Manitoba doctor convicted of sexually abusing patients

Manitoba doctor convicted of sexually abusing patients
Manitoba doctor convicted of sexually abusing patients

Through tears, several women who were sexually abused by a Manitoba doctor told the court how they were abused by a person they trusted, leaving them feeling disgusted and broken.

Arcel Bissonnette sat quietly in the gallery of a Manitoba courtroom during his sentencing hearing on Thursday, taking notes as some of the women he sexually assaulted told the court how his actions affected them.

“I felt like my soul was broken,” one woman said through tears during a victim impact statement.

“I have had countless hours of therapy and I cannot see beyond the events that unfolded during the attack and the years that followed.”

In 2020, the 64-year-old man was charged with 22 counts of sexual abuse, all of which allegedly occurred while Bissonnette was working as a general practitioner at the Ste. Anne hospital and the Seine medical center.

All but seven of the charges have now been dropped by the prosecution.

Bissonnette was found guilty of five counts of sexual abuse following his trial last year. He later pleaded guilty to two more charges. The court heard that Bissonnette sexually abused the seven women during medical examinations between 2001 and 2017.

One of the women who visited Bissonette’s office in 2001 said she felt vulnerable but was in urgent need of medical attention.

“Despite my discomfort and vulnerability, I believed it was a safe place. It should have been a safe place,” she said. “I knew something disgusting had happened to me during that appointment, but my mind couldn’t even fathom that a doctor could do something so insulting in a small-town clinic where everyone knows him.”

Prosecutor Renee Lagimodiere told the court that Bissonnette enjoyed the privilege of being a doctor in a small rural community and that he enjoyed the unconditional trust of his patients.

“Under the guise of medical examinations, he violated that trust in the most flagrant way,” she said.

The Crown has asked the court for an 18-year sentence, along with a lifetime sex offender registration. Lagimodiere pointed to Bissonnette’s position of power and authority over his patients.

“Instead of providing the medical care that each of the victims sought, the perpetrator touched them in sexual ways in a way that violated their sexual integrity,” she said. “The impact of his crime on each of the victims is significant. His crime has also had a tremendous impact on society.”

His defense lawyers argued that 18 years would be unnecessarily long, harsh and crushing, and instead asked for a nine-year prison sentence. They said there were several “mitigating factors,” including his advanced age, lack of a criminal record, the support of his family and friends, and his “good character.”

“The fact that he has the support of his family and friends, to me, bodes well for his prospects for rehabilitation,” argued Josh Weinstein, one of his defense attorneys.

Defense attorney Lisa LaBossiere also pointed to a forensic psychologist’s report, which found Bissonnette was at low risk of reoffending.

“Ultimately, I would argue that he does not need to be put in prison to protect people, because of the low risk of reoffending and because he will not be working as a doctor,” she said.

Bissonnette’s victims told the court that the former doctor should be held accountable for what he did.

“I continue to hope that no one ever has to go through this again because of the man who attacked me,” said one of the victims.

The identity of the victims is protected by a publication ban.

When asked if he had anything else to say, Bissonnette stood and told the court he had nothing more to say than what his attorneys had told the court. His defense team declined to comment outside the courthouse.

Judge Sadie Bond has reserved her decision until the end of August.