New bill would ban doctors, dentists convicted of sex assault from practising again

Doctors, dentists and other health professionals found guilty of sexual abuse would have their practice licences cancelled if a new bill introduced Tuesday is passed by the Alberta legislature.

Bill 21 covers colleges that regulate more than two dozen health professions

Dr. Ismail Taher had his practice licence reinstated even though he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a patient and a nurse. (Janice Johnston/CBC)

Doctors, dentists and other health professionals found guilty of sexual abuse would have their practice licences cancelled if a new bill introduced Tuesday is passed by the Alberta legislature.

An Act to Protect Patients gives the 29 colleges and associations that regulate health professions new power to keep members found guilty of sexual assault and sexual misconduct away from patients.

Some of the other professionals covered by the bill include nurses, physiotherapists, social workers, pharmacists and psychologists.

The proposed legislation, Bill 21, comes after a high-profile case in Edmonton involving a physician who had his practice licence reinstated even though he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a patient and a nurse.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta said it was limited by law about what it could do. It placed conditions on Dr. Ismail Taher, including having a chaperone in the room when he is seeing a female patient.

After Taher's reinstatement became public in April, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman told the legislature she immediately reached out to the college with the aim of making changes.

Hoffman referred to the case while introducing the bill on Tuesday. 

"When I dug into this situation, I was frustrated to learn that the tools available to the regulatory colleges here in Alberta were inadequate to protect patients," she said. 

If the bill is passed, Alberta would join Ontario as the only two Canadian jurisdictions with such measures. The legislation is proposed to come into effect on April 1, 2019.

"We're making it clear to perpetrators that the age of impunity is over," Hoffman said at a news conference. "These crimes have been confined to the shadows for far too long."

Funding for counselling

Under Bill 21, a college could cancel the practice of a health professional found guilty of sexual abuse by its own tribunal. The member would not be able to apply to get it back for at least five years.

A finding of sexual misconduct, which includes inappropriate remarks or conduct which embarrasses a patient or makes them uncomfortable, would lead to a suspension.

In cases of suspension, the professional would have to wait at least six months to apply for reinstatement. If their request is denied, they would have to wait another six months before trying again.

The names of professionals found guilty of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct would have to  be posted on the college's websites, and remain there indefinitely.

The bill also has a requirement for professional colleges to fund counselling for patients who allege sexual abuse or misconduct.

Complaints would no longer be open to resolution by mediation, which is currently allowed by some colleges.

Under the process proposed under the bill, patients who have a complaint would have to contact the relevant professional college.

They would have to be interviewed and could provide names of witnesses to investigators. The legislation would require patients to be kept up to date on the progress of their complaint and receive 30 days' notice of a hearing.

They would also be allowed to make a victim impact statement, which is not part of the current process.

The bill would also require that at least one member of the hearing tribunal have the gender identity of the complainant.

About two per cent of complaints received by professional colleges between 2015 and 2017 involved allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.