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Harvey Weinstein

Oct 16, 2017
Just the latest in a dispiriting parade of powerful figures who use their position to exploit others sexually. And in case the shortening days aren’t making you gloomy enough, consider this: there were 22 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 Canadians aged 15 and older in 2014.**

Your odds of being subject to unwanted sexual attention are unacceptable. These are terrible crimes. Anyone with authority might try to contain the damage in whatever way they could.   

In our tiny corner of harm prevention—the corner of health regulation—the authority is the government. At the end of May, the government passed new legislation to address sexual abuse of patients by health professionals.

As you likely already know, if you have a sexual relationship with a patient (and are found out), the College has no option but to revoke your Certificate of Registration. The new legislation expanded the list of activities that would lead to this outcome and is considering establishing a minimum of one year from the end of treatment before a health professional and a patient can begin dating.

What does that mean to you? 

If you saw someone once for an assessment, does that mean they were a patient? What if you treated a sprained ankle when volunteering at a marathon? These are hard questions to answer. The definition of “patient” is now being explored by regulators and government and we expect a regulation that will spell it out in more detail.

Another element of the legislation makes changes to the funding for therapy available for sexual abuse survivors. There is no longer any requirement of proof of abuse to access this funding. Patients won’t have to wait for a Committee decision: they can receive funding as soon as it is brought forward to the College.  

This doesn’t mean that the physiotherapist will automatically be found guilty of sexual abuse—funding awards cannot be considered as evidence that abuse occurred. To me, this is a good example of attempting to address harm without needing to be certain of the cause. It is another way that the profession can contribute to the public good.

The other big change that occurred as a result of the legislation is what appears on the public record. This change goes beyond sexual abuse issues. The College will not be permitted to remove things like Cautions or a Specified Continuing Education and Remediation Program from the Public Register. The government felt that patients should be entitled to find this information for the duration of the professional’s career.

Any way that we can contribute to preventing sexual abuse or mitigating harm that it has caused is a good thing.    

But the most important thing of all is to remember that it not permissible ever to have a sexual relationship with a patient.  

The law does not recognize consent so it does not matter if the patient is agreeable. Just ask the physiotherapist who lost her license this summer after a brief consensual relationship with a patient. The College has no choice but to revoke your Certificate.

And on a final note, we know that many of you have the reverse experience: patients make inappropriate advances, through words, glances, gestures or touch every day. You mustn’t hesitate to speak up and to record the interaction in the patient’s chart. If there is one message that we can take away from the whole Harvey Weinstein debacle it is that we help each other by calling out bad behaviour. This applies even if the bad actors are your patients.

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