‘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

Times Colonist - - Top Stories -

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.’’ jrud@tc.canwest.com lkines@tc.canwest.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.

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