A massage therapist who practises in Kindersley and Eston in central Saskatchewan has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman the court deemed to “have the mental abilities of an 11-to-13-year-old.”
On Sept. 26, a Saskatoon judge found that Laurie Thompson had sexually abused the woman repeatedly in his massage therapy office.
Despite that conviction, Thompson is still legally allowed to practise in the province, while he awaits sentencing in December.
Lori Green, executive director of the Massage Therapist Association of Saskatchewan (MTAS), said this case points out the desperate need for the provincial government to regulate the profession.
She said without regulation, her organization is unable to investigate members or stop them from practising.
“So we can have all the bylaws and member code of ethics and standard of practices, but without any teeth in this we can’t do anything about it,” said Green.
Thompson exploited vulnerable client
During the trial, Thompson admitted to sexually touching the woman approximately 100 times, but he argued "the activities were consensual."
Thompson’s lawyer, Kevin Hill, told CBC’s iTeam his client “felt that [the victim] was of an emotional or intellectual age beyond that what the expert indicated.”
But the judge disagreed and ruled the woman did not consent.
In his ruling, he noted that Thompson had been "a close family friend of the victim, her parents and her brothers" and this assault breached that trust.
In addition, the court found that as a massage therapist, Thompson abused his authority and exploited the "imbalance of power."
Massage not a profession: defence lawyer
In court, Hill argued that there is no imbalance of power or authority relationship between a massage therapist like Thompson and a client.
Hill pointed out that in Saskatchewan a "masseuse" is not considered a health-care profession by the provincial government. They are not accredited like doctors, nurses and chiropractors.
In fact, Hill said when looking at the legal landscape, it seems massage therapists are more closely related to those who offer erotic massage.
"Certainly I would suggest it’s far more closer on the continuum to a massage parlour than to a doctor," Hill said.
"Traditionally we wouldn’t suggest that this kind of activity [massage] between consenting adults would per se create any kind of position of authority or power disparity."
However, the judge disagreed and found Thompson guilty.
Call for regulating massage therapy
Lori Green said this case highlights why massage therapists have spent 15 years lobbying the provincial government for regulation.
Green learned about Thompson's case in May and "realized this was an unfortunate story about what not having regulation in the province of Saskatchewan is all about."
"It’s devastating. It’s definitely a black mark on the association."
Green points out that four provinces are regulated right now: B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
She said if Saskatchewan were regulated like those provinces "MTAS would have had the ability to stop Mr. Thompson from practising and would be able to — at least until we completed an investigation — pull his licence from doing massage therapy."
As it stands, she said her only option is to take this matter to the media "for the greater good" of informing and protecting the public.
In an email to CBC’s iTeam, the Ministry of Health said it is working with MTAS to develop the association's case for self-regulation.
The ministry pointed out that "the business case must provide specific details as to how MTAS would regulate the practice and conduct of its members to best ensure the protection of the public."
According to the email, the government is expecting to receive that plan from the association sometime this fall.
Thompson puts practice on hold
Thompson’s lawyer said his client has decided on his own to put his massage therapy practice on hold for now.
"While he’s not on any conditions not to practise he has made a commitment that he will not practise in the meantime,” explained Hill.
Hill said this is, in part, motivated by a desire to show respect for the judges ruling in advance of sentencing in December.
As for Thompson’s future in massage therapy, Hill said, "I think there is a lot of reason to think that he is likely going to retire no matter what comes."