Toronto traditional Chinese medicine practitioners alarmed by province’s bid to deregulate
On February 28, 2022, Kathy (Bo) Feng, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner from Scarborough, received news that shocked her.
His professional body, the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO), told Feng it would close over 18 months in response to new provincial legislation deregulating TCM.
The Progressive Conservative government’s Bill 88 passed first reading. Feng called other practitioners and started an online petition against deregulation that 40,000 people signed, most within days as news spread.
“These are the voices of patients, the public and practitioners,” she said in an interview.
“I believe the government can hear our voices and will make the right decision.”
Like other CTCMPAO members, Feng views TCM regulation as a matter of public safety; without it, people who are not educated in TCM could practice it, which is terrible, she said.
A week after the CTCMPAO announcement and hours after a protest at Queen’s Park, the government removed TCM deregulation from the bill.
Feng, however, wasn’t convinced that he wouldn’t try again.
“I think we have to keep fighting,” she said.
Danny Li, President of the The Association of Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, has led a coalition against deregulation and said it believes it could be proposed in a separate bill if the government is re-elected in June .
“I can’t say if we have a win,” he said.
A resident of East York with two clinics in Toronto, Li has been practicing there since 1992, a time when TCM was unregulated.
After the creation of the CTCMPAO by the previous Liberal government, no one after April 2013 could practice acupuncture or TCM or call themselves a practitioner without being a member of the college.
Membership required “reasonable proficiency” in either English or French.
Practitioner groups challenged the requirement in court, saying it was discriminatory, but judges were unconvinced.
In 2020, the CTCMPAO had 2,616 registered practitioners – 1,566 in Toronto and York Region alone – but many more, trained in TCM in China, cannot legally practice.
Li acknowledged that the requirement impacts many practitioners in China, “especially the older generation. They have great difficulty communicating in English,” he said, but argued that members of a regulated profession should follow the law of the land.
Although the government has not dissolved the CTCMPAO, it will require the college to offer a Chinese language entrance examination.
“The Liberals put in place a broken system that prevented people who speak primarily Cantonese or Mandarin from practicing traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Ontario,” Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Minister of Health Christine Elliott, said via email in a March 16 statement.
“It puts new Canadians at a disadvantage and our government is going to fix that.”
Explaining Chinese medicine to Canadians is difficult, but many of its practices are based on thousands of years of study, said Jacqueline Yeung, senior executive director of the Royal North American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“We look at the person in a holistic way,” said Yeung, whose small school in an office block in northwest Scarborough is one of maybe a dozen in the area.
Decorated with scrolls depicting TCM masters from centuries ago, the RNACTCM graduates around 20 students a year.
Yeung, who also has a degree in biochemistry from the University of Toronto, studied TCM in Hong Kong.
As a teenager, she had eczema. Western dermatology didn’t help much, but to her surprise, acupuncture on her legs and abdomen did.
Non-Chinese patients come to Yeung for acupuncture or herbal treatments, she said. “They see the efficiency.”
In In 2014, the Old Scarborough Hospital and the University of Toronto opened the Center for Integrative Medicine to study the effectiveness of complementary therapies, including TCM, although the center closed after two years.
Feng, on the other hand, said that she tried to get TCM recognized by Canadian society in general. Currently attempting a clinical trial in Hong Kong to see if TCM treatments reduce symptoms of so-called long COVID, Feng is also hoping for a trial in Ontario.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY:
Journalist Mike Adler wanted to know why so many traditional Chinese medicine practitioners oppose a provincial law deregulating their profession and what might happen next.