Canada Laws & Regulation Update

May 2005

COMTA for Canada

The Commission for Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) has been chosen as the official accrediting agency for Canadian massage schools. In late 2004, the Canadian Council of Massage Therapy Schools (CCMTS), a consortium of 26 massage schools, chose COMTA because of its broad experience with the massage-therapy field.

In choosing an accrediting agency “we looked at, ‘Is there a system transferable to ours? Would they handle our culture well?’ I think [COMTA] works,” says CCMTS Vice President Doug Fairweather.

Fairweather says CCMTS is working toward standardized massage-therapy training across the country. Right now British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador are the only provinces with education requirements and regulation overseeing massage therapists.

Fairweather believes that this will eventually change. There are efforts underway by massage-therapy associations to create national regulation (see “A National Effort,” Body Politic, May/June).

“The idea is to create in Canada a standard, so we can all be assured we are playing by the same rules but also so that students and prospective students can be taken care of,” he says.

He speculates that tuition aid in Canada will be tied into accreditation, as it is in the United States. In the United States, a school must be accredited by an agency recognized by the department of education in order for its students to be eligible to receive federal tuition aid. In Canada, only British Columbia has an accreditation process. This, too, will most likely change, Fairweather says.

“To ensure across the board a high standard in massage-therapy education,we believe accreditation is an essential component,” he explains. “As the number of accredited schools increases and the public awareness of these standards improves, there will be added incentive from a competitive perspective.”

COMTA goes north

For COMTA, accrediting Canadian schools presents some challenges, according to Executive Director Steve Fridley. While the commission has already accredited two Canadian schools and has accepted applications from a school in Trinidad and Tobago, he acknowledges that dealing with international institutions takes special consideration.

The wide education gap between Canada’s regulated provinces and unregulated provinces (a range of 0-3,000 hours); issues of Canadian financial aid—even possible issues around the topic of zoning, will all require research, Fridley says.

“We need to continue listening,” he adds, "[and focus on] how can the spirit of improving education be maintained while we absorb new information and new things?”

Fridley says COMTA is considering the possibility of creating a separate division for foreign schools. “The international division might have a rep on the committee who could not vote on U.S. applications, but could represent an international group that is not touched on by U.S. regulations or federal financial aid.”

—Kelle Walsh

March 2005
In Canada, regulation of the massage-therapy industry is as varied as the country itself. In British Columbia, a practitioner bearing the title registered massage therapist has completed at least 3,000 hours of training. In Alberta, a therapist need not have any formal training. Three provinces - British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador - have provincial standards for registered massage therapists; the rest do not.

Some massage professionals see Canada’s inconsistent provincial regulations as problematic - for the general public, for medical professionals trying to refer patients for massage therapy, and for the insurance companies that therapists bill. It also proves difficult for therapists who move from one province to another.

That’s why, in 2003, Canada’s Association of Massage Therapists and Wholistic Practitioners (AMTWP) commissioned a task force charged with, among other things, assessing public policy related to the massage-therapy industry. The result of that two-year effort is a proposed set of national, uniform standards and regulation for the massage-therapy industry.

“We’re currently looking at building a national accreditation model that would be the same across Canada,” says Colleen MacDougall, AMTWP’s executive director.

The association proposes the creation of a four-tiered system of certification for massage therapists. MacDougall likens it to different levels of nursing, such as registered nurse or licensed vocational nurse. Based on a therapist’s level of education, training and scope of practice, she would be certified within one of four categories: general or basic relaxation massage; remedial massage, which would identify specialized therapists who treat simple chronic and acute conditions; advanced remedial, for therapists trained to treat more complex ailments and injuries; and research, for therapists with bachelor’s degrees and on a research track. The education requirements for each level range from 500 hours for general to four years for research. However, MacDougall says those numbers are not set in stone.

The categories would, according to the AMTWP, offer guidance to clients looking for a particular type of session, as well as physicians and other health-care professionals who refer patients to massage therapists; and help health-insurance companies identify therapeutic-massage practitioners.

Categorized national standards for the massage industry, says AMTWP President Melanie Hayden, will help the industry keep up with the times and play a prominent role in Canadian health care.

“It takes a very broad term like massage therapy and brings it into a perspective that there are many types of services,” she says. “Massage therapy is becoming more and more recognized, and we don’t want to limit ourselves by putting ourselves in a box and saying, ‘OK, this is the definition of a massage therapist, period.’”

The proposal is in its infancy, but AMTWP is gearing up to promote it and get stakeholders on board. This year the association plans to hold talks with massage schools, provincial massage-therapy associations, regulatory agencies and insurance companies to hammer out a proposal that works for everyone. Since health care is regulated provincially in Canada, all 10 provinces and the three territories would have to agree on and legislate the proposed standards.

The support may already be there. A policy statement recently released by the Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance (CMTA), a group of nine provincial massage-therapy associations, promotes national regulations. The CMTA proposes a standard of 2,200 hours of education.

Sue Williams, a registered massage therapist in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and former president of the Ontario Massage Therapist Association, is concerned that any proposed national standard not be less stringent than current provincial standards—a likely situation under the categorized system envisioned by AMTWP.

“I would not subscribe to national standards that were below the provincial standards imposed in Ontario and B.C.,” she says. “You don’t want national standards that detract from the existing standards that are exemplary.”
- Laurel Chesky

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