From age 31 to 65, ten patients come forward alleging inappropriate behaviour
BY DAVE BURKET
In last week’s edition, the Voice published the account of a woman formerly employed by Dr. Charles Duncan, a family practitioner in Fonthill. The woman asserted that she was twice sexually assaulted by Duncan in 2009, and she filed a report with the Niagara Regional Police Service at the time. This past March, a decade later, she was contacted by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in connection with an internal CPSO investigation of Duncan. Neither she nor the Voice know what prompted the CPSO to act, but the result was that Duncan agreed to quit practicing medicine as of October 31, and never to apply again to practice anywhere in Canada.
Following the story’s appearance, nearly 20 more women have come forward to the paper, alleging that they were the targets of unwanted and inappropriate conduct as patients of Duncan’s. They range in age from 31 to 65. Ten agreed to speak for publication.
For reasons made clear by psychology professor Kathryn Belicki, in her interview this week, none of the women wish to be named, but each wants her experience heard. The Voice knows the identities of the individuals making the comments on this page, communicating with them via email, telephone, and social media, to obtain their stories.
The Voice informed Duncan’s office staff—by telephone, in writing, and in person at his practice—that the newspaper had received these accounts from his former patients, and requested Duncan’s comment. He had not responded by press time. The Voice has not verified whether these recollections are true. To the newspaper’s knowledge, Duncan has never been charged with a sexual crime, nor is he currently under police investigation.
Just reading this article brought so many emotions and heartfelt agony to so many women. I was a patient from 1974 until December 2000. There were so many times I felt uncomfortable with the sexual innuendo and subtle sexual advances that it was hard to pinpoint at times. Like so many others, the same tactics were used to prime us. Everything from unnecessary pap smears to pressing his body against mine, to hugs, undressing, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes I left his office very disturbed and even questioning whether I was interpreting his advances wrongly. He did it with his offbeat humour to cover up. As his “grooming” progressed, I knew it was time to leave quickly when he fondled my breast while giving me a shot. It was the final straw for me, and I was advised by another doctor to call the College of Physicians and Surgeons and report all that had been done to me. I called the number given to me, and was accountable to a dear friend who made me follow up. I remember speaking to a woman by the name of Susan at CPSO, who encouraged me to seek counselling, and told me that if he did it to me, he has probably done it to other women. If there were two or more complaints lodged with CPSO they would investigate it and call me back. They encouraged me not to press charges as I would most likely not be successful and it would be very stressful. I waited many years to get a call, especially after reading all the other women who made complaints to CPSO on RateYourMD. How sad and disappointing that even this would not bring attention to the man. He took advantage of his position and title and now walks away. The only consolation we see is an article in the local news shaming the man. Shame to all who support this evil man, and my heartfelt concern to all he has impacted with his selfish actions. The incidents occurred all through my 30s until I left his practice at the age of 45.
When I read the paper my mouth dropped. I was a patient of Duncan’s around ten years ago, when I was a young woman. He also made unprofessional comments and odd requests to do multiple physical examinations. On one occasion, I sat in the waiting room and we had to take a number. When they call your number, you go in to see the doctor. My number was 11. Dr. Duncan saw my number and said, in a provocative manner, “You are an 11!” He also made comments about my looks on other occasions. Every time I went to see him, for whatever reason, he would insist I needed a pap smear. I would do so, as it’s doctor’s orders, but I thought it was a little excessive. Later he told me that my tests were abnormal and I’d need more testing…all of these paps did not included a nurse in the room. I started feeling a little uneasy about going to see him, so the next time I brought my boyfriend (now husband) to come with me. Dr. Duncan seemed a little angry that I brought him, and made comments like, “You probably have HPV and watch out for genital warts.” I was horrified, and wanted to see a gynecologist for further examination. He referred me to a doctor in Welland and I was given a biopsy. The biopsy was completely clear. It makes me wonder if I had any abnormalities at all? Was he just being completely unprofessional? I changed doctors shortly after that. I’m going to contact the CPSO. I imagine more women will come forward.
Dr. Duncan opened his family practice in Fonthill when I was six years old. Our family immediately started attending his practice as patients. During my childhood years, he seemed to be a good physician, but once I hit my early teens his behaviour towards me changed. My mother felt I was old enough to see the doctor by myself and as such, any time I attended his office, it started with tickling me each time I visited. As time went on, if I went in for a sore throat, he would tell me to lay down on the examining table and would inevitably touch my breasts and finish by tickling my stomach. I recall going in because of stomach pains and he undid my pants and would want to examine my genitals because it “may be something related” to my “reproductive system.” As time proceeded, Dr. Duncan wanted to perform internal exams but, although I said nothing to anyone, it didn’t feel “right.” At this point, I asked my mother if she could arrange for me to see a gynecologist for things related to the reproductive system. Although I had a gynecologist, Dr. Duncan continued to try to undo my pants every time I went in for anything from an earache to a sore throat to a rash, etc. Finally, I told my mother in my 20s that I was looking for a new doctor because Dr. Duncan made me feel very uncomfortable. She was surprised that I felt that way but didn’t question my choice. After leaving his practice, it became clear to me that what he had been doing to me for so many years was completely wrong on every level. I chose to remain quiet for the same reasons many people do…we are taught to believe that our physicians are good people, to be trusted and not questioned. In retrospect, had I reported his unethical practices, perhaps others could have avoided experiencing the same shameful feelings that I did. He truly isn’t having to pay for anything he did to any of us.
