Doctor Banned in Ontario, Back at Work in Victoria

November 30, 1998
in Category: Articles, Canadian Politics, Health, Mental Health
23 12338 0

Originally published in Monday Magazine, 1998. Connected to 2008 story, “Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness”.

A FORMER chief of psychiatry at Eric Martin Pavilion psychiatric hospital whose licence was permanently revoked in Ontario after he was found to have drugged and repeatedly sexually assaulted a patient, is currently practising in Victoria.

Dr. Frank Gordon Johnson worked in Ontario during the 1970s before moving to Victoria. He maintained a private psychiatric practice here from 1979-91, was a staff member of the Eric Martin Pavilion during that time, and held the position of EMP chief of psychiatry from 1983-89.

In 1993, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons found Johnson guilty of medical incompetence and sexual impropriety, and declared him “unfit to continue in practice”.

From hospital notes as well as patient and expert testimony, the Ontario tribunal concluded that Johnson had kept Jean Halliwell in a London, Ontario, psychiatric hospital for months at a time during the ’70s, and that he ignored professional criticism about the “wide variety and large doses” of drugs he was administering to her.

The drugs put Halliwell into a “zombie-like” state, according to hearing testimony, while Johnson repeatedly forced her into oral sex and intercourse. Another former patient also testified to having been repeatedly assaulted by Johnson in a similar manner.

Yet in March of this year, Johnson was granted a one-year renewable licence to practise in this province by the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“My lawyer has asked that any questions get directed to him,” said Johnson last week in reply to a request for an interview. His lawyer, however, did not return calls. Halliwell’s lawyers also advised her not to speak, as she is currently suing Johnson. Representatives from the Capital Health Region and B.C. Ministry of Health denied having any responsibility or authority in the matter. Even Sandy McLellan of the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre declined to comment on the situation.

But B.C. advocacy groups for survivors of psychiatric treatments aren’t mincing words.
“I’m angry and disgusted,” says Gerry McVeigh of Victoria’s Anti-psychiatry Movement for Alternative Approaches and Directions, pointing out that in his new private practice, Johnson could be treating victims of sexual abuse.

“It’s astonishing to me that they’d let him practise,” says Irit Shimrat of Vancouver’s Lunatics Liberation Front. “I think it’s really strange and grotesque that B.C. doesn’t think there’s something wrong with that.”

According to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, the physician-run organization with authority for licensing and maintaining professional standards, Johnson is “a member in good standing”.

Deputy registrar Morris Van Andel says the physicians’ organization granted the licence after an investigation including three expert assessments and an interview with Johnson. Previous precedents in B.C., the fact the Ontario verdict related to events from 20 years ago, and the psychiatrist’s clean record in Victoria previously, all played a role in the decision, Van Andel explains.

The Ontario case was not considered in detail, and such out-of-province disciplinary actions are never put on a doctor’s publicly available record in B.C., Van Andel confirms. He notes that regulations and standards differ from province to province, and when a licence is revoked elsewhere, it doesn’t necessarily mean the doctor will lose his or her licence–or be refused one–in B.C.

As for Johnson’s record in Victoria, for the public, the question is largely one of faith. Most professional records regarding Johnson’s work in Victoria are confidential, and according to Janice Martinez, regional director for mental health, actual information on sexual abuse allegations within Eric Martin Pavilion would be difficult to gather because it would be scattered through a variety of records–virtually none of which are available to the public. Recent complaints lodged with the B.C. college would not be public information, either.

In any case, Van Andel says that in B.C. and most other provinces, suspensions beyond three years are uncommon, and permanent revocations are reserved for only the most extreme cases.

“If [Johnson] had committed the same offence here, he would have already been practising,” says Van Andel.

In fact, Van Andel feels the Ontario College was out of line when it revoked Johnson’s licence with no opportunity to re-apply for five years.

“A suspension of practice for five years is an extremely heavy punishment,” he says. “You can kill somebody and be out before then.”

He adds that the Ontario college is “very aggressive” in cases like Johnson’s, and calls their “zero tolerance” approach “somewhat hawkish”.

“That’s a fairly interesting statement for someone to say,” responds Jill Hefley of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. “I’m not sure whether the public is well-served by allowing physicians who’ve been found guilty of sexual abuse and medical incompetence to continue practising.”

McVeigh is blunter: “My god! What do you have to do to get your licence permanently revoked in B.C.?”

He points out that it’s one thing to allow someone found to have committed sexual assault the right to rehabilitate and start a new life, but quite another to grant that person a licence to practise psychiatry.

