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Toronto doctor who groped, kissed patient loses licence

Dr. William Beairsto was also ordered to pay for the patient’s therapy costs.

Dr. William Beairsto was found guilty of sexual abuse in August 2016.

Torstar File Photo

Dr. William Beairsto was found guilty of sexual abuse in August 2016.

A Toronto physician who was found to have stroked a patient’s buttocks, routinely hugged and kissed her and once said she would be a “good lover” has lost his licence.

A discipline panel of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario ordered earlier this month that Dr. William “Art” Beairsto, who practised family medicine and psychotherapy in Leaside, should not only have his licence revoked for sexual abuse, but also post credit in the amount of $16,000 to cover therapy costs for the patient, known as Patient A.

The college will not confirm if it referred the case to the police, only that it complied with its policy on “reporting physicians’ acts to the police.”

The October 2015 policy states, among other things, that the college will forward a copy of its discipline decision to police in “any matter that raises issues of physician criminal actions.” The college said it is barred by law from providing a patient’s name to police unless the patient consents.

The case again highlights that there is no provision in law that makes it mandatory for all health professional colleges to report complaints about members to the police, something that has divided lawyers and advocates.

Toronto police said that Beairsto is not facing criminal charges. The 69-year-old physician was found guilty of sexual abuse by a panel of the college’s discipline committee in August 2016, and had been suspended since November. His lawyer declined to comment to the Star.

Since the passage of Bill 87 in May, it is mandatory that a physician found guilty of groping be immediately suspended pending the outcome of their penalty hearing, where their licence must now be revoked.

Beairsto’s lawyers had argued at his penalty hearing in March that the amendments to the Regulated Health Professions Act brought in by Bill 87 should not apply because his case came before the passage of the bill. They argued to extend his suspension by three months, coupled with further training and supervision.

Before Bill 87, a discipline panel still had the discretion to impose penalties when it came to groping. Indeed, the panel was harshly criticized as recently as 2016 for handing down suspensions for groping, rather than revoking licences.

But the four-member panel in the Beairsto case agreed with the college’s lawyer that the provisions in Bill 87 were retroactive and that the doctor should lose his licence. Even if not for Bill 87, the panel said they would still have revoked his licence.

“Counsel for Dr. Beairsto argued that the legislative changes should not be applied retrospectively because the imposition of mandatory revocation would be punitive, and that different strategic decisions with respect to his defence might have been made had they known that mandatory revocation was a possibility,” the panel wrote.

The panel noted that Beairsto had previously come under the college’s radar in 2010 for a complaint of “egregious boundary crossings/violations” with a patient. That complaint was never sent to a public discipline hearing.

Instead, Beairsto was cautioned in secret, ordered to participate in a psychotherapy support group, and stop seeing patients with certain significant personality disorders, among other things.

The issue of whether sexual abuse by physicians should always be reported by the colleges to the police has been the subject of debate.

An independent task force, set up in the wake of a Star investigation on doctors still at work after sexually abusing their patients, specifically recommended against a mandatory reporting rule in its final report to Health Minister Eric Hoskins. Some of the task force’s recommendations formed part of Bill 87.

“Understandably, we all wish for a simple solution to a complex problem in our society,” wrote chair Marilou McPhedran, now a senator, and Sheila Macdonald, provincial co-ordinator of sexual assault and domestic violence treatment centres in Ontario.

“The task force notes that patients who have experienced sexual abuse by a health professional have, and should continue to have, the option to report the abuse to the police and proceed through the criminal justice system process, should they so choose.

“However, the task force asserts that choice is essential for patients who have experienced abuse and that the patient must retain agency and control as the decision-maker in these situations.”

At the CPSO, part of its policy is that it will offer to assist a complainant in filing a report to the police if they choose to do so.

Medical malpractice lawyer Paul Harte disagrees with some aspects of the task force’s findings, and said colleges should always be reporting to police, and include the name of the complainant whether or not they have consent.

“The task force was, rightfully so, very much focused on the complainant, but I think you need to balance that against the need to protect the public,” said Harte.

“We have to have some faith in the police that they're going to be able to handle these situations, in the same way they handle other sexual abuse allegations.”

Aside from finding Beairsto stroked Patient A’s buttocks, other findings the discipline panel made against him last year included:

  • Beairsto hugged and kissed Patient A on the cheeks after their psychotherapy sessions, which the committee found to be inappropriate, but not sexual abuse. Patient A found this conduct “weird,” while Beairsto testified that he kissed both male and female patients on the cheeks “in a cocktail party manner,” and hugged them “European-style.” He said he regrets hugging Patient A, and now only hugs and kisses his gay male patients, “as this allows him to demonstrate that, as a straight man, he is not homophobic.”
  • Patient A testified that Beairsto touched himself near his genitals and then smelled his hand. The doctor said he did not touch his crotch, but may have moved his hand from somewhere below his desk to his nose “as part of a demonstration to explain that smelling one’s vaginal discharge could be helpful in determining if a vaginal infection had resolved.” He testified that Patient A “misinterpreted his efforts” to give some “practical” medical advice.

The committee found Beairsto’s description of the encounter to be unprofessional.

“It is so outside the norm of what is a professional way to communicate medical information that, even if not salacious as alleged, it is completely inappropriate, and the committee finds Dr. Beairsto’s conduct to be disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional,” the committee said.

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