College knew Vernon physiotherapist was accused of sexual assaults on patients but failed to act | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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College knew Vernon physiotherapist was accused of sexual assaults on patients but failed to act

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The College of Physical Therapists of B.C. failed to prevent a Vernon physiotherapist, later convicted for sexually assaulting multiple women, from treating female patients even though victims had formally complained to the College and they were aware of an ongoing police investigation.

Almost 12 months before Vernon physiotherapist Stephen Witvoet was charged with two counts of sexual assault in December 2017, several victims made complaints to the College of Physical Therapists and informed the College they'd been to the RCMP and there was an ongoing police investigation.

While the College clearly knew about the allegations against Witvoet in early 2017 and began conducting its own investigation, it failed to take disciplinary action against him even after he was charged with two counts of sexual assault in December 2017.

Correspondence obtained by shows a back and forth conversation that took place throughout 2017 between one of Witvoet's victims - whose name is covered under a court-ordered publication ban - and the College.

The physiotherapist pleaded guilty to nine of 16 charges of sexual assault last fall and was sentenced early this month to six months under 24/7 house arrest, followed by 12 months house arrest under a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. All of the sexual assaults took place during treatment.

READ MORE: No jail time for Vernon physiotherapist 'fails to grasp' harm of sexual assault: law prof

"It is so concerning, I can absolutely not believe how this case has been handled, on the RCMP side... (by) Crown counsel, as well as the College," one victim told "Nobody wants to take responsibility."

In the correspondence, the College acknowledged the complaint and stated its inquiry committee will wait for the outcome of the police investigation and a Crown Counsel decision on criminal charges before it continues its investigation.

However, when Witvoet was charged in December 2017 with two counts of sexual assault, no disciplinary action was taken by the College against him.

One letter from the College speaks of a disposition taking place in April 2018, although it's not clear what the outcome of this was.

Only after media attention in the case led to more victims coming forward in June 2019 did the college act, prohibiting Witvoet from treating female patients and mandating a door be left open when treating male patients, along with a multitude of other restrictions. Witvoet was finally stripped of his licence in March.

READ MORE: I feel dismissed': Victim of Vernon physiotherapist 'disgusted' he might avoid jail

The B.C. College of Physical Therapists refused to answer when asked why the College failed to take disciplinary action against Witvoet even though it knew he was under police investigation and therefore should have known he'd been charged. The College declined an interview and said in a statement it couldn't comment due to confidentiality and the privacy of personal information.

Like many other regulatory bodies in the province, the College of Physical Therapists of B.C. its tasked with regulating the conduct of its members, including sanctioning and disciplining them. "Its primary purpose is to protect the public from harm," reads a statement on its website.

The College's actions regarding the Witvoet case are in stark contrast with the College of Massage Therapists. Last month, that governing body prohibited a Penticton massage therapist from treating female patients after multiple allegations were made against him. The College of Massage Therapists also took swift action against another Penticton massage therapist requiring him to have a chaperone present while treating female patients after allegations of sexual misconduct by a female patient. In both cases, the action was taken to protect the public before internal investigations were even launched.

While the College has always maintained it did not take disciplinary action against Witvoet until June 2019, somewhat confusingly, Judge Jeremy Guild said in his July 8 sentencing that Witvoet’s practice was "restricted and supervised" from January 2017, after complainants were made. 

The Judge's comment appears to contradict the College, which told in May 2019 that they had not taken any disciplinary action Witvoet.

Whatever was put in place was not publicly available on the College's website and it's not clear what kind of restrictions or actions were imposed, but clearly, they did not prevent Witvoet from sexually assaulting another victim.

"I note that at least one offence was committed after supervision had commenced," Judge Guild wrote in his sentencing.

Court documents also show that Witvoet sexually assaulted at least one woman several months after he'd initially been charged.

READ MORE: Vernon physiotherapist continued to sexually assault patients after police warning

The College's lack of action is seen as another blow in the case for some victims already highly critical that Witvoet avoided jail time.

"What we received is not justice, we didn't really receive assistance, never mind justice," one victim said. "It felt like a slap in the face when that sentence came out."

For more stories on Stephen Witvoet go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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