“In the mental health system psychiatrists are the most powerful people there are,” argues McVeigh. “All [psychiatric patients] are in a very vulnerable state, and suggestible.”
Despite such criticisms, Van Andel says the B.C. college is “here to represent the public, not to protect doctors”.

Most college investigations are confidential, with details unavailable to reporters even under B.C.’s freedom of information laws. One of the few publicly available examples of a B.C. college reprimand in a severe case involves Victoria native Dr. James Tyhurst, former head of the UBC department of psychiatry. In 1981, a female patient testified that her “therapy” involved having to strip naked, kneel and call Tyhurst “master”.

The college interviewed the psychiatrist and then issued a letter of reprimand, advising Tyhurst that “the degree of subjugation was unwarranted and its effectiveness questionable”. Tyhurst didn’t stop practising until 1991, when four more female ex-patients testified during his criminal trial to being subjected to hundreds of whipping sessions and forced oral sex.

Also revealing is the B.C. college’s own 1992 province-wide study of sexual misconduct. In it, 3.5% of B.C. physicians (psychiatrists themselves were about one per cent lower) admitted they’d had sex with a person who was their patient at the time. Extrapolating from that statistic, there would be dozens of doctors and psychiatrists in Greater Victoria who would admit to having had sex with patients they were treating.

In the report’s introduction, the college-appointed team of researchers state that the problem of sexual misconduct in B.C. “is serious”–but not primarily because of the actual incidence rate of exploitation.

Rather, “[I]t has eroded the public’s confidence in the medical profession and it has placed doubts in patients’ minds about their trust in their physicians and about the profession’s ability to ‘police’ itself,” the report’s authors declare.

Shimrat says the B.C. college’s handling of the Johnson case reveals a similar “self-centredness”: “It shows horrible disrespect to potential patients to have [Johnson] practising here.”

Rob Wipond

Thank you for reading.

View my other posts

23 comments

  1. mary dicerni

    I am just wondering if two of the doctors I just saw, who ruined my life, could have been fired before … One has no hospital privileges. Neither will take responsibility for their actions. How do you find ut what they have done in the past ? Is there such a listing ? Thank you for letting us know how bad it could be.

  2. Rob Wipond (author)

    Hi Mary,
    Unfortunately, it is famously difficult to track doctors’ histories. Especially if they have moved from one province to another, one state to another, or across countries — which the worst doctors often do, deliberately to help lose their histories. In Canada, you would need to contact each College of Physicians and Surgeons directly, find out their policies, and find out what information you could get on certain doctors. Some are starting to post limited information online for the public, but most are very restrictive about that. And it’s not as though the problem hasn’t been flagged to governments — 60 Minutes has done exposes on this topic, several major Canadian newspapers, the CBC, many others have at times investigated and complained about it.

  3. Alee

    Were there any criminal charges in this case? If he sexually assaulted a patient(s) shouldn’t he be charge criminally too? I looked for more info on that and couldn’t find any. If you know can you please let me know? Or do doctors have a different way of handling things… instead of going to jail you lose your licence. I’m just really wondering because I was going to go to him before I found out about this and abuse like that has touched my life and it’s so hard to prove with one word against another so so many men have nothing happen to them. he was caught… why didn’t he go to jail? Thanks so much.

  4. Rob Wipond (author)

    Hi Alee,

    I’m always amazed about the lack of criminal prosecutions with respect to doctors as well. But the case of Tyhurst, I guess, is instructive in that regard: the victims of psychiatrists are rarely given any credibility whatsoever, so the burden of proof in a criminal court becomes even higher than in a normal situation of assault.

    With respect to Johnson, if memory serves me right, there was a civil lawsuit launched by the victim against him, which was settled out of court. No details of the setlement were disclosed that I learned of; such ‘non-disclosure’ is a common practice when doctors settle lawsuits against them, which is another reason it’s so difficult for the public to track wayward physicians and psychiatrists.

    Rob

  5. Matthew Stark

    To those who have entered their negative and unfounded opinions:
    Don’t judge anyone until you focus on your own shortcomings, (the garbage that you’ve done in your life that in turn affected others negatively), if you haven’t heard the side of the accused. I’m certain you’ve hurt a lot of people in your past through your lack of knowledge and concrete evidence.
    The testimony in Ontario was from a very mentally ill person. Most of you have written your letters with preprejudice without even meeting the man. Therefore, your opinions hold no merit. You’re judging on your own opinion and from others’ two cents worth. Is that not highly unfair?
    Hopefully you will never have to meet Dr. Johnson on a professional level. He literally saved my life.
    I have respect for him and he has my complete trust.
    People who believe everything they read without cross referencing as one should, make it quite clear as to just how uuneducated they are.. No one has any business whatsoever in hanging someone in the Kangaroo Court where you reside in your head who lives and who goes under the axe.

