02/26/2015 05:29 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Formal caution to Dr. Bernstein over weight-loss advertising stands

TORONTO - A key player in the country's weight-loss industry deserves a formal caution for violating advertising rules, a professional appeal board in Ontario has ruled.

In a decision released Thursday, the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board dismissed a protest by Dr. Stanley Bernstein, who wanted the caution thrown out.

"That part of the decision requiring (Bernstein) to attend the college in person to be cautioned for his use of testimonials, comparatives, and superlatives in his advertising is confirmed," the review board said.

The complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons originated with Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who argued Bernstein had breached the rules with his advertising of his weight-loss clinics by making numerous unsubstantiated claims.

In its decision in July 2013, the college's inquiries, complaints and reports committee upheld Rosenthal's complaint, finding Bernstein had violated advertising rules "in a number of significant ways."

Among other things, the committee faulted the doctor's use on his website of testimonials — such as M.P. lost 196 pounds in 14 months — and before-and-after photographs of allegedly successful dieters.

The committee also took issue with Bernstein's claim to have helped "hundreds of thousands of people lose millions of pounds of excess weight and keep it off for life," saying the claim "strains credulity" and was not supported by objective scientific proof.

The appeal board found the committee's investigation of the complaint and findings to be adequate and reasonable.

However, the board did order the committee to look at whether Bernstein was guilty of "steering" members of the public to doctors in his clinics in violation of the rules, as Rosenthal had claimed.

"It was unreasonable for the committee not to have dealt with the steering issue," the board said.

Rosenthal, who had argued a formal caution was insufficient punishment, said he was particularly pleased the committee will have to take another look at the steering issue.

"That's the whole essence of his operation: He draws people in and gives them to other doctors in his clinic," Rosenthal said.

"Steering is a much more fundamental thing than any of the advertising things, it's the whole structure of his business."

Bernstein's lawyer, Neil Abramson, said Thursday the doctor would be taking the case to the courts for judicial review.

He called the board findings "unreasonable" although he declined to be specific.

"We've just received the decision but on my review of it, it really does appear to have a number of material errors of law," Abramson said. "It will be challenged in the law courts."