Whenever psychiatrist Allan Umar-Khitab moved to a new city, patients were impressed by the man with a quick smile, soothing voice and wonderful gift of the gab.
What they didn't know is that the doctor had been dogged by sex-related allegations -- none of them ever proven -- for almost two decades.
The stories first surfaced in Scotland, then followed him whenever he moved to a new job: in Moose Jaw, Sask.; then Saint John; and most recently Cambridge; Ont. The allegations involved at least 33 males, some of them patients.
Each time, Dr. Khitab moved on and the stories of the unproven allegations didn't seem to follow. Now one of his accusers is asking why hospitals and regulatory bodies aren't automatically informed and whether it's their duty to thoroughly probe a physician's background.
"I think [Dr.]Khitab had every right to be licensed in Ontario. He had no findings against him. Whatever occurred was never proven," said Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. "On the other hand, for them [Ontario]not to know there had been issues in the past was also unreasonable."
Dr. Khitab doesn't think disclosure of unproven past allegations to doctors regulatory bodies would be a good idea. The slight, greying, 63-year-old says he has done nothing wrong.
"If you are cleared, then the slate should be cleared," he said in a telephone interview from his Paris, Ont. home.
The question of background checks has become the focus of a multimillion-dollar statement of claim filed by a former patient who alleges neither Cambridge Memorial Hospital nor the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario did proper probes into the psychiatrist's past.
In particular, the hospital failed to "adequately inform itself as to Khitab's history of sexual abuse committed in the course of his practice of medicine in other jurisdictions including Saskatchewan and Scotland," according to the statement of claim, which contains allegations not proven in court.
Statements of defence were not available.
The statement of claim was filed after a jury in Windsor, Ont., acquitted the widower of 11 sex-related charges involving four former patients.
Though he is relieved, Dr. Khitab said he is the victim of a bungled police investigation that damaged his patients and the community.
"What I've gone through is nothing less than persecution," he said about the police investigation he described as pathetic. "Fortunately, not many people go through this hell that I've gone through."
The psychiatrist acknowledged he has been investigated in New Brunswick about allegations a "very sick patient" made about him, and in Scotland where medical examinations he did on prison inmates were misinterpreted, as were those in Cambridge. However, he said he wasn't aware that he had been probed by police in Saskatchewan.
Dr. Khitab now faces a hearing before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario about allegations of incompetence and sexual impropriety with patients. In the meantime, his privileges at Cambridge Memorial Hospital remain suspended until an internal investigation and the college hearing are complete.
For its part, the hospital said it followed standard procedures and checked Dr. Khitab's references -- which were excellent -- before hiring him in 1989. The college refused to comment.
But the case of Dr. Khitab is provoking debate about whose responsibility it is to probe a doctor's background and what information should be provided to hospitals and regulatory bodies.
Dr. Khitab's past includes charges of indecently assaulting 23 inmates when he was a consultant psychiatrist in Scotland.
Inmates testified the psychiatrist fondled their genitals during medical examinations, though the court concluded the evidence was unconvincing and there was no case. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 1981.
Dr. Khitab said he was recruited for a job in Saskatchewan, where he worked at the Moose Jaw Psychiatric Centre. By the mid 1980s, Moose Jaw police were investigating Dr. Khitab concerning sex-related allegations involving two or three teenaged males, but no charges were ever laid.
A tersely worded letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan reveals that the Health Minister terminated Dr. Khitab's contract in June of 1984, which meant his licence to practise medicine in that province also automatically ended.
Dr. Khitab decided to move to New Brunswick. He went there with a "clean certificate" and was licensed in September of 1984, said lawyer John Barry, counsel for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.
A few years later, Dr. Khitab was the focus of attention again, this time when the Saint John police investigated him about allegations he sexually touched and assaulted four to five adolescent boys, some of them patients, Constable Cathy Hayward said. She took her case to the Crown attorney but the complainants were not seen as credible.
Allegations of sexual touching also made their way to Lynn Kinsella, who was a psychiatric nurse treating a male patient in Saint John who said he "had been sexually touched by his doctor."
She put the patient's statement in the chart, notified her supervisor and an investigation began. The allegations were dismissed, however, after separate hearings at the hospital and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, Mr. Barry said.
When Dr. Khitab moved to Ontario in the spring of 1989, the New Brunswick college disclosed none of the past allegations made against Dr. Khitab on his certificate of standing, said Dr. Schollenberg, who was not registrar at the time.
The registrar at the time, Dr. Victor McLaughlin, said he can be "reasonably sure" that he talked to the Ontario college about Dr. Khitab's past. "I'm not certain that I did," he said. "I just think that I probably would have because of a friendly network that we have."
In a prepared statement, Cambridge Memorial Hospital has said it granted privileges to Dr. Khitab in 1989 using the best available information and it is confident "all necessary steps were taken."
In 1994, police in Cambridge began investigating the psychiatrist for allegations he sexually touched young male patients.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario must have been conducting its own inquiries because in 1997 investigator Shenda Tanchak sent a fax to its sister regulatory body in Saskatchewan, enquiring about Dr. Khitab.
In reply, then deputy registrar Dr. L.M. Loewen of the Saskatchewan college wrote it "has no derogatory information with respect to this physician. His licence was terminated because his employment with the provincial government to provide psychiatric services was terminated."
The letter, dated Dec. 10, 1997, ended by stating that Dr. Khitab's file "contains no information which would indicate any criminal problems."
At his trial last month in Windsor, two former patients testified to having their genitals touched during an examination; a third said a happy face was drawn on his penis. A fourth adolescent, who testified to having anal sex with the psychiatrist on his office couch, also said he had been extended an offer to live with the doctor. The jury found the evidence not to be sufficiently persuasive and Dr. Khitab was acquitted.
An accuser, who's now 22, is suing the psychiatrist for sexual assault, mental abuse and child abuse, while the hospital and the college are being sued for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty to act in good faith, and negligence.
The statement of claim, which is unproven, alleges the hospital failed to properly investigate Dr. Khitab before hiring him and it did not "remove Khitab from his employment duties and to report Khitab to the appropriate authorities when it knew or ought to have known of the sexual assaults of minor outpatients, including [the accuser]"
Further, it alleges the college failed to properly investigate Dr. Khitab before giving him a medical licence.