Today, the BC Court of Appeal (“BCCA”) rendered judgment in Scott v. College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia. In this case, the complainant alleged that her massage therapist engaged in sexual misconduct. The Court was called upon to determine how governing bodies of healthcare professionals may respond to such allegations in order to protect the public.
After identifying a risk to public safety, the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia (“College”) placed interim restrictions on the massage therapist’s practice pending a full disciplinary hearing. The BC Supreme Court later set aside those restrictions, saying that it was unreasonable for the College to have found a risk to the public based only on the complainant’s report of what took place. The College then appealed that decision to the BCCA.
West Coast LEAF intervened in this case to argue that women’s allegations of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously and require urgent action to protect the safety of patients while a complaint is under review. In assessing the risk to public safety, decision-makers cannot rely on discriminatory myths and stereotypes about women. Sexual misconduct disproportionately affects women, including in the healthcare setting where a power imbalance between patient and healthcare practitioner adds to women’s vulnerability.
“We are pleased that the Court found that women’s allegations of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” says Raji Mangat, Director of Litigation for West Coast LEAF. “Women are disproportionately the victims of sexual assault. Therefore, allowing the bodies we trust to govern healthcare professions to place interim restrictions on healthcare practitioners while an investigation is conducted is the best way to protect women and ensure equal and safe access to healthcare.”
The implications of the case go beyond the College of Massage Therapists, as this case clarifies the standard of evidence required for many health professions’ governing bodies to act quickly in the public interest.
Mangat adds, “We will continue to ask courts to look critically at the ways in which myths and stereotypes about women are used to devalue and invalidate women’s testimony in allegations of sexual assault.”
We are incredibly grateful to our counsel, Lindsay Waddell and Kaity Cooper, who represented West Coast LEAF in this case before the BC Court of Appeal in January.
Read more about the case, including our argument, here.