Fundamentally Reshaping Sexual Abuse Investigations and Prosecutions

Transfer the handling of all sexual abuse complaints from self-regulatory bodies to a central, independent, public agency and separate hearing tribunal. That is a key recommendation of the long-awaited Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) report in Ontario. Interestingly, the central agency would have multiple roles including educating the profession and the public, supporting complainants and investigating and screening sexual abuse complaints. The central agency would provide free legal support and also pay for a support person for the complainant. Compensation for therapy and counselling would be available from the time that a complaint was made and would cover related expenses (e.g., medication, child care, travel).

The discipline hearings themselves would also be significantly altered. Hearings would be held before a single, specially trained tribunal. The complainant would automatically become a full party at the discipline hearing with the right to call their own witnesses and make arguments, much like hearings now before the Human Rights Tribunal. Complainants would be able to testify behind a screen. The complainant could choose to adopt a video statement of their investigative interview rather than have to repeat their testimony. In no circumstances would the practitioner being disciplined personally cross-examine the complainant; it would be done by the practitioner’s representative. Strict court rules of evidence would not apply, so hearsay and most relevant documents could be admitted. Expert witnesses on the dynamics and impact of sexual abuse selected by the central, public agency would replace experts called by the parties.

If a finding is made, the complainant could make a victim impact statement without being cross-examined. The mandatory revocation provisions would be expanded to include more types of frank sexual acts (e.g., touching a patient’s breasts for no clinical reason). For sexual abuse findings that do not require revocation, gender-based restrictions (not being able to see female patients) are not permitted. Gender-based restrictions assume a level of trust that a practitioner would comply with them even though the practitioner has already demonstrated a fundamental lack of trustworthiness.

The SATF is also concerned about unregistered practitioners, including formerly regulated practitioners who have been revoked, sometimes even for sexual abuse. To address this risk of sexual abuse, the report recommends that unregulated practitioners be brought under the auspices of existing Colleges. In addition, practitioners would be responsible for the sexual abuse of the people they oversee. Further, other regulators in Canada should be notified of all sexual abuse findings and a national and international database be maintained of all sexual abuse findings.

The SATF also recommends that the new central, public agency and tribunal would be subject to oversight by an independent Council, similar to the Professional Standards Authority in the UK. The oversight Council would have representatives of government, the health sector, survivors of sexual abuse and advocates in the field. The Council would require detailed data from both the central public agency and the tribunal about how they handled individual cases, conduct surveys of participants in the process and evaluate the effectiveness of the new system.

If the SATF report is fully implemented, all participants in the complaints and discipline system would have to rethink how they do things.

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