A West Vancouver doctor who was arrested in April 2012 for a threat to "cause death or bodily harm" was allowed to continue to practise after the provincial regulator stated his criminal charges were "unrelated to the practice of medicine," a fifth estate investigation has learned.

An arrest warrant was issued for Dr. Patrick Nesbitt, 58, last week after the general practitioner failed to show up for a criminal trial in Abbotsford related to an incident where he left bullet shells from his .22-calibre rifle on his ex-partner's driveway.

On Friday — hours after the CBC first reported this story — police say Dr. Nesbitt turned himself in, appeared before a judge and received bail. A new court date for a criminal trial has been  set for Feb. 22 for the doctor, who has a long history of complaints before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.

Abbotsford Police Det. Kevin Murray told the fifth estate that he was so concerned about patient safety he called the college nearly four years ago to warn it about the doctor.

Abbotsford Police Det. Kevin Murray

Abbotsford Police Det. Kevin Murray says he was so concerned about patient safety he called the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia to warn it about Dr. Patrick Nesbitt. (CBC)

"I thought it was important to notify the college, for the safety of others," Murray said. "This person could be potentially putting others in harm's way."

Nesbitt an 'elevated risk' for 'threatening behavior'

In a May 2014 ruling, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Gregory Brown also concluded that Nesbitt was "at some elevated risk to engage in threatening behavior." 

A psychiatric report filed in that case also raises questions about Nesbitt's medical practice.

"The recent criminal charges highlight the fact that [Nesbitt's] personality-based problems remain potentially problematic and should remain an active concern," forensic psychiatrist Dr. Todd Tomita wrote in a July 2012 report. He stated that without restrictions imposed by the college, Nesbitt "remains at an elevated risk in medical practice."

In an email to the fifth estate, a B.C. college spokesperson said that while they spoke to Nesbitt about the "troubling" bullet shells incident, they concluded it was being dealt with by the courts and was "unrelated to the practice of medicine."

Nesbitt was allowed to continue to practise.

For his part, Nesbitt has tried to claim on several occasions that he did not throw bullet shells but rather chocolate treats on the driveway of his ex-partner in Abbotsford.

"I threw Easter eggs on the driveway for my daughter to find on Easter," Nesbitt told the fifth estate's Bob McKeown.

Bullet shells found on driveway

Nesbitt's story is contradicted by numerous pieces of evidence, including a forensic analysis Abbotsford police say matched one of his five firearms, a .22-calibre rifle, with the bullet shells found in the driveway.

In fact, in February 2014, Nesbitt himself signed a peace bond and acknowledged his actions "caused fear of personal injury" to another person.

In signing the peace bond, Nesbitt was spared a criminal trial, so long as took counselling and complied with other conditions.

When Nesbitt allegedly broke those conditions in 2014, he was charged criminally. He now faces an additional criminal charge for failing to show up in court.

In its email to the fifth estate, the B.C. college said that in the event of a criminal conviction against Nesbitt, it will "consider" its options.

"The college has acknowledged that Dr. Nesbitt's behaviour is very troubling and his misdeeds are embarrassing to the entire profession."

  • For tips on this story, email Harvey.Cashore@CBC.CA or contact Harvey Cashore at 416-526-4704. 

Long history of misconduct

Nesbitt has a long history of "unprofessional conduct" findings by the provincial regulator. 

In 2000, 2004 and 2005, Nesbitt pleaded guilty to several offences before the college, including some for inappropriate sexual language and one, in 1999, for "infamous conduct" relating to an incident of sexual touching and fondling outside the office. In 2011 and 2013, he admitted to breaching the terms of his licence. 

In its rulings, posted on the B.C. college website, Nesbitt has been repeatedly told his future conduct "must be beyond reproach." But he has been suspended and reinstated numerous times. 

Nesbitt told the fifth estate that he only pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyers and that he has never engaged in sexual misconduct with any patients. The sexual fondling incident, he said, was consensual and on a date.

In 2002, the college ordered that Nesbitt only see female patients with a chaperone present. And in 2005, it banned him from seeing female patients altogether.   

Yet in 2007, the college found that he breached that agreement by issuing prescriptions to 41 women.

After a four-year absence from practicing, the college agreed to reinstate Nesbitt's medical licence in 2012. He now works at a walk-in clinic in West Vancouver. He is restricted to working only in a group setting and is banned, once again, from seeing female patients.

Nesbitt agreed to see female patient

Given his previous breach of the ban on seeing female patients, the fifth estate conducted a test.

A member of the fifth estate team sent an email posing as a single mom who wanted an appointment for hypnosis, one of his specialties. 

"Sure," Nesbitt responded, "just call the office and make an appt. I normally only see men, but tell them that I said it was okay."

Dr. Heidi Oetter

Dr. Heidi Oetter, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, said she found it 'very concerning' that Dr. Patrick Nesbitt agreed to see a female patient, including for hypnosis. (CBC)

When fifth estate host Bob McKeown asked Nesbitt about that email exchange, he said hypnosis is not considered medicine, so the ban on seeing women did not apply.

"Hypnosis is done by doctors, social workers, psychologists, all sorts of people," he said. "It can't be called practising medicine." 

When told about that email exchange, B.C. college registrar Heidi Oetter said she found it "very concerning" that Nesbitt agreed to see a female patient, including for hypnosis. "We would want to investigate that," she said. 

Bipolar disease

Nesbitt attributes much of his past personal and professional behaviour to bipolar disease.

Dr. Gail Robinson, a psychiatrist with the University Health Network in Toronto and an expert in the field of professional conduct in medicine, said Nesbitt's bipolar condition may be a cause for concern for his patients.  

"So if you have a bipolar disorder and you cannot get it controlled well enough, that it interferes with your ability to care for your patients, maybe you can't be a clinician and see patients. Maybe you can be a researcher and do something like that."

Nesbitt says he now has his bipolar condition under control.

"I have been controlling it for years now, as I mentioned to you. It's been years since I've been on medication."

  • To watch the documentary Doctors without Boundaries, tune in to the fifth estate at 9 p.m. Friday

For tips on this story, email Harvey.Cashore@CBC.CA or contact Harvey Cashore at 416-526-4704.