He suffers from Crohn’s Disease and has survived two forms of cancer. He says marijuana helps him relax.
In the first meeting, the man said Phua warned him he could have his driver’s licence revoked over his marijuana use, but wouldn’t.
At a second meeting with the doctor about a week later, he says Phua repeated his warning and the assurance he wouldn’t report him.
“Twice he threatened, twice he said he would not, and then he did,” the man said.
A week after the second meeting, the man got a phone call from Phua, who announced he was contacting the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario to have his driver’s licence revoked.
“It was unreal, it sucked the air out of me,” he told Global News.
On Oct. 15, the man received a notice of suspension of driver’s licence from the ministry, announcing his driving privileges would be revoked as of Oct. 22.
The letter cited “evidence of medical condition that would affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle” as the reason.
“Stop driving. You must not drive while you are suspended,” the letter warned.
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By now, the man had contacted the College of Physicians and Surgeons to file a complaint against the doctor. The College is investigating whether Phua violated the man’s privacy and told the man “he will lie to MTO to get Mr. X’s driver’s licence suspended”, allegations which have not been established by the medical regulator.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons did not reply to a call for comment, nor did Phua.
The man also applied to appeal the decision by the MTO. He submitted medical evidence from a gastroenterologist who had treated him for several years.
“To my knowledge, there is no drug dependent history of impairment,” the doctor wrote, in support of the man’s licence reinstatement.
After submitting forms and medical advice, the man got good news.
“I got my licence back in two weeks. They (ministry staff) said it was a miracle,” the man said.
Medical professionals are obligated to inform the ministry about someone’s medical situation in certain circumstances.
According to MTO regulations, the “goal of the medical reporting program is to protect the public from individuals who have a medical condition that may make it unsafe to drive.”
The ministry’s rules changed on July 1, 2018.
Under section 203 of the Highway Traffic Act, there are now mandatory reporting requirements for high-risk medical conditions, vision conditions and functional impairments that make it dangerous for a person to drive.
The rules now apply to physicians, optometrists and nurse practitioners.
“Included in the mandatory high-risk conditions/impairments is uncontrolled substance use disorders. Physicians and nurse practitioners are required to report any patient who has a diagnosis of an uncontrolled substance use disorder, excluding caffeine and nicotine, and the person is non-compliant with treatment recommendations.”
But the man whose licence was suspended for marijuana use said he was not given any treatment recommendations or diagnosis by Phua.
According to the ministry, someone could also lose driving privileges for excessive consumption of alcohol, even if the patient does not drive while impaired.
“Each case is reviewed on an individual basis in the context of regulatory requirements and national medical standards,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Relieved that his licence has been returned, the man told Global News he’s concerned for other people who consume marijuana responsibly, hold driver’s licences and expect to be able to speak frankly with their doctor about cannabis use.
“It’s going to be a big problem. You want to trust a doctor. But if they suspend your licence, I don’t know.”