A January 23, 2024, decision from a Nova Scotia court has upheld the reputation and integrity of the engineering profession and the importance of licensure.

In her sentencing decision in the case involving Mark Connors, who signed off on plans with a made-up engineer licence number and a fabricated engineer seal, Judge Ronda van der Hoek of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia noted that fraudulently representing oneself as an engineer is a serious offence that poses a significant risk to public safety and undermines the trust and confidence that the public places in professionals. 

“The need to protect the public from those who would hold themselves out as a professional is simply too pressing and important,” Judge van der Hoek wrote in her decision. “This was not a one off. Mr. Connors’ actions were persistently carried out overtime and for profit. Engineering is not simply stamping drawings, and I am not convinced Mr. Connors realizes just how much he has impacted the public trust and risked the safety of the public that had cause to rely on him…Society has to be able to trust that an engineering stamp means something. Just as a person who consults a doctor relies on advice that a mole is not skin cancer, the source of advice from all professionals is backed by knowledge, skill, training, and oversight by a trusted regulator - in the public interest.”

“We were very pleased with the presentation of the arguments for the need for proper regulation to protect the public,” says Pal Mann, CEO and Registrar of Engineers Nova Scotia. “This is an important decision because it upholds that engineering is a profession and reaffirms that the instances of people practising engineering without a licence are dangerous to the public.”

Mann, continued, “the court decision to penalize the offender sends a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and that Engineers Nova Scotia will take action to protect the public and the right to title.”

In 2021 and 2022, Connors, who is not a professional engineer, signed off on plans as an engineer with a made-up number and sealed documents with an engineering stamp that he created on his computer. When notified of Connors’ unauthorized use of an engineer seal and number by a member of the public, Engineers Nova Scotia issued Connors a cease-and-desist letter and notified the police.

Following a police investigation, Connors was charged and pled guilty to committing a single count of fraud under $5,000 in relation to work undertaken for two proponents, contrary to section 380(1)(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

At sentencing, Connors sought a conditional discharge following successful completion of a period of probation. The Crown opposed, arguing that it was contrary to the public interest that Connors receive a discharge. Instead, they sought a three-month period of incarceration to denounce Connors’ conduct and to deter anyone from impersonating a professional, placing the public at risk, and diminishing trust in the profession. The Crown argued that the sentence should be served in the community and be followed by a 12-month period of probation.

Ultimately, Judge van der Hoek sentenced Connors to a short sharp period of custody, to be served in the community, followed by a period of probation with the conditions recommended by the Crown. She noted that Connors’ actions were not a momentary loss of judgment, but a sustained and involved effort undertaken over time. 

Judge van der Hoek also noted in her decision that Engineers Nova Scotia’s powers are limited as its governing legislation does not provide explicit statutory authority to enforce its Act outside of its disciplinary powers against members.

Mann notes that it is for this reason that Engineers Nova Scotia referred the matter to the RCMP, and has as one of its strategic priorities a legislative review of the Act. 

“The Engineering Profession Act is very good at dealing with people who inadvertently practise engineering and just need to be reminded of what the legislation is and how they need to follow the legislation,” Mann explains. This case was different and the current legislation isn’t well suited to address these cases. “It was a deliberate misleading of the public and a deliberate act by someone who understood what the rules were but who forged an engineering stamp. And we believed that if the individual was found guilty, the penalties under the Engineering Profession Act were not severe enough to deal with such a transgression.”