    Please, keep your ignorance to yourself unless you have evidence to back your statements.
    Try to show the world thatyou’re not completely idiotic by opening your mouth.
    Finally, get some professional mental help because you wouldn’t be checking this site out if you didnt need it otherwise or unless a friend or loved one requires help.
    My knowledge of my doctor is from first person. Can you say the same? If not then you know nothing of nothing.
    Matt

    It appears that a lot of you who have made your opinion from the story you’ve read are showing your sheer ignorance.
    I challenge you then to confront the doctor to get his side. Kep in mind his patient was out of her mind to begin with.
    If you find that you don’t have the time to get both sides, then keep your inane thoughts to yourself.
    Your words are possibly going to cause people to not trust psychiatrists and therefore will opt against help and may very well seek a permanent answer.
    Bottom line is to shut your mouth as you obviously know nothing of nothing.

  6. Matthew Stark

    The author of this claptrap, Ron Wipond, is extremely bias and knows nothing of his subject, Dr.Johnson.
    This is only a blog of Wipond and not an actual or completely factual report. Reader beware.
    Matt

  7. Rob Wipond (author)

    Hi “Matt”,

    Thanks for your opinion. What is my article based on? A lengthy conversation I had with Dr. Johnson personally, and a number of communications with his lawyer and current wife. Several very lengthy interviews with Ms. Halliwell, and with her lawyer. Reviews of the independent investigation and conclusions reached by a jury of Dr. Johnson’s medical peers, based in part on the testimony of his colleagues and hospital records and Dr. Johnson’s own medical records. Interviews with two senior representatives of Colleges of Physicians involved in Dr. Johnson’s case. And more. So let’s just be clear: You are the one operating with nothing more than an isolated personal opinion here.

    I’m glad you feel Dr. Johnson helped you, and I don’t know who your other misplaced remarks are aimed at, but I’m frankly horrified that you would be so aggressive, dismissive and insulting towards vulnerable people who have reasonable and well-founded concerns for their safety and well-being.

    Rob Wipond

  8. Anon

    ====
    THE DOCTOR’S RESPONSE TO THIS ARTICLE:
    ====

    Ontario Proceedings and the article by Mr. Vipond

    Have you ever been googled? Nowadays people rush to the Net to see what they can find out about an individual and what they find is not always good. It is very difficult to ungoogle anything on the Web unless you can prove it is infringing a copyright. I am concerned about this because on the home site of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is a reference to me, which you will find if you type in my name. Also there is a reference to me on the site of Mr. Vipond, a journalist in Victoria. The Decision of a Discipline Committee of the College was posted some 20 years ago as part of their expressed policy of transparency when dealing with the public. This particular decision paints me as a predator on women, which I was not and never have been. This is of concern to me because past, current and future patients can read this decision and form an adverse conclusion about me. Hence I feel it very necessary to set the Decision in context and explain what happened. The Disciplinary Committee of the College is only a quasi-judicial group. It is not bound by the higher standards of proof that pertain in a proper court of law.

    Let me briefly give the facts. In 1972 I had a consensual relationship with a patient over a period of about 3 weeks, involving some limited physical contact. The patient decided in 1990 -20 years later- to complain to the College about a supposed incident that she stated had occurred in 1972. She stated that I had overmedicated her and assaulted her in the course of office visits early in 1972. The facts she alleged were horrendous but totally untrue and in fact impossible since in early 1972 I was in a full length toe to hip leg cast from having sustained a severe tibia-fibula fracture which necessitated me being in a cast for 3 months and thereafter on crutches for about a month. It would have been impossible for the actions attributed to me to have taken place.

    I was practising in the UK for the 2 years prior to the case being heard and did not attend for the meeting, being assured by my legal counsel that a vigorous defence would be made. I denied the allegations, but received very poor legal representation from my insurer-appointed counsel. To my dismay, no medical expert was called on my behalf. The complainant was believed although the Committee had not even read the hospital reports. I sought other legal advice and was told I had an extremely good case to appeal the decision in a regular court. Unfortunately this would cost $100,000 and I declined this approach, hoping instead to put my case to the BC College where I had been practising since 1979. It has been a long and arduous process. Over several years I provided to the BC College much new material, including expert evidence analysing the medical records, and, much later, the College was made aware that my version of the events was finally acknowledged in legal documents. The expert reports submitted were unanimous that the medications that I had prescribed were appropriate. Eventually 5 years later in 1998, I was allowed to re-enter practice, not just because I was being “given another chance” but because the evidence was cogent as to what actually had happened.

