Manitoba

Manitoba doctors' college not asking police to investigate allegations against suspended doctor

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says it will not be asking police to investigate allegations of unwanted sexual touching against Dr. Gary Allan Joseph Harding.

Sexual allegations made against suspended doctor

The college's registrar says it would provide any information it has to police should they choose to investigate. (CBC)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says it will not be asking police to investigate allegations of unwanted sexual touching against Dr. Gary Allan Joseph Harding, the Winnipeg oncologist who was stripped of his medical license after being found guilty of professional misconduct.

"Generally we would not go to the police and say 'investigate this,'" said the college's registrar, Dr. Anna Ziomek. She says the disciplinary report is public, and if police want to carry out a criminal investigation, they have access to the document online.

"These are adult victims who, if they chose to go forward to the police themselves, anything we have, we would give to the police," said Ziomek.

Colleges responsible to report: ethicist

"In principle, it would be the responsibility of any college to report suspected criminal activity of one of its members to authorities I don't think anybody would disagree with that," said Brendan Leier, a professor at the University of Alberta's Dossetor Health Ethics Centre.

He said this principle would not apply if one of the victims told the college they did not want to be involved in a criminal investigation.  

Karen Busby, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, believes colleges shouldn't be forced to report.

"In my view, it's somewhat paternalistic to require the college to make the report regardless if the [complainant] wants the report to be made," said Busby.

"It should be up to the complainant themselves," said Busby, noting they may have personal reasons for not wanting to report to police, or may not want to deal with the court system.

On Friday, police told CBC in a written response they do not require a victim to come forward to launch an investigation. "A report from the College would be sufficient for us to begin a preliminary investigation," the written response said.

Police alerted to potential crimes in Ontario

Three years ago, Ontario's college changed its policy and started forwarding decisions to police where acts by doctors are potentially criminal.

"When there are reasonable grounds to believe that a physician has committed a criminal act, and there is a risk of harm to patients or the public that could be reduced by a report to the police, College staff will advise the police of potentially criminal physician behaviour even in the absence of the specific patient's consent," reads an October 2015 letter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to the Minister of Health.

The disciplinary report said Harding began making sexual advances to one of his students in January 2013, where he asked for oral sex multiple times. During a trip to New York City that Harding arranged and paid for, the report states, he placed his hand under the student's waistband, which he found "profoundly disturbing."

The report goes on to say Harding often watched movies and had sleepovers with another student. The student said he awoke to find Harding's hand on his genitals, which he had not consented to.

Although Harding pleaded no contest to the allegations, in psychiatric assessments he denied sexual touching of the students.

Has not worked as doctor for 3 years

Ziomek says Harding's six-month suspension started in May. While some critics say that penalty is not harsh enough, Ziomek says Harding did not work for three years while the investigation process had been going on.

"So for him that has been a 3½-year process of not working or not having any income. The suspension is for six months and there is no guarantee he will be able to return to work after that six months," said Ziomek.

Harding has to undergo extensive psychiatric and psychological counselling, as well as "rigorous and specific" evaluation. He will be prohibited from overseeing or teaching any medical students again.

"Even when he does all that, he isn't going out to solo practice. He's not going unmonitored or unsupervised. He will have somebody for years following him, making sure there are no issues," said Ziomek. "His career is dramatically changed."

It's not known if the two students are continuing their studies at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Harding could not be reached for comment.

After numerous calls, the CBC is still waiting for an interview with officials at the University of Manitoba. A spokesperson referred to a statement provided to media Friday, which said the Max Rady College of Medicine offers mechanisms for students to report, including a Speak Up campaign in place since 2013. 

"The University of Manitoba takes sexual violence allegations seriously and acts on any disclosure. We are committed to supporting individuals who disclose and building a culture of safety, respect, consent, prevention and education." 

According to the college's decision, Harding has not practised or taught medicine since 2015.

Ziomek says anyone looking to hire him from another jurisdiction would find the suspension and disciplinary report attached to Harding's profile.

About the Author

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.