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One Woman Protests Pediatrician

Donna Teetzel protesting outside Dr. Kunwar Singh's office

I’m driving down East Street one grey November morning when I see her outside his office. She stands up straight and other than her canine companion, she stands alone. In her arms, she’s holding a hand-made, fluorescent sign with thick black ink:

“Dr. Singh Molested Me as a Child.”

Based on my body’s reaction I’m reminded of an exercise that is sometimes used in social service circles to explain the effects of trauma. In the activity, everyone is handed a slice of a lemon.  You are then instructed to observe the lemon, to touch the lemon, and then to put the lemon up near your lips: not quite touching, but near them.  For many, without making physical contact between your lips and the lemon, you salivate. The embedded memories of what it’s like to experience such a sour taste is enough to illicit a bodily response.  Sometimes the lemon doesn’t even need to be in the activity at all: sometimes, if you can just think about the experience clearly enough, your body physically reacts.  The same can be said about trauma.

My body responded to her sign every time I saw it with the same familiar twinge: a spike in anxiety as my stomach drops, while being flooded with the feelings that come with the memories of being forcibly touched inappropriately and against my will at various times throughout my own female life.

Not three feet from where she stands on the sidewalk is a sign board, much like the ones you see placed outside restaurants advertising the daily food and drink specials; only this sign doesn’t have funny quotes in chalk promoting why you should come inside.  This sign is titled “Kunwar Singh Facts” and it reads:

1982     - MOLESTED ME
1991     - 16 COUNTS SEXUAL ASSAULT
    - GUILTY – 2 YRS PROBATION
    - 6 MONTH MEDICAL SUSPENSION
1994     - PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT
    - FALSIFIED MEDICAL LICENSE
    - 3 MONTH MEDICAL SUSPENSION
2013     - LICENSE RESTRICTED
    - NO ADULT PATIENTS
    - NO CONTACT WITH MINOR FEMALE WITHOUT FEMALE HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
2016     - UNSPECIFIED CONCERNS ABOUT STANDARDS
      OF PRACTICE

I glance at the dashboard clock. “Do I have time?” If I stop now, I’ll be late for my other job. My thoughts continue. “She has a story.”  

I pull over. I have less than five minutes before I have to be on my way. Not enough time to really talk with her. Damn it. Ok.  I sit and watch for a moment.  I watch the reactions of the other people driving and walking by, who mostly look the other way. I worry about how and what she might be feeling and send a quick message off to see if someone from the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Centre can check on her.  While I wait for that response, I open an internet tab on my phone and type in the pediatrician’s name whose office she silently stands outside of.

“College won’t explain restrictions put on pediatrician convicted of sex assault.”

This is the headline of a 2014 story.  During 1976 and 1990, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario disciplinary committee found Singh guilty of professional misconduct over 13 incidents involving both hospital employees and mothers of the pediatrician’s patients.  While working, Singh would touch and squeeze victims’ breasts, make inappropriate personal and suggestive comments, and kiss some against their will.  Others were grabbed and rubbed on their buttocks and legs. In 1991, Dr. Singh was convicted criminally of 16 counts of sexual assault and indecent assault. Just like it said on her sign.  
 
Ok. What else can I find.

In 2007, the Hamilton Spectator reported on an extensive analysis of the College’s disciplinary decisions in an article titled “Sex assault.” Even though he plead guilty in Ontario court in 1991 to 10 counts of sexual assault and six counts of indecent assault, a psychologist had determined Dr. Singh was suicidal at the thought of losing his career. At the committee hearing, Singh’s lawyer said that taking away his licence could have “disastrous consequences” – but consequences in this reference were not about the mental health of the women who were sexually abused by a doctor: the concern presented was for the mental health for the man in power who was caught being abusive.  Nurses at the time picketed to have Singh’s privileges revoked, but instead his license was suspended for just six months. Just like it said on her sign.

Three years later Singh’s license was suspended again.  This time he attempted to obtain registration as a physician with the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago by deleting the references made to his sexual assaults in the documentation issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. In the hearing, he entered a not guilty plea, (in the public record he blames a nurse, claiming he was unaware she deleted his convictions from the record), however the disciplinary committee did not believe his claim of ignorance. He was suspended again for professional misconduct in relation to the falsified documents.   Just like it said on her sign.

As I was reading the article, a reply to the message about her came through. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.  Someone is going right now.”

I put my phone back in my purse and left.

Later in the week, I get a call from my editor. “Have you seen the protester on East Street?” She asks.  I tell her I have.  “Is it a story? Do you want to cover it?”

I do.

It’s another grey November day and I’m again driving down East Street towards Exmouth.  I park in a nearby lot and get out of my car, slowly approaching the quiet woman holding a large fluorescent sign.  Her dog sees me first and moments later she faces me.  

“Hi,” I say. “I’m Katie.”   

Her name is Donna Teetzel.

We talk for a while.  At the time of the interview she tells me she has been standing outside the office for three weeks.  

“He molested me when I was 14.  I had moved out of town, and in 1991 I’d heard he was charged with sexual assault.  I thought good, he won’t be practicing anymore.  It’s behind me now.”

I asked her what prompted her to protest.

“I’m out here because no one is acting. I went to the police, and I guess because it’s a historical molestation, they’re kind of letting the College deal with it but it just seems wrong. It is wrong. I think he was a threat, I think he still is a threat, and based on the stories I’ve heard… I’m not incorrect.  But I have to get the authorities who are supposed to protect us, to actually protect us.”    

