CAP Leads Campaign to Protect Natural Scientists

On August 19th the CAP became aware that the Ontario legislative Bill-68 includes modifications to the Ontario Engineering Act. One of these changes would result in the removal of the exemption for natural scientists, which could make it difficult or impossible for natural scientists to practise their profession in Ontario, and perhaps eventually in most provinces.

Under the Ontario Engineering Act, no-one can practice ‘professional engineering’ unless they are a registered engineer. The practice of professional engineering is defined, in part, as doing work that requires the application of engineering principles. It’s generally agreed that engineering principles include natural science principles. So applying natural science principles, by this definition, implies applying engineering principles. Thus, one cannot legally do work involving the application of scientific principles, unless the Engineering Act provides a specific exemption for natural scientists. In the early 1980’s, the CAP was instrumental in getting such an exemption in Ontario (and later in the majority of Provinces). The proposed new Ontario Act removes the exemption.


Please read below a letter from Paul Vincett, CAP Director of Science Policy.

2010 August 31

Dear CAP Member (or recently lapsed member) :

I am requesting your urgent action on a matter which, if not addressed very promptly, could make it difficult or impossible for many natural scientists to practise their profession in Ontario, and perhaps eventually in most provinces.

Late last Friday, August 27th, the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) sent a letter to the Ontario Attorney-General (“A-G”) regarding a very serious threat that a proposed change to the Ontario Engineers Act poses to the ability of natural scientists (and computer scientists / mathematicians) to practise their profession. The letter is long, but the initial “Summary” paragraph which summarizes the threat is reproduced below (if you wish to see the entire letter, it can be downloaded from and the attachments referred to in the letter can be downloaded from ).

As one who has been deeply involved in this kind of issue, across many Provinces, for 15 years, I can personally assure you that that the problem is real. Robert Mann, Past-President of CAP, spoke with the CEO of Professional Engineers Ontario on Monday, August 30th. During that conversation, it was confirmed verbally that the change was intentional, and that efforts were apparently not made to contact the scientific societies. As a result, the legislative process was very well advanced before it came to light, so that ANY INTERVENTIONS MUST BE MADE VERY SOON, PROBABLY IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

I should perhaps add that the issue here is not to denigrate engineers in any way, nor to suggest that scientists should be allowed to practise outside their areas of expertise. Rather, it is to ensure that the practice of natural science does not get swept into the definition of the practice of professional engineering, which is legally reserved to registered engineers.

While this may look like an Ontario problem, it is in fact broader, as other provinces could well follow Ontario’s example.

I WOULD THEREFORE ASK YOU TO SEND AN E-MAIL TO THE A-G, with a copy to the others in the distribution list, TO SUPPORT THE CAP’S STAND.

In the interests of time, a suggested letter appears below, which we would encourage you to cut and paste into an e-mail to the individuals listed in the letter (full set of e-mail addresses appears just above the text of the letter), ensuring that you add in your name, title, and affiliation. Of course, an individually drafted letter is always welcome. At this point, however, the volume of letters is probably the biggest measure.

With best wishes,

Paul Vincett
CAP Director of Science Policy


SUMMARY PARAGRAPH INCLUDED IN CAP’S LETTER TO ATTORNEY-GENERAL, for your information only (suggested text to send appears below this paragraph)

We wish to bring to your urgent attention a major problem with one specific component of the currently-proposed revisions to the Ontario Engineering Act, within the Omnibus Act (Bill 68). This revision – the removal of the exemption for natural sciences from the definition of the practice of professional engineering (Chapter 1 of the current Act) – could make it impossible for many, if not most, natural scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, computer scientists, etc.) to practise their professions, in industry, government, and universities. This could clearly have a major negative impact on Ontario, as well as on the professions concerned. We appreciate that our intervention comes at a late stage of the Bill’s progress; however, while our very serious interest in this matter over many years was certainly known to the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), and although PEO has indicated to the Standing Committee reviewing the Bill that they have “consulted broadly with other groups”, neither we nor (to our knowledge) any other scientific societies were either informed of the existence of the new proposals or consulted in any way. Moreover, despite the representation by PEO to the Standing Committee that the proposed bill ‘adopts the national definition of “professional engineering”‘ (i.e. that suggested in the attached guidelines published by the Canadian Council for Professional Engineers), the proposed legislation fails to include the companion natural science exemption clause which is part of those same guidelines.



e-mail distribution list:

The Honourable Christopher Bentley
Ministry of the Attorney-General
11th Floor, 720 Bay Street

Dear Minister Bentley

I am writing to you to express my grave concern regarding a proposed modification to the Ontario Engineering Act that is embodied in Bill-68.

The modification to the Act contained in this bill, which is soon to be given 3rd reading in the Ontario Provincial Parliament, removes the exemption for natural sciences from the definition of the practice of professional engineering. This could make it impossible for many physicists (as well as other natural scientists including chemists, biologists, computer scientists, etc.) to practise their professions, whether in industry, government, or university. The great difficulty in defining engineering principles without implicitly including natural science in the definition is what led to the inclusion of a specific exemption for the practise of natural science in the current Act. Removing this exemption will have very damaging impacts on a very broad scale, not only for the scientific community, but also for Ontario’s economy, post-secondary research and education system, and even health care.

Just a few examples of highly-qualified people who could be affected include the following: An expert in lasers working in a laboratory could be prevented from carrying out their research without the supervision of an engineer. Similarly, a fully-qualified, experienced medical physicist might be obstructed from practising in a hospital without similar supervision. A Ph.D biologist at a vaccine manufacturer or biotech start-up could not practice without an engineer’s supervision, nor could a Ph.D. chemist developing a new drug. Atmospheric scientists who are trained in understanding noise propagation and wind flow over varied terrain could be prevented from assessing site locations for wind turbines. Indeed, any scientist (physicist, chemist, computer scientist, etc.) in industry, government or academia working on anything that could possibly be patentable or create other economic value would be swept in. At the extreme, removal of this exemption could be interpreted to mean that weather forecasting, which is currently undertaken by meteorologists in Environment Canada as part of their legislated mandate, must be undertaken by engineers as there is public safety, health, and the protection of property involved.

I understand that the Bill is at a late stage in the legislative process; however, the natural science community, who are very much impacted by this legislation, were not consulted on this proposed change, nor notified in any way that it was proposed. We became aware of it only by happenstance, a situation that is both surprising and disturbing. It is extremely important, therefore, that you delay the final reading of Bill-68 until it is appropriately reworded so as to re-instate an exemption for the natural sciences.


Your name, title

Copies to: The Honourable Sandra Pupatello, Minister of Economic Development and Trade
The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario
Mr. Pat Hoy, Chair, Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
Mr. Kim Allen, CEO and Registrar, Professional Engineers of Ontario
Canadian Association of Physicists

Attachment Size
CAP’s Letter to the Ontario Attorney-General – August 10th 39.28 KB
Attachments Referred to in CAP’s Letter to the Ontario Attorney-General 8.11 MB