RCMP officers allege sexual abuse by doctor at Mounties' health office in N.S.
Michael Tutton and Alison Auld, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Tuesday, January 23, 2018 10:59AM AST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 24, 2018 7:55AM AST
Halifax police are investigating allegations from dozens of female RCMP officers and recruits who say they were sexually assaulted by a doctor at the Mounties' health clinic in Nova Scotia over two decades.
The force's commanding officer in Nova Scotia, Assistant Commissioner Brian Brennan, said Tuesday "a multiple of dozens" of women have brought forward allegations of incidents between October 1981 and July 2003 at the RCMP health services office in the Halifax suburb of Bedford.
In a note to officers, he said he expects "many more" women to come forward in the months ahead.
"I am at a loss for words as I write this message to you. To say I'm shocked and disheartened doesn't seem like enough," Brennan wrote in the internal memo.
"This is an extremely devastating time for those who have shared their trauma and are reliving this, and I am beyond unsettled to think that an individual who this organization entrusted abused their position of power."
Lawyer David Klein, whose firm is one of two that represented female RCMP employees in a sexual harassment class action, said several of his clients had informed him the physician was nicknamed "Dr. Fingers."
Klein said in an interview from his Vancouver office that eight clients told him that the doctor gave them unneeded rectal exams, inserted his fingers into their vaginas without good reason and spent unusually long periods rubbing their breasts with his hands.
The lawyer said more women were contacting his office to tell their stories on Tuesday, but they were not necessarily bringing their reports forward to police.
Assistant Commissioner Stephen White, the force's acting chief human resources officer, said in an email to members that the allegations involved a doctor who conducted recruitment medical examinations and periodic health assessments on members.
Brennan said the RCMP has received its information from sources other than the recently settled class action involving over 1,000 female RCMP employees who alleged they were suffered sexual abuse and harassment.
He also said the potential scope of the investigation is very large because hundreds of women applied for the police force over the 23-year period in question and received medical exams from the doctor.
Yet, he said it has only recently come to light to senior management.
"To my knowledge, no information has been brought up to senior management of the RCMP in any regard," he said, referring to the time period before the allegations surfaced last November.
Const. Carol McIsaac, spokeswoman for Halifax Regional Police, says an investigation was opened after the allegations were brought to their attention late last week.
"The investigation is in the very early stages and is fluid at this time," she said in an email. "While we are unable to provide a specific number, we can confirm that we have received a number of calls so far."
Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons, said the medical regulator also had not received reports like the ones described by Klein.
He said if they had, the college would have initiated an investigation. He also said the RCMP doctor had no record of any disciplinary findings against him and that the doctor is now retired.
Brennan said the applicants were new to the police force and this may have played a role in senior management not being informed.
"New people coming in, unfamiliar and with a desire to get into the RCMP, may not have realized at the time what was taking place. Over the years, maturity, exposure ... confidence would make them come forward at this time," he said.
Klein said he's pleased the police force has publicly released information about the case, and that it is offering support to the female employees who are reporting the assault.
"I'm glad to see women are coming forward ... It's vitally important a spotlight be shone on whatever occurred," he said.
"These stories are consistent. The reports we have from these eight women have a remarkable consistency and they happened years apart."
Klein said while it is plausible senior managers in the RCMP didn't hear of the allegations against the doctor, he thinks it's likely that other members of the police force were aware of the mistreatment of the applicants.
"I find it surprising that with that many women involved it didn't find its way through to other members of the RCMP," he said.
Klein said the case helps illustrate how important it is the police force act more quickly to bring in a series of 20 changes to its policies, committee structure and corporate culture aimed at reducing sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.
The changes were part of the negotiated class action settlement.
The RCMP formally apologized in 2016 to hundreds of former and serving female officers who were sexually harassed while working for the police force over the past 40 years.
It also announced settlements of up to $220,000 for women who were sexually abused, and set up a claims process for the women.
At the time, the lawyers involved estimated that more than 1,000 claimants will receive about $89 million.