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Licence stripped from Manitoba doctor convicted of sexually assaulting female patients

Arcel Bissonnette leaves court in Winnipeg in April 2023. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC - image credit)
Arcel Bissonnette leaves court in Winnipeg in April 2023. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC - image credit)

Disgraced family doctor Arcel Bissonnette has had his licence revoked two months after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting five female patients at his practice southeast of Winnipeg.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba held a hearing on Wednesday during which its executive committee of council made the decision to cancel his certificate of practice.

Bissonnette, who go to trial in February on 10 more counts of sexual assault, hasn't practised since November 2020, when the initial charges were laid.

"On behalf of the medical profession, I acknowledge the bravery of the women, who, while enduring trauma and harm inflicted on them, came forward and testified in the trial to hold Dr. Bissonnette responsible for his actions," Dr. Anna Ziomek, the college's registrar, wrote in a statement posted on the college's website.

"Dr. Bissonnette's actions are disgraceful and dishonourable and revoking his licence is unquestionably necessary to protect the public. Sexual assault is unacceptable in any environment but is particularly disturbing when it is committed by medical professionals who are highly trusted by their patients."

The assaults took place during medical appointments between 2001 and 2017 in the town of Ste. Anne, where Bissonnette worked at the hospital and a medical clinic.

Bissonnette was initially charged in 2020 with six counts of sexual assault, and he was barred from practising. After those charges were announced, more complainants came forward, and 16 more counts were added in October 2021 for a total of 22.

A trial on the original six charges was held in January 2023 but the Crown entered a stay of proceedings, saying the likelihood of conviction had changed after new evidence came to light.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba placed a condition on Dr. Arcel Bissonnette requiring him to have a female chaperone in some instances. A notice of the condition was placed in his office and examination rooms.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba placed a condition on Dr. Arcel Bissonnette requiring him to have a female chaperone in some instances. A notice of the condition was placed in his office and examination rooms.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba placed a condition on Dr. Arcel Bissonnette in 2019, requiring him to have a female chaperone present during some examinations. (Submitted)

A judge-only trial on five of the remaining 16 counts started in May, leading to the November decision by Court of King's Bench Justice Sadie Bond, who determined Bissonnette had touched the victims in a sexual nature without their consent.

One of the remaining 11 charges has been stayed, leaving the 10 more to be heard at trial in February.

Immediately following the conviction in November, the CPSM said it initiated steps to have Bissonnette's licence taken away permanently.

He had previously been sanctioned by the college in 2019 and barred from seeing some female patients alone for some examinations.

A notice was posted in his office and examination rooms in Ste. Anne, informing patients that a female attendant must be present as a chaperone whenever he conducted a breast or pelvic examination.

Ziomek told the CBC News back in 2020, after the assault charges against Bissonnette came to light, that she could not comment on why the previous restriction was placed on the doctor, because the Regulated Health Professionals Act prevented her from doing so.

However, she said the college's response was considered appropriate based on the information it had at the time.