The Failure of Self-Regulation of the Chiropractic Profession is an Urgent Public Health Crisis

Below is a letter I recently sent to Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Christine Elliott. The letter was written following a number of very disappointing decisions I received from the College of Chiropractors (CCO) of Ontario concerning a number of complaints I have submitted over the past couple of years (details to follow soon). 

The CCO has made it clear that they are either unable or unwilling to hold chiropractors to a reasonable ethical or scientific standard for the protection of the public. I have submit complaints detailing how Ontario chiropractors have used deceptive advertising, how they have disseminated provably false claims, how they have misled the public on scientific and medical issues, how they have cautioned that vaccinations are “toxins”, how they have lectured that medical doctors “kill” their patients, how they have endangered lives by claiming such nonsense as one cannot overdose on vitamin D, how they have made false claims supporting invalid tools and techniques, how they have exposed patients to x-rays unnecessarily, how they have targeted patients with predatory sales tactics, and how they have shown a blatant disregard to their responsibilities as regulated health professionals. No single chiropractor has been disciplined for any of the above issues.

I am at wit’s end. The regulatory college is not effective and not appropriately acting on its mandate to protect the public. I have been reasonable and gone through the proper channels by submitting complaints, but now I realize that chiropractors are not capable of self-regulation. There are many great chiropractors who initially gave me hope that the profession could reform itself, but I no longer see this as a realistic possibility. The profession must either be dismantled or there must be intervention by independent authorities.

We are increasingly aware of the danger that health and science misinformation both pose to public health, democratic decision making, and the public’s understanding of science. The chiropractic profession was given a chance to regulate themselves and improve. They have collectively failed. 

The Letter

Dear Minister Elliott,

Several years ago, while completing my PhD, a colleague of mine handed me a pamphlet advertising an event put on by a local chiropractor. Curiously, the topic of the seminar was cancer, but chiropractors are not medical doctors and certainly not specialists in oncology.

As I learned more about this practice, I found that the chiropractic profession harbored strange beliefs surrounding medicine generally. While some practice akin to physical therapists, there exists a large subset of practitioners who believe that spinal “adjustments” are the core requirement to maintain good health and prevent disease – a provably absurd notion. The philosophy behind this belief is even
more absurd, but I will spare you the details.

At the time, I was most passionate about science education, but I felt that my efforts were undone by regulated practitioners who disseminated misinformation to large audiences, utilizing their authority as health professionals to deceive the public for financial gain. This was the beginning of my adventure in science advocacy in activism.

Learning of the existing regulatory mechanisms in place that are intended to protect the public, I began systematically submitting complaints against practitioners to The College of Chiropractors of Ontario. Most recently (today), I submitted a complaint concerning two chiropractors who claim that vaccinations are the “absolute number 1 chemical stressor” requiring chiropractic treatment. This is merely a sampling of the many absurd and dangerous claims I encounter daily.

Unfortunately, the regulatory college has failed to appropriately act on complaints. Recent stories in various national outlets (some of which have featured my activism) highlight the extent of the issue and shed light on a greater regulatory failure: The College of Chiropractors of Ontario itself is comprised of council members who harbor pseudoscientific beliefs, including a strong opposition to immunization. In the midst of low vaccination rates and increasing outbreaks, this is completely unacceptable.

I have – thus far – played by the regulatory rules and mechanisms available, but they are simply inadequate. For the safety and general good of the public, I ask that you intervene with the College, review complaints, and enact stronger regulation. As with other health professionals, chiropractors
operate within a privileged marketplace. It is time that the profession took on the responsibility that comes with that privilege.


Ryan Armstrong

3 thoughts on “The Failure of Self-Regulation of the Chiropractic Profession is an Urgent Public Health Crisis

  1. Terry Polevoy Reply

    Over the last 20 years I have filed numerous complaints with the CCO. Only one of them has ever been successfully disciplined. Some were anti-vaxxers, some claimed to “treat” young children with ADHD or autism by manipulating their skull sutures. Many chiros have been warned, but I have never seen evidence that ANY of them have actually been inspected or supervised by the CCO. Some are involved in marketing products and one of those was on the executive committee of the CCO, and a longtime member of the discipline committee. The Minister of Health will most likely ignore complaints for oversight of the CCO. I’d like to see a list of Ontario chiros who attended the conference in Montreal recently where American anti-vaxxers were keynote speakers. Why don’t insurance companies stop paying them? Some unlicensed chiros come to Ontario to train others in “functional medicine” and train them how to order lab work, which is illegal in this Province.
    Now these quacks want to be able to order lab work and MRIs or CT scans. The OCA keeps posting ads on social media, especially in the last month pleading their case. This will be a plus for Life Labs and private facilities that do MRIs or CT scans. But, our public hospital-based system will be flooded with requests sent to them by chiropractors who have absolutely no idea of what they are doing in the first place.
    This will reduce access to our medical patients that require these procedures. If the government covers the cost, we will be bankrupt.
    Let us know what the Minister of Health said. BTW – did you copy Doug Ford?

  2. compandalt Reply

    An excellent letter and article. I agree with you that the profession is not going to succeed in reforming itself and that applies internationally not just in Canada. Whilst some chiropractors claim that those who mislead, believe in subluxation, treat non-MSK conditions are on the “fringe” the reality is that there are far too many who fit into that group for reform to succeed. I don’t have any concrete figures on the numbers but from what I’ve seen it is likely to be a lot more than the 20% some claim.

    I’ll be interested to see what response you get from the Minister. Well done for continuing to highlight these issues in order to protect the public.

    1. Ryan Armstrong Reply

      Yeah, the 20% claim is certainly an underestimate – the research supporting it is not particularly robust. From an examination of the chiropractors in my home city (population ~400,000), it appears that just under 50% are practicing blatant pseudoscience (within the vitalistic model); however, it has been said that my area is a hotbed for quackery.

      I’ll post an update when I have one.

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