Surgical resident fired for planting hidden camera in Calgary hospital washroom

The University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services quietly fired a surgical resident after he admitted to planting a hidden camera in a unisex public washroom at Foothills Medical Centre.

Calgary Police Service admits it botched 2012 probe of hidden camera at Foothills hospital

A Foothills Medical Centre employee discovered a hidden camera planted on the wall behind a public toilet in September 2012. (CBC News)

The University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services quietly fired a surgical resident in 2012 after he admitted to planting a hidden camera in a unisex public washroom at Foothills Medical Centre.

But the Calgary Police Service now admits the Crown declined to lay charges against Hisham Sultan, the young surgeon in training, because one of its constables botched the investigation.

"It was an investigation that was turned over to us, where we had video, and it sat for 40 days without being reviewed, and then it was returned to (Alberta Health Services security)," Calgary police Supt. Ryan Ayliffe told CBC News on Wednesday.

The constable returned the camera and its original recording without making a copy — effectively contaminating the chain of evidence and rendering it impossible for the Crown to recommend charges.

Documents obtained by CBC News from Alberta Health Services (AHS) through freedom of information show a staff member discovered the hidden camera in a unisex public washroom in the Foothills hospital's emergency department on Sept. 21, 2012.

"(The security officer) investigated the washroom and witnessed what looked like a false light-switch type device stuck on the wall behind the toilet," an internal report states. The officer photographed the device and removed it from the washroom, discovering it had a camera lens, on/off switch, and a radio receiver.

Alberta Health Services security turned over the camera to the Calgary Police Service the next day, but did not make a copy of the recording on it, a fact a senior AHS security manager observed could significantly delay its own internal investigation.

"We had some problems in the past where turning the camera over basically ties our hands in terms of an internal investigation as any evidence we can rely on is lost," Bob Stenhouse, AHS  executive director of protective services, said in an email to other staff. "The police could have this evidence for months."

No investigation by police

In fact, the Calgary police constable in charge of the file neither viewed the recording nor made a copy from the camera's memory card.

Two days after Alberta Health Services gave the camera to police, it asked for a copy of the recording so it could conduct its own internal investigation.

Hisham Sultan, a surgical resident, was fired after he confessed to planting the hidden camera. (Twitter)
It took nearly 40 days for police to return the camera but a day after receiving it — on Oct. 31, 2012 — Alberta Health Services security identified who they believed planted the camera.

"Hisham Sultan — resident," reads the email from an AHS lawyer to vice-president Dr. Francois Belanger.

AHS staff immediately told Sultan he was under investigation, placed him on administrative leave and took away his security pass. They also notified the medical school faculty at the University of Calgary of their decision and the ongoing investigation.

AHS security identified a female employee from the recording. It also appears the camera contained a recording of a patient who could not be identified.

The health authority soon had to broaden its investigation after someone realized the washroom captured on video was not in the same department as the washroom where the camera had been found.

"What this also identifies is that the person responsible for the placement of the camera appears to move it around," Stenhouse said in another internal AHS email.

Resident confesses

A Nov. 14, 2012 email, sent after security interviewed Sultan, reveals Sultan confessed to planting the camera. AHS corporate investigator Jeff Harder says in an email that the surgical resident "only put it in (the emergency department) because he got called back (to work in the unit.)"

Sultan's confession is confirmed in an email two weeks later from a human resources employee with the health services authority. She writes that Harder will speak to the Calgary Police Service "to verbally advise them that we have investigated the hidden camera incident (which they have a file on), that we had identified a suspect and that that individual has confessed."
Calgary Police Supt. Ryan Ayliffe acknowledges the police made a mistake by not reviewing the camera's contents. (CBC News)

Sultan's residency was terminated.

The female employee found on the camera's recording was notified of the incident.

Sultan appealed his termination and was initially supported by the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta. The association later withdrew its support and Sultan's grievance was ultimately denied.

Sultan declined repeated interview requests over the past three weeks. In a phone conversation, he said he now works in a Calgary fast-food business. He said he and his wife, who have a newborn baby, are struggling financially.

He said he has unsuccessfully tried to get a "clinical observership" in a hospital, which would be a first step to possibly regaining entry to a residency.

"Do you understand how this (story) could potentially prevent me from working here again in the medical field?" Sultan said. "Right now I am struggling to do other observerships, get back into the clinical scene, and this will do nothing for me.

"I have been struggling with this for four years now and you have no idea what I have gone through," said Sultan. He did not respond to a CBC News email query in which he was asked if he had sought professional counselling as part of any attempt to salvage his career.

Broken chain of evidence

Calgary Police spokesperson Emma Poole said the file was transferred from the constable to a detective on March 25, 2013. Three months later, on June 25, Sultan was arrested and brought in for questioning.

Poole said Sultan denied owning and planting the camera and was released. She said police could not use Sultan's confession to AHS security because he had not been cautioned or warned of his constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

In early July of 2013, Calgary police sent the file to the Crown prosecutor's office for a review and recommendation on charges.

"It came back to us that due to the continuity issues with the camera — ie. the camera going back to AHS security on Oct. 31 — that the Crown was not comfortable to proceed with the charges," Poole said, explaining that the critical chain of evidence had been broken.

Ayliffe, the Calgary police superintendent, apologized for the mistakes, acknowledging the investigation was below the service's expected standard.

"We're really concerned about having the trust and confidence of the public so that when they have a criminal matter, or they have something that they want investigated, that when we look at it, they are satisfied we are doing it professionally, lawfully and ethically," Ayliffe said.

He said the service is working with the constable to ensure "these mistakes are not repeated."