A Halifax pediatrician who has been reprimanded in the past for improperly performing vaccinations is now charged with child pornography-related offences.
Dr. William Richard Vitale, 72, is charged with possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography and having child pornography for the purpose of distribution.
Court documents say the alleged offences occurred between July 3, 2015 and Feb. 26, 2016.
Vitale was brought to Halifax provincial court in a police van Friday and asked by a sheriff's officer if he needed a doctor when he arrived.
The man appeared distraught and his lower lip quivered during his arraignment. At one point, he tried to address the judge directly and a recess was called while he spoke to his lawyer.
Vitale was released on $5,000 bail and ordered to have no contact with children under 18, or to be in areas where children are present such as schools and playgrounds.
He is due back in court on March 30.
Medical licence suspended
Halifax Regional Police say they seized computer equipment at the doctor's house on St. Margarets Bay Road during the investigation. Vitale was arrested on Friday morning.
"There is no indication at this point that any local children have been victimized," Const. Dianne Woodworth said.
Crown attorney Peter Dostal said Friday there was a concern because of Vitale's occupation that local children were at risk but "so far, there's been no sign that there's any local children … that have been harmed by Mr. Vitale."
He added that the charges stem from online activities that led police to file-sharing networks and ultimately, to Vitale's residence.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia immediately suspended the doctor, who had an active licence to practise, registrar Gus Grant said.
"An investigation committee considered the matter and has imposed an interim suspension on Dr. Vitale's licence to practise medicine effective immediately," he said. "It is in effect until further notice."
The college was not involved in the police investigation and only heard of the charges just before they went public, Grant said.
Vitale's suspension will leave patients without a doctor and there is no mechanism for appointing one to take his place, he said.
"When a physician is removed from practice for whatever reason, it falls upon the profession as whole to absorb the patients," Grant said.
Vitale, who graduated from McGill University's faculty of medicine in 1976, was reprimanded twice by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia.
He was disciplined in 2015 for writing prescriptions for a member of his own family and also in 2013 for improperly administering vaccinations. The college found he was improperly mixing incompatible vaccines in a single syringe.
The college ordered Vitale to undergo specialized ethics training in Toronto and to submit to an audit of his practice.
No age limit on practising medicine
Grant said the college does not remove a physician's licence because of age.
"It is well established in Canada that there is no mandatory retirement age. But the medical profession and the regulatory bodies in medicine are certainly aware that with advancing age come health issues that might affect the physician's ability to practice appropriately," he said.
"That's certainly something that is on the radar of all regulatory bodies."