New provincial rule for the accounting industry has newcomers crying foul

Toronto Sun
July 10, 2009

Christina Blizzard

Any place that relies on immigrants for its lifeblood has to perform a great, high wire balancing act.

How do you encourage people with professional qualifications to come here and work — while ensuring you maintain your own professional standards?

Organizations such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), both based in the U.K., are crying foul over legislation introduced this spring by Attorney General Chris Bentley aimed at toughening up certification requirements for people in the accounting industry.

The new law will forbid members of those and some other professional organizations from listing their professional credentials on their business cards, advertising and letterhead.

Mahes Wickramasinghe who came here from Sri Lanka, says the new legislation discriminates against foreign-trained professionals.

“Canada is a country that relies on skilled immigrants,” he said.

“People like myself come to Canada and effectively, the moment you land, you are told, sorry it is illegal for you to use your qualifications,” he said.

Martin Sexton is secretary of the Canadian Branch of CIMA, an organization that has 170,000 members in more than 100 countries worldwide.

If the new law is passed, he will no longer be allowed to list his qualifications on his business card, he said.

“I will not be allowed to use that because the other accounting bodies in Ontario have deemed that there might be some sort of confusion,” Sexton said.

“Obviously, that causes huge problems for our members here, particularly when we have people who are newly arrived in Canada,” he said.

There is no question of CIMA members attempting to impersonate a Canadian accounting designation, he said.

“We are all very proud of our own qualification and there is really no need to do that. It is simply that it’s attempting to make our qualification less legitimate,” Sexton said.

A spokesman for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario disagrees. Peter Varley, the institute’s vice-president of public affairs, says the new measure is all about safeguarding the interests of consumers.

Varley points out there are 160 different accounting bodies around the world. Ontario is attracting people from around the world, and not all of them have a legal designation that provides oversight, a disciplinary structure and accountability for its members.


“If you take away the provision in Bill 158 that the ACCAs and CIMA are arguing against, you open up the floodgates to an absolute alphabet soup of really confusing accounting designations,” Varley said.

“There has been such an evolution and a proliferation of all the accounting designations out there, you have to make a sharp distinction in law on which are recognized accounting bodies.

“They are only recognized if they have all the professional safeguards that the public would reasonably expect from a professional,” he said.

Bentley spokesman Erin Moroz said there is nothing in the legislation that will prohibit or restrict foreign-trained accountants from continuing to practise in Ontario.

“The legislation is intended to protect potential consumers of accounting services, including new Canadians, from confusion about the qualifications of accountants,” she said in an e-mail.

Like I said, it’s a delicate balance. On the one hand, we all want professionals trained to Canadian standards. On the other, this country was built on the brainpower of immigrants. In doing the former, we must make sure we don’t inadvertently throw up barriers that keep skilled newcomers from working in their chosen professions.




Reference: Toronto SUn