    I have masses of information attesting to the Ontario College’s lack of legal rigour in approach to the case, but I do not wish to bore you with the details here. In retrospect, however, I realize that I should have been there to defend myself from a charge I had felt was ridiculous.

    My hope is that, by reading this material, you will be able to examine the matter in a fresh light and form your own conclusions.

    ====
    – Dr F Gordon Johnson,
    Excerpt from his personal website
    ====

  9. Anon

    Robert, it is your true duty as a journalist to prove this man.
    Right or wrong, independent of your former conclusions — your article makes accusations which act to destroy the Doctor’s reputation, or alternatively, tarnish of your own as a bringer good information.

    With the Doctor’s response, it is your article under the scrutiny now.

  10. Rob Wipond (author)

    Thank you for this interesting contribution to the discussion. I don’t think any of us will be “bored” with the actual evidence and details. Please do email them to me, and feel free post any evidence you like right here. I certainly have some questions. I’ll number them so you can easily refer to them in your response. I’m assuming that you are actually Dr. Johnson, but if not, then you can feel free to forward these questions to him or direct him to this website again. He has in the past declined to be interviewed, and when I asked his wife some time ago if there was new substantive evidence of any kind, she did not indicate there was any.

    ” In 1972 I had a consensual relationship with a patient over a period of about 3 weeks, involving some limited physical contact.”

    1) Was it not against ethical guidelines for psychiatrists to have sexual relationships with their patients? Do you think your behaviour was appropriate?

    2) Please tell us the drugs that you were giving to this patient and at what dosages.

    3) In previous public statements you have said that you believed that this patient was extremely mentally ill. Do you think it was appropriate to drug and have a sexual relationship with a patient that you believed was extremely mentally ill?

    4) Is it not correct that medical experts stated that you had over-medicated this patient?

    5) Did you not consider it important to appear personally to represent yourself at a hearing where you were being accused of sexual assault and medical incompetence? Was the possibility of catching a plane from the UK back to Canada for such a hearing out of the question for some reason?

    “Over several years I provided to the BC College much new material, including expert evidence analysing the medical records, and, much later, the College was made aware that my version of the events was finally acknowledged in legal documents. The expert reports submitted were unanimous that the medications that I had prescribed were appropriate.”

    6) The BC College never gave me any indicatiion whatsoever that anything of this kind that you are describing occurred. I would very much like to review this evidence myself.

    7) Would you authorize me to have access to all of the personnel records related to your professional career on file at hospitals in Victoria and in Ontario, and with the Ontario and BC Colleges? If not, why not?

    I have other questions, but that’s more than enough to get this discussion started. Next time, though, “ANON” poster, you will have to clarify if you are Dr. Johnson or not, because I cannot allow someone to anonymously post potentially libelous information purportedly from someone else. In the case of the above post, I previously saw it on Dr. Johnson’s website, so I’m allowing it.

    Rob

  11. Tracey

    In 1972 I had a consensual relationship with a patient over a period of about 3 weeks, involving some limited physical contact.

    Dr. Johnson

    There is no such thing as a consensual relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient due to the inherent power dynamic. You’re failure to comprehend that is a result of a paradigm flaw. That paradigm that you perceive the world through skews your interpretation of events as a paradigm(ego) self-protecting measure. As a result of that primary paradigm flaw, every defense you assert can only be a rationalization. You may have experienced cognitive dissonance at one point early on, to know that what you were doing was wrong and yet you continued to do it, and to ameliorate the dissonance you began to rationalize your behavior. Now you are trapped in the necessity to continue to do so, it’s likely that the underlying motivation of your paradigm(ego) self-preservation behaviors is based in a desperation to avoid shame. However, this only leads to paradox, because your paradigm(ego) state that is valiantly trying to preserve itself is in fact in direct conflict with your true self(intrinsically shameless) whose existence is superseding. Shame is the very thing your manifesting by the act of trying to avoid it. Only when you can comprehend that your perception of having had a consensual relationship was and is false, only then will the veil fall and all of your actions thereafter will you be able to perceive as they truly are. Only then will you be free from the shame and suffering that you are trying to avoid now. A man often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it. There is no shame in being human.