“What steps have you taken so far?” I asked her.

“I filed a report on October 17 of this year with the College.  They told me it would be reviewed in 10 months, so I went to the cops that same day. They said they’d call back, so I came out here and started walking.  On October 22 it was assigned to a detective, I had a formal interview on October 24, and nothing has happened since.  They claim they are looking at old case files, old assaults…but this has nothing to do with the old assaults.  This is about the current patients.  I’m really disappointed they’re not taking it very seriously.  I believe there are children at risk, and this is why I’m standing here.  People can make their own decision if they go there or not, but at least I know that now they have the information.”

With her being so dissatisfied by the responses of the police and the College, I wondered how she was being received by the community.

“The nurses involved in the 1991 assaults are behind me completely.  I’ve spoken with some patients who have encountered difficulties with him.  Some absolutely will not come forward, but one will, thank God. There’s more, it’s just a matter of encouraging them to come forward. But like myself, they honestly never thought he’d practice medicine again.”

“Has anyone been openly unsupportive?”

“A few people have been very unsupportive. His wife is staff and they were quite abrasive, but I just ignore them.  I get it.  Occasionally you’ll get someone drive by and shout ‘liar.’ That I don’t understand, but I just ignore it. This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s just a really important issue.”    

I ask Donna where she has found the courage to stand alone, every day, in front of the office of the man she says molested her when she was just a young girl. She tells me it has nothing to do with courage: “How could all the people who are supposed to protect the public, and my kids and my grandkids, still allow him to practice medicine? It’s not about courage, it’s…I’m upset they are letting him practice. I still firmly believe he is a risk, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

I thanked Donna for talking to me and asked her if I could take her photo.  She agreed, and tells me that the unspecified concerns about his standards of practice, license restrictions, professional misconduct, and the 16 counts of sexual assault is all public information, available online. I leave her one -woman protest and go home to do some research of my own.  I find and read the details for myself, and they were true, just like it said on her sign.

A few days later I share a few facts from her sign and her photo onto two online Facebook groups: Women’s March Canada - Sarnia – Lambton, and Vocalize Sarnia. I ask people for their thoughts and am met with hundreds of comments online.  The threads on my group, Vocalize Sarnia, go on for days.  Commenters hash it out, some defending Donna, some defending Singh.  The post on the Women’s March group quickly turns to action: they organize a protest on November 30th at 8:00am to stand with Donna.  

I begin looking for statements from our local government representatives: MPP Bob Bailey and MP Marilyn Gladu, and from Dr. Singh himself.  After several attempts I receive no response from Dr. Singh’s office.  I receive no response from the office of Marilyn Gladu either.  Bailey’s office responds, stating questions about this matter should be directed to the CPSO.  I’m supplied the email address for Shae Greenfield, Senior Communications Advisor for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.  I state that I’m looking for a statement from Bob himself on the situation, but appreciate the contact information. There was no further response from either of our elected leaders, so I send off an email to the College.  

The response from Greenfield:

I’ve taken a look at Dr. Singh’s public profile, which includes the records of his disciplinary cases and findings and wanted to provide a bit of background. It looks like on February 14, 1991, Dr. Singh was convicted of six counts of indecent assault and 10 counts of sexual assault under the Criminal Code (Canada) and on May 31, 1991 received a suspended sentence and two years’ probation. In response, the Disciplinary Committee of the College ordered that Dr. Singh would be suspended for a period of up to two years. Dr. Singh was suspended again in 1994 for attempting to remove the previous Discipline finding from his records in applying for a medical license and positions in other jurisdictions. Dr. Singh continues to practice, but is prohibited from treating female patients without a chaperone present. All of this information is available to the public on the College’s website on this physician’s public profile.
 
With regards to your question, the following is a statement that can be attributed to the College:
 
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has strongly advocated for legislative changes to protect patients. As a result, any physician found guilty of sexual abuse will automatically lose their license to practise today. Although we are unable to go back and re-prosecute historic disciplinary cases, we are confident that we are better positioned today to best protect the public in cases that come before us.

I then connect with members of Women’s March Canada, and they had this to say:

Women’s March Canada: Sarnia-Lambton condemns the inaction of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in relation to pediatrician Dr. Kunwar Raj Singh’s 16 counts of sexual assault and indecent assault. Dr. Singh abused his power and trust, severely affecting the lives of many women. We stand in solidarity with these survivors.

Women’s March Canada believes that every woman has the need and right to feel physically secure. Security for women should be assured through sound legal practice and professional repercussions. Women’s March Canada stands behind the principle that women are not to be held accountable for actions that are outside of their control particularly regarding all forms of assault.

Based upon [the] convictions and his attempt to hide his record, we believe that Dr. Singh should be stripped of his license to practice. Physicians care for vulnerable people and are in a place of power over their patients due to their ability to influence their health and wellbeing. No physician with an extensive history of sexual assault and indecent assault should be allowed to care for vulnerable people, no matter the licensing restrictions.

As I put together this story I’m reminded of what was said to me by a family member of mine, recalling when she was just a young woman out of high school, beginning her new job at the hospital over 30 years ago.  “There were whispers from the nurses,” she said. “They told me, ‘whatever you do, don’t let Dr. Singh corner you.’ God help you if he does, and heaven help you if you try to say anything about it. No one would believe you if you did,” she said. “They were trying to warn me.”

“Trying to warn you…” I thought. Just like Donna’s sign.

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