Case: 1999

Asselbergs, Sebastien—Registration #06011

December 6, 1999

Discipline Case Summary

The following is a summary of a matter placed before a five-member panel of the Discipline Committee of the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario on December 6, 1999.


Mr. Asselbergs has habitually failed to maintain proper professional boundaries in his dealings with patients, students, volunteers, youthful colleagues and employees. This has resulted in unprofessional conduct, including sexual impropriety, with these individuals.


Mr. Asselbergs pleaded guilty to the allegation of unprofessional conduct.

Statement of Agreed Facts

The parties presented a statement of agreed facts to the panel as follows:

Mr. Asselbergs is the owner of a clinic in Barrie, ON. Mr. Asselbergs is a senior and respected member of the physiotherapy profession and has in the past been accepted by the Discipline Committee as an expert witness in the practice of physiotherapy.

Mr. Asselbergs has been a clinical tutor for university students and has also provided co-op educational placements for high school students.

Ms. A

Ms. A, a student, attended the clinic for a placement.

During the term, Ms. A sustained an injury and received treatment, both formally and informally, from Mr. Asselbergs. Mr. Asselbergs prepared a chart of the treatment provided to her.

Mr. Asselbergs frequently demonstrated pressure points on Ms. A. Sometimes he explained what he was doing and other times he would just come up behind her and squeeze her shoulder and release the pressure points.

Ms. A observed sexual and flirtatious comments by Mr. Asselbergs with staff. He commented on his preference for small-breasted women. Ms. A believed these comments referred to herself and another student in the clinic. She believed the comments were made with a humorous intent.

Mr. Asselbergs hugged Ms. A. She felt that the hugs were not professional, but did not find them insulting or threatening.

On one occasion, Mr. Asselbergs slapped or tapped Ms. A's gluteal region despite her explicitly asking him not to. Ms. A understood the touching to be a joke, but felt that it should not have occurred.

Ms. A complained to her educational institution about Mr. Asselbergs. No formal proceedings took place. Mr. Asselbergs agreed not to take any more students.

Ms. B

Mr. Asselbergs met Ms. B, a student, when she attended his clinic for a placement.

Mr. Asselbergs and Ms. B became friendly during the time of the placement and discussed personal issues, including the fact that Ms. B had been sexually abused. Ms. B became very attached to Mr. Asselbergs. Mr. Asselbergs states he was not aware of the extent of her attachment to him at this time.

During the placement, Mr. Asselbergs performed physiotherapy procedures on Ms. B for an injury. Although Mr. Asselbergs denied the physiotherapist-patient relationship, Ms. B viewed herself as his patient. Mr. Asselbergs created a chart for Ms. B.

On some occasions during the placement, Ms. B broke down in tears. Mr. Asselbergs provided emotional support to Ms. B including stroking her arm, shoulder, hip and knee and holding Ms. B. Mr. Asselbergs made self disclosure about his personal problems during at least one of these discussions.

After she finished her placement, Mr. Asselbergs acted as Ms. B's informal instructor and mentor.

During this period, Mr. Asselbergs and Ms. B had intense personal discussions. Mr. Asselbergs discussed the difficulties he was having with his current wife, his relationship with his former wives and his close friendships with others.

Mr. Asselbergs and Ms. B commenced a personal relationship. There was a progression from casual hugging, to intense hugging, caressing, kissing, disrobing, sexual touching and oral sex. They did not have sexual intercourse.

Mr. Asselbergs understands that his relationship with Ms. B has caused her great pain. He admits that he should have never let the relationship take place.

General Clinic Atmosphere

The clinic receptionist observed Mr. Asselbergs frequently come up behind students, put his hands on their shoulders and lean over them. She also observed him give frequent hugs. She would call him a touchy kind of person.

Mr. Asselbergs states that the clinic's atmosphere is warm and friendly, reflecting his personality. He jokes with co-workers and patients and often hugs people. At times he makes jokes of a sexual nature, referring to cold temperatures as "nipply".

When one of the students practised the supine heimlich maneuver on Mr. Asselbergs, he made groaning noises. The student interpreted these as sexual sounds. Mr. Asselbergs states that he did not intend them to be interpreted that way. Another student confirmed that it would be like Mr. Asselbergs to say something like "oh momma, oh papa" during the procedure.

Mr. Asselbergs has also disclosed to clinic staff personal sexual matters. He discussed that he is a "fan of small breast size", that he "is not in favour of big boobs", and that "more than a handful is wasted anyway".

In the context of his sexual relationship with Ms. B, Mr. Asselbergs told her the number of women he had slept with and some of their sexual preferences.

The panel gave careful consideration to the facts and Mr. Asselbergs' plea of guilty. They accepted the plea and found Mr. Asselbergs guilty of professional misconduct (unprofessional conduct).

Joint Submission on Penalty

The parties presented a joint submission on penalty to the panel. The panel believed that the penalty proposed was fair, just and reasonable and would provide reasonable assurance of proper protection of the public. The panel considered mitigating factors including the guilty plea, the fact that this was the first complaint lodged against the member, and his commitment to make amends. Aggravating factors justifying a serious penalty included that there was a breach of trust, Ms. B was in a vulnerable state and the member had a duty not to sexualize the relationship, demonstration of treatments on students were sexualized, and that professional boundaries apply when acting as a clinical instructor. The panel also accepted into evidence an impact statement prepared by Ms. B which described profound harm

The panel made the following orders as to penalty:

  • Mr. Asselbergs' certificate of registration be suspended for six months.
  • Prior to resuming practice, Mr. Asselbergs must successfully complete, at his own expense, a series of counselling sessions in the area of professional boundaries.
  • Mr. Asselbergs be prohibited indefinitely from participating in the training or education of high school, college or university students.
  • Mr. Asselbergs' practice be monitored for a period of 24 months to ensure the success of his management of professional boundaries.
  • Mr. Asselbergs prepare a letter of apology and acknowledgement to Ms. B.
  • Mr. Asselbergs post security to the College for the reimbursement of payment of any counselling or therapy received by Ms. B in the next five years to a maximum of $10,000.
  • Mr. Asselbergs pay toward the costs and expense
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