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Canada Ontario physicians’ regulator must do more to shield patients from sexual abuse: report

A task force recommends the province set up an Ontario Safety and Patient Protection Authority.

Oleg Prikhodko/iStockphoto

Ontario should establish an independent body to deal with doctors who sexually abuse their patients, but refrain from automatically forwarding victims' complaints about physicians to police, according to the long-awaited report of a provincial task force that concluded the physicians' self-regulating college is not doing enough to shield patients from dirty doctors.

Setting up an Ontario Safety and Patient Protection Authority – and stripping the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario of the power to adjudicate sexual abuse allegations against its own members – is one of 34 recommendations made in a 299-page draft report obtained by The Globe and Mail Thursday.

The task force also recommends that the province expand the list of sexual violations that would lead to doctors automatically losing their certificates to practise; that hospitals, universities and private clinics be subject to fines as high as $250,000 for failing to report alleged sexual abuse; and that the new protection authority provide victims their own counsellors and legal support throughout the complaint process.

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"Far too often, the health regulatory colleges have been unable to uphold the zero-tolerance standard, and far too many Ontario patients do not have confidence in the current system," said the report, which is stamped confidential.

It is not clear when the report will be officially released. A spokesman for Health Minister Eric Hoskins declined to comment Thursday night.

Dr. Hoskins appointed the task force in December of 2014 after a series of stories in the Toronto Star found that some doctors who had sexually abused patients were being lightly punished and allowed to continue practising, sometimes with poorly enforced restrictions against seeing female patients alone. The task force recommends that this type of half-measure no longer be allowed.

The first version was submitted at the end of 2015, but concerns that the report might defame the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and other medical organizations stymied its release, according to The Star.

The CPSO, whose disciplinary panel currently handles sexual assault complaints, has already said publicly that it plans to make changes in anticipation of the task force's report.

The CPSO did not respond to an interview request Thursday night.

Last September, the CPSO urged the government to amend the law to make it mandatory to report discipline decisions to police when potential criminal acts, including sexual assault, are involved.

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But the task force argues that victims should be given a choice about whether to go to the police.

"It is the opinion of the task force that mandatory reporting of sexualized boundary-crossing to the police should not be done," the report said.

"Understandably, we all wish for a simple solution to a complex problem in our society. While the perspectives of patients and others who recommended to the task force that the complaints procedures under the RHPA [Regulated Health Professions Act] should be abolished and replaced by mandatory reporting to police are acknowledged, the task force members know first-hand that the criminal justice system has its own challenges, many of which result in many victims of sexual violence feeling dissatisfied and traumatized by the process."

The task force was originally co-chaired by human-rights lawyer Marilou McPhedran and former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry. He later dropped out for health reasons. The third member of the panel is Sheila Macdonald, the provincial co-ordinator of the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care and Treatment Centres.

The panelists spent six months speaking with patients and advocates about how to improve the law that governs all regulated health professionals in Ontario.

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