Dr. George Doodnaught, the Toronto anesthesiologist found guilty of sexually assaulting 21 women while they were under conscious sedation in hospital, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday.

In delivering the sentence, Judge David McCombs called the crimes "shocking and abhorrent." He said "a very substantial sentence" was necessary to send a clear message about the abhorrence of the crimes, which he called "reprehensible in the extreme."

Doodnaught will be banned from having a weapon and will be registered as a sex offender for life. His lawyer has asked that Doodnaught be held in protective custody.

Doodnaught was convicted in November of assaults at North York General Hospital that included kissing, fondling and performing other sexual acts on female patients during a four-year period that ended in 2010, leading to a trial that ran, with many adjournments, through most of last year. 

Leaves court in handcuffs

The defence was asking that Doodnaught receive an eight- to 10-year prison term; the Crown wanted up to 15 years.

During his trial, most of the 21 victims took the stand against Doodnaught, who has been practising for 26 years.

Many of the victims were in court and it was clearly an emotional day for them. Several wiped tears from their eyes as the judge read his sentencing reasons.

After the sentence was handed down, the victims waited in the courtroom to see Doodnaught led out in handcuffs — he had been free on bail during the trial — and one woman clapped.

During the trial, the victims gave generally similar accounts of being kissed and fondled by the doctor, and of having his penis placed in their mouths or hands. The women testified they were conscious enough to be aware of what was happening, but were not able to move their limbs.

Doodnaught assaulted the women while concealed from other medical staff only by a surgical drape.

The assaults happened over a four-year period ending in 2010.

When Doodnaught was convicted in November, McCombs found that the doctor relied on his three decades of operating room experience to avoid detection.

Doodnaught was known as a "touchy feely" doctor, so the judge found his physical proximity during surgery didn't arouse suspicion with other staff.

"The offender's moral blameworthiness is at the high end of the spectrum," McCombs said. "His conduct did enormous damage and was reprehensible in the extreme."

Doodnaught's lawyer said he will appeal the convictions.

Prior to Tuesday's sentencing, Dr. Patricia Houston, president of the Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society, spoke about the case on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

She said her colleagues were shocked and some were in disbelief when news about the assaults first occurred.

"It's almost incomprehensible to imagine how these types of events occurred in what should be a very supportive environment for a patient who's being taken care of by multiple care providers," she said.

Houston said the case illustrates that medical staff have a "collective responsibility" to ensure patient safety.

With files from Jasmin Seputis, Michelle Cheung, The Canadian Press