‘They knew about this man’
The B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons didn’t do enough to protect patients from doctor Mark Stewart, according to a woman he was convicted of sexually assaulting
The first inkling that something was not right came when the doctor asked Kelly Guthrie to undress from the waist down. The 32-year-old single mother of two hadn’t anticipated a full examination. She had expected the physician to ask a few questions and to write her a new prescription for a lingering yeast infection.
Guthrie wasn’t familiar with Dr. Mark Stewart, a middle-aged physician at Campbell River’s Alder Medical Clinic. The Cortes Island woman had been referred to Stewart because her family doctor was busy delivering a baby.
It was 1991 and Stewart had already been the subject of complaints by other female patients in the area for what they felt had been inappropriate behaviour during examinations. But Kelly Guthrie had no way of knowing that.
She removed her clothing, as the physician had requested. “He’s the doctor. He’s the professional,’’ she thought.
What happened next was something Guthrie will never be able to forget.
“He used a speculum for the exam, but when he was putting it in, he started to fondle me — my clitoris,’’ she said.
There was no conversation between the two and the exam seemed to last longer than necessary. Guthrie said the doctor was using his fingers as well as the instrument and she knew what was happening wasn’t right. She wanted to say something, but found it impossible to speak.
“He didn’t look at me. I didn’t look at him. I just sort of froze and went: ‘Oh, my God.’ I was freaked,’’ she said. “But I never said anything because, I mean, you’re lying there, you’re exposed, are you going to say something? No.’’
Guthrie recalled the doctor acting as if the examination had been routine. He prescribed her something for the yeast infection. She hurriedly fumbled to pull on her underwear and pants.
“I got dressed and got out of there as soon as I could,’’ she said. “And I just stood in the lobby going: ‘Should I tell somebody? Should I do anything?’ . . . But nobody was going to believe me.’’
Guthrie, now 48, was one of 22 women who launched a civil suit in September 2002 against the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, Stewart and his associates that was scheduled to begin in Vancouver this month. However, she and all but one of the other plaintiffs discontinued their suit before it went to trial.
The other woman, Debbi Maki, is going forward with the suit against all of the plaintiffs except the college.
Guthrie spoke with the Times Colonist prior to the out-of-court resolution of the lawsuit. She said then that she believed the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons could have done more to protect her and other female patients of Stewart, who was initially convicted in 2001 of eight counts of sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault and sentenced to four years in prison. (The Court of Appeal later quashed one count of sexual assault but did not interfere with his sentence.)
Had she been aware of the alleged earlier complaints against Stewart to the college, Guthrie said she would never have gone to see him. “I mean, they knew about this man, they’d been sent so many complaints,” Guthrie said.
In their statement of claim for the suit, the women said complaints against the former Campbell River doctor dated back to the early 1970s and that the college failed in its “duty of care” to protect the former doctor’s patients.
Dr. Morris VanAndel, registrar for the physicians’ college, declined to answer the Times Colonist’s questions about when the college first received complaints about Stewart or whether there was any discipline taken by the college against Stewart prior to his retirement in 1996 and his erasure from the college registry in 2004 after his legal appeals had ended.
But court records show that at some point, the college began directing Stewart to have a chaperone present whenever he examined female patients.
The college “vigorously” denied the allegations in the lawsuit, said college lawyer David Martin. “The college denied any negligence that was alleged against it,” he said.
The suit by the former patients claimed that the college “had knowledge of circumstances which ought to have put it on an inquiry relating to Dr. Stewart’s sexual assaults or inappropriate examinations of a sexual nature on his female patients and the plaintiffs in particular …
“[The college] failed to investigate the allegations and circumstances it was aware of respecting Dr. Stewart in good faith, wrongfully protecting the interests of Dr. Stewart over the protection of the public,’’ said the statement of claim.
The suit claimed that “some or all” of the plaintiffs would not have been sexually assaulted by Stewart had the college properly investigated him, taken steps to restrict his opportunities to commit assaults and warned his female patients “of Dr. Stewart’s proclivities and their right to have a chaperone present during medical examinations.”
The suit also claimed that women contacting the college with concerns about Stewart were discouraged from proceeding with complaints.
Kelly Guthrie was not one of the women who initially complained to the college.
During subsequent years after seeing Stewart, she heard rumours about the doctor and other female patients in the Campbell River area. She told close friends about what had happened to her but never reported it.
Guthrie finally decided to say something about her experience when in 1996 she read an article in a Campbell River newspaper in which the RCMP were asking for women who had been assaulted by the doctor to come forward. Police took her statement and she was one of nine women who testified at his trial, during which Stewart was found guilty of assaulting her.
The experience forced Guthrie to confront previous sexual abuse she had suffered at age 12. “It was awful,’’ she said of testifying.
“You just dig up all the past stuff. … You think at the time: ‘Well, what did I do? I did something wrong. You know, I dressed too sexy.’ I’m thinking, well, I must have done something [to bring this behaviour by the doctor on.]’’
The experience with Stewart has left her leery of trusting physicians that she doesn’t know. It has even extended to worries about her children. When her son went to a recent Cub camp, she found herself concerned about the sleeping arrangements and who would be chaperoning.
Although there was a publication ban on names of the victims at Stewart’s criminal trial, Guthrie took steps to have a notary public lift that ban in her case so that she could talk to the Campbell River Mirror in June 2004 about her experiences.
For Guthrie, it was important to speak out if she could assist current and future victims of sexual abuse.
“I just thought if I could help one person to confront [their abuser] or to talk about it, it would be worth it.’’ firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Had Kelly Guthrie been aware of the alleged earlier complaints to the college, she said she would never have gone to see Mark Stewart.