Manitoba pledges more transparency on MDs

Manitoba's health minister says legislation is in the works to create a more transparent system for people to monitor doctors in the province.

U.S. district attorney shocked that doctor got new medical licence after arson

Manitoba's health minister says legislation is in the works to create a more transparent system for people to monitor doctors in the province.

Theresa Oswald offered that news Tuesday in response to a flurry of questions over how a Winnipeg doctor with criminal convictions for violent crimes in Winnipeg and the U.S. was given and retained his medical licence.

Dr. George Korol, who operated the Westbrook Medical Clinic at 1800 Logan Ave. until it closed Tuesday, was convicted of arson and uttering threats in California in the 1990s and served about three years in prison. He was stripped of his U.S. medical licence and deported to Canada.

However, Korol was handed a new licence by Manitoba's College of Physicians and Surgeons after returning in 1998.

Since then, he has been suspended twice: in 2005 and in February. He is still barred from practising.  

In June, Korol was convicted of assaulting his estranged wife twice in 2008 and also on charges he possessed a gun, knife and crossbow despite being banned from doing so by the courts.

He served just over four months in prison in Canada and is free on a three-year probation order. Neither his criminal past nor his suspensions were disclosed by health officials.

This shocks provincial Liberal leader Jon Gerrard, who is also a doctor.

"There's a big problem here as to why he was allowed to practice and the college owes people an explanation," he said.

A medical ethicist in Winnipeg said the job of the college is to protect the public but its lack of transparency has bruised its reputation.

"I think the public would expect that the American and the Canadian convictions would both be listed on the college's website in the category of convictions. If you go there today, you'll see none reported. That's deeply misleading," said Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

"I think the public is going to be very interested in the college's answers. There's a lot at stake, including the credibility of our official body of physicians and surgeons."

Oswald said new legislation is coming to make more information about doctors available to patients. She acknowledged transparency has been a problem.

"We know in the past there has been a real feeling that it was a closed shop and no information could be given to the public," Oswald said. "We know that we've come some distance, but we haven't gone as far as we need to go."

Oswald said the coming legislation will provide for more public disclosure about doctors, but that the college will continue to monitor their professional standards.

Ex-patients, U.S. justice officials shocked

A former patient of Korol's, Brian Fleming, said he wishes officials would do more to calm any fears about the doctor.

"I would just like the college or somebody with some sort of position or stature in the medical community, or even the government for that matter, to come forth and say, 'You know, folks, there’s nothing to worry about,'" Fleming said.

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Justice officials in California expressed shock Tuesday that Korol was ever granted a new licence.

"It's shocking that somebody like that would get a medical licence back," said Susan Schroeder, a district attorney in Orange County, Calif. 

"Arson and criminal threats are strikes in California, so the third strike — if he ever [again] commits a felony in California — he's eligible for a third strike and [could] be in prison for the rest of his life," she said. "It's an extremely serious case."

CBC News has been unable to reach Korol for comment. He did not answer the door of his Winnipeg home Tuesday.

The physician's college has refused to disclose the reasons Korol was suspended and did not notify the public of his criminal convictions on its website. An investigation by the college into Korol's activities is continuing.

Registrar Dr. Bill Pope told CBC News the college can only tell the public about disciplinary action taken against a doctor, such as a formal censure or public inquiry.

He also said plans are in the works to publish information about Korol on its website. The college has sent him a copy of what it plans to say, but Pope said Korol disputes the information.