It was 42 years ago. I was 14 when I first met Dr. Duncan. My family had recently moved to a farm in Fenwick. I developed a rash on my feet and hands and thought it may be an allergic reaction to the grasses in the fields. I went to see Dr. Duncan. He told me he would need to perform a physical, I told him I did not have a rash anywhere else, just on my feet and hands. I did not feel I needed a physical. He kept insisting. I told him I would go somewhere else. Dr. Duncan said he would just look at my feet. He came around his desk and looked at my feet and determined it was an allergic reaction to my new “Buffalo” sandals. He gave me a prescription for cream and that was that. He became my family’s doctor. When I started taking birth control I was told I would need to have regular physicals. During exams, no assistant would be present. He would ask me questions about my relationship with my boyfriend. Uncomfortable questions. Long breast exams. Always made me feel dirty and gross. Another time I blacked out at the top of our stairs and fell, injuring my back. Went to Dr. Duncan for my back and the resulting headaches. He asked me to bend over as far as I could. He told me he was going to have to do a physical, I said no. This has definitely gone on for too long.
I stopped seeing him just after I left high school and went to college. He used to make a lot of jokes when I was much younger, asking if I had a boyfriend yet when I was in elementary school. There was a lot of sexual innuendoes throughout the entire time I went to him. When I was high school I got a nose ring, and when he would do a breast exam he would say I had nice breasts and ask if I planned on getting them pierced. Also when using a stethoscope, when he put his hand down my shirt, he would place his fingers on my breast and make sure a part of his hand always at some point touched them. When I left town for school, I asked for a referral to a gyno for paps and he refused, saying he preferred doing them himself. After a few times of asking and having to go to him for a pap, I refused to go back because he would also make comments during the exams that made me feel very uncomfortable.
I had negative experiences with him as well and fortunately was able to find another doctor about 15 years ago because of this. I always wanted to pursue his inappropriate comments and touches but they were just on the edge of being legit and hard to prove. I am so glad this finally came to light.
My experience was very similar to a lot of women in the comments. The refusal to refer, “helping” to remove my bra to check for lumps every time I was there, not using gloves, etc. He was my doctor from birth until I was 23 years old. My first pap test he grabbed both my butt cheeks and pulled me down to the bottom of the exam table because I wasn’t moving fast enough. He always refused to send me to a gyno because I was “healthy.” After one too many exams that didn’t feel right I left him for a new doctor. I’m angry and sickened that I never spoke up. Now it is too late.
I would sit in the waiting room wondering, each time a woman came out of there, are things happening to them too? And none of them ever looked upset or anything. So I thought maybe it was me. You know what I mean? I was overreacting. This is my husband’s family doctor. So I didn’t want to make waves. The last time I saw him was in April.
He started as my doctor when I was in elementary school. It seemed like every single time I needed to go in there, no matter what the reason was, he felt I needed to have a pap done. He would say that I had nice breasts. I made the choice to stop seeing him when I kind of put two and two together, between 16 and 19. I just did walk-in clinics probably for four or five years after that, until I found a new doctor about 15 years ago.
I had made a police report on him years before that young lady did. How come if the police had this information, they didn’t deal with it? There’s quite a few of us that I know of who left Duncan’s office because of abuse with him as patients. I came home and said something to my daughter, who was in her 20s. I was in my 40s, and she said, “Mom, he’s been doing that to me,” and it was like, “Oh my god.” After this story came out, now she’s like, “Yeah, I would talk to the newspaper, but I don’t want my name public,” and everybody feels that way. For five years after my divorce, every time he walked into the room, he would say to me, “So are you with anybody yet?” It didn’t even dawn on me that that was his question as to whether or not he should continue mauling and doing stuff that was not really appropriate at the time. It was his, “Yeah, if she’s not with anybody, I can be touching her and she’s not really going to say anything.” I’d go in for a sore throat and he’d have to check my boobs. It was like, “Excuse me? I’m not sure why my throat and breasts have to be connected here,” but it took me, honestly, years to actually clue into what he was doing. It’s funny because I talked to a friend this morning who had issues with him and she said, “Do you know what? He checked my breasts every time I walked into the office, but he hasn’t for the past couple of years.” I said, “Let me tell you why. You hit menopause and they’re no longer hard and perky.” After I left his office, I’ve been pretty verbal about what happened with me. I was interviewed by [a doctor not practicing in Pelham] as a new patient, he asked me why I was leaving Duncan and as soon as I told him why, he said, “I won’t take you as a patient.” It’s the old boys club. I even talked to my pharmacist. I said, “You need to know so if another female comes in, you need to tell her to go and make a police report because I’ve done it. If we start, the cops are going to figure out that there’s a pattern here.” I didn’t want to press charges because I knew what would happen. If they had come back to me and said, “We do have a pattern of behavior, ma’am. Can we talk again?” I would have totally been all over it. My daughter, even now she won’t go public with it, because no matter how you look at it, the judgment on a female who has been sexually abused puts a cloud on her character eternally. The last time I saw him I needed a prescription. He looked up how long it had been since I’d had a mammogram, which was three years, so I said, “Then I need a referral for a mammogram.” He said, “Get up on the table,” and I said, “No, we’re not doing that anymore.” He grabbed the prescription out of my hand and tore it in half. I never returned and I didn’t even ask for my records. He was disrespectful, had been constantly mauling me, and he was the abuse partner. In order to get my records, I would have to buy them off of him. You couldn’t get your records without paying them $25 to move them to a new doctor, and I was going to pay the man so that I could move away from his abuse? Not happening. ♦
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