New Brunswick

Massage therapist accused of sex assault was allowed to keep practising for months

A woman who accused her massage therapist of sexual assault is asking why he wasn't suspended while under investigation by the College of Massage Therapists of New Brunswick. He has since lost his licence but maintains the sex was consensual.

Matthew McKay lost his licence for having sex with a patient, who says it wasn't consensual

A woman is questioning why her massage therapist was allowed to keep practising without restriction for months after she disclosed an allegation of sexual assault. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by her massage therapist is questioning why he was allowed to keep practising while under investigation by the College of Massage Therapists of New Brunswick.

The college revoked Matthew L. McKay's licence to practise massage therapy after he pleaded guilty to committing the college offense of sexual abuse by having sex with his patient.

McKay did not respond to calls or emails from CBC News.

In his testimony at a college hearing in February, he maintained they had consensual sex, but she says she didn't consent.

The college's discipline and fitness to practise committee didn't address the issue in its decision and the woman hasn't reported the allegation to police, out of fear it will be traumatizing and won't be taken seriously.

McKay is barred from reapplying for his licence for five years.

He was able to practise free of any limitations between July, when the complaint was filed, and April 4, when the college disciplined him.

The complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, told CBC News she worried about the safety of the public while he was still allowed to practise.

"That was probably the hardest part of healing from this and going through that process is just having that thought stuck in my mind of, he could be hurting other people and I can't do anything about it," she said in an interview.

Massage therapist Matthew McKay lost his licence after pleading guilty in front of the College of Massage Therapists to sexual abuse. (Total Body Alignment)

College registrar Charline McLean said the complaints committee has the power to suspend a massage therapist prior to a hearing under "extraordinary circumstances."

Though she speaks for the college, McLean is not on that committee and could not explain why McKay's case didn't meet the criteria.

"I think the college takes processing all complaints very seriously and depending on the information, they make a decision on what they feel is the best for the protection of the public," McLean said in an interview.

The beginning of trust

The complainant first started going to McKay's clinic, Total Body Alignment, for jaw pain in the fall of 2017.

"I was going through some stuff in therapy and as I was talking through stuff in therapy, my jaw was getting worse," she said in an interview.

"So I thought that if I went to sort of a holistic massage therapist, health care practitioner, they could kind of help me with both."

Within the first few sessions, the woman said, she started to trust McKay and opened up to him about what she'd been discussing with her therapist. She said he started giving her hugs at the beginning of her treatments and called her to sing to her on her birthday.

In spring 2018, she tried to get an appointment with McKay to help with a tension headache.

When he had no available appointment time, he came to her house and brought her peppermint oil, offering to massage it into her neck at her home.

McKay says the sex he had with a patient was consensual, but she says it wasn't. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

"I thought maybe that was a little different because I don't think a normal massage therapist would do that," she said in an interview.

"But I also sort of thought, well, maybe he just really cares about me and wants to help me."

Took patient boxing

The woman said she felt as if her relationship with McKay began to change later that spring, after he broke up with his girlfriend.

At one appointment, she said, he asked her whether she'd slept with an ex-boyfriend she'd recently broken up with and he winked at her.

That same day, he took her to a boxing gym and had her hit both him and a punching bag.

During his testimony, McKay said he felt the woman was angry about the breakup and he would be unable to treat her with massage, so he took her to his gym to help release her anger.

It was around that time that the relationship entered a grey area, the woman said.

"Then it kind of started to feel like 'Oh, maybe we're attracted to each other, maybe we're going to date or something,'" she said in an interview.

On June 28, 2018, McKay and the complainant went to a night market together. It was pouring rain and she invited McKay to her home to watch a movie and dry off.

When they went to her home, the woman's roommates were there. She said McKay stripped his wet clothes off down to his underwear, so they decided to go to her room.

'I just wasn't ready for that'

While watching the movie, the woman said McKay tried to kiss her.

She said she clearly told him she didn't want to have sex with him that night and gave him reasons why.

"I did say that I might be interested in dating or a sexual relationship at some point but just not then, not that night," the woman said in an interview.

"Because he'd treated me two days before. I just wasn't ready for that."

One of McKay's treatment rooms, in a photo posted to his business's Facebook page. McKay lost his licence to practise massage therapy and cannot reapply for five years. (Total Body Alignment)

She said McKay told her he would continue to treat her if they began sleeping together but would no longer charge her for massages.

But when he began kissing and undressing her, she said she froze.

She said McKay had sex with her and she felt like she had no control over what was happening.

"The one thing I do remember is him saying that he knew it was going to happen because he was psychic," she said in an interview.

'I was shocked'

In his testimony, McKay said the woman told him she didn't want to kiss him, and two hours later, told him she wanted sex.

He admitted to making the psychic remark, saying he was trying to be "cool."

McKay's defence lawyer, George Kalinowski, questioned why the woman continued to text McKay for three days after that night and wanted to meet with him.

"Maybe ultimately at the end of it, [the complainant] decided that 'Well, you know what, maybe I really didn't consent,'" Kalinowski said at the hearing.

Since his suspension, McKay, pictured outside his Fredericton massage clinic, has rebranded to offer services such as reiki and spirit readings. (Total Body Alignment)

"The issue is, when you look at the whole picture, is that the message that was conveyed to him? His evidence was absolutely not."

Kalinowski suggested the woman was upset McKay met up with another woman on Canada Day.

She rejected that idea and said it took her time to process things because she was in denial.

"I didn't want to be someone who'd been assaulted," she said in an interview.

After coming to the realization on Canada Day, the woman said she sent McKay a Facebook message to tell him how she felt.

"I was shocked because what she says here is completely contrary to what had happened that night," McKay said in his testimony.

Health practitioners have 'higher standard'

The complainant contacted the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, where she was matched with counsellor Melanie Perrin, who is also a massage therapist.

Perrin reported McKay to the college, which is a requirement when someone tells a counsellor about alleged abuse by a health-care practitioner.

Perrin said people have higher expectations of health-care providers.

"There's also the expectation that because we're vulnerable, because we're seeking help, that there's a higher standard for the health care practitioner to make sure that they do nothing that could cause harm," she said.

The complainant would like to see a more trauma-informed experience for people who file a complaint with the College of Massage Therapists of New Brunswick. (Robert Short/CBC)

Both Perrin and the woman said the college's process could be more sensitive to people who've experienced trauma. The woman was originally supposed to sit only a couple of feet away from McKay while testifying and had to ask to be moved farther away.

McLean said she would bring that to the attention of the college. She said members of the college's discipline and fitness to practise committee don't have any specific training on dealing with trauma.

McKay rebranded business

In the college's decision, the committee said McKay doesn't "understand or appreciate the true nature of the therapist-patient relationship."

McKay told the college he crossed boundaries when he was in the woman's bed with his clothes off. In the decision, the committee said boundaries were actually crossed months earlier, when he went to her home to give her a massage.

While the committee credited McKay for his guilty plea and for showing "regret and remorse," the committee questioned whether that was "genuine."

"Shortly after expressing this remorse and regret, and while still being directly examined, Mr. McKay used an obscene word to describe the sexual act he engaged in with [the complainant]," the decision says.

Even though he can no longer practise massage therapy, McKay has rebranded his business, Total Body Alignment in Fredericton, to offer largely unregulated services such as spirit readings and reiki.

"If you're going for a psychic reading or if you're going for reiki, you're probably in some sort of emotional or psychological pain or physical pain," the complainant said in an interview.

"He's not the person to be going to for those services because he took advantage of me and he took advantage of my pain and vulnerability, and he hurt me."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.