  12. Chris

    Nice to see some recent critical thinkers responding to this.
    To the person who said that Dr. Johnson literally saved his life:
    Sorry, but you’re an idiot.

    You think because he was a good doctor to you and wasn’t inappropriate then these allegations *must* be false? Are you kidding me?

    Given these cases are often *under* reported, here’s my POV: if there’s even a whiff of evidence or allegations of impropriety about a doctor I’m considering to go to for mental illness, I’m gonna shop around dude. It’s that simple.

    And to comment on how the accuser was mentally ill or ‘extremely’ mentally ill: what… Her words and stories are not valid because of mental illness but your endorsement is? If you saw a shrink that ‘saved your life’ then you obviously had mental issues to deal with yourself. Why does your word carry more weight than the victims?

    Rob, your list of questions you’d like to ask this docter that you posted on February 20th is spot on.

    I was treated for depression in the late 90’s by a shrink on the east coast who subsequently had his license revoke for two years because he started a relationship with a patient. In fact, his file was under review *while* still seeing patients in ’98 (when I was a patient of his). He was perfectly fine with me, I have no complaints. But I was quite taken aback when it was reported that he initiated a relationship with a female patient. He was an idiot for doing so.

    Sounds to me like Dr. Johnson was an idiot as well, “Limited physical contact”? Really, is that what they’re calling sexual harassment these days?

    There’s not a hint of regret for even starting a ‘consensual’ relationship with his patient. There’s not even a hint of regret in *retrospect* even!

    “In 1972 I had a consensual relationship with a patient over a period of about 3 weeks, involving some limited physical contact.”

    That statement alone spells it all right there. With no regret, no accountability.

    I’m going to make sure that any friends or aquaintances who go to other doctors in Victoria who recommend this guy for treatment will be linked to this article, so they at least can make an informed decision.

  13. Gerald Cummings

    Doctors are just people, people with rather large heads. A doctor here in North Bay Ontario lied to the MTO in 1987, as a result, I lost my driver’s license indefinitely. Nobody has ever believed the truth of the matter, and now, I would much, much rather be dead. […]

  14. Tatiana Russell

    if you were charged and convicted of robbing a bank, you could be tracked. What is wrong with our system. This man (and many such predators) pray on those vulnerable people that they can exploit more easily. Let us shut them and him down. Now.

  15. Lorna

    It is interesting to read Dr. Johnson’s contention that there is “lack of legal rigour” in the disciplinary proceedings of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. The College certainly does not have a history of rushing to judgment. In Dr. Stanley Dobrowolski’s case, it took three decades for the College to take action, so the fact that they eventually found Dr. Johnson guilty of medical incompetence and sexual impropriety indicates that there must have been strong evidence against him.

    See:
    http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2015-2016/doctors-without-boundaries

    Consensual sex with a patient. What a load of crap!

  16. Rob Wipond (author)

    Yes, Lorna, at the time the representative of the Ontario College said that to me in essentially similar words — that they relatively rarely issued these kinds of bans, and the evidence in this case in her opinion was very strong.

    I agree, Tatiana — it is one thing if we do not jail dangerous doctors, but to let them continue to practice and have legal powers over vulnerable people is extraordinarily irresponsible.

    Gerald: I removed one line from your comment; feel free to email me about that. I’d like to know more about what happened, if you’d like to explain in an email.

    Rob

  17. Rick Raymond

    our ‘Health” “Care” industry and 12 Step groups need independent “Watch Dog” groups as well just like happened to our “All Mighty” RCMP.

  18. Lizzie

    I wanted to thank you, Rob. I was referred to Dr. Gordon Johnson. I researched him on the web and came upon your article. I have just spent nine months on disability due to medication poisoning and am a patient receiving trauma therapy at a sexual assault centre. Being susceptible to abuse by someone who holds this type of authoritative power might very well have caused my death. The fact that you spoke out may have saved me.

  19. Jill

    Thank you so much for this. I, too, was referred to this doctor last week and upon doing research stumbled upon this article (and a few other well hidden tidbits of info about this guy). As a sexual abuse survivor, it is horrifying to think that I was about to go to an appointment with, at the very least, a medical professional who clearly takes no accountability for their actions. At the most, a sexual predator. And his office is apparently at the back of his house. So we are basically being unknowingly led into this man’s lair. Extremely upsetting, but extremely grateful for your reporting. Thank you.

  20. Rob Wipond (author)

    I am shocked to hear that Dr. Johnson is still getting referrals — Who is making these referrals? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there may be many more psychiatrists with similar histories that are still practicing, but who have not had to face an official hearing or publicity.

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