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Patient sexually assaulted by former Manitoba doctor left clinic ‘horrified and in shock,’ court hears

One of the seven female patients who were sexually assaulted by a former Manitoba doctor told a court Thursday she left his clinic “horrified and shocked” after the assault.

She was among the women who gave victim impact statements at a sentencing hearing in Manitoba Court of King’s Bench for Arcel Bissonnette, 64, who assaulted the women during medical appointments and examinations.

Crown prosecutors argue Bissonnette was in a position of trust and authority over each of the victims, which he breached when they came to him for medical care, and should be sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison.

The defence is seeking a nine-year sentence, citing Bissonette’s age, guilty pleas and the absence of a criminal record.

Justice Sadie Bond reserved her decision on Thursday. Bissonnette is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29.

Bissonnette worked as a doctor at the Ste. Anne Hospital and at the Sainte-Anne Medical Centre in the small town, about 40 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

Following a trial last year, he was convicted in November 2023 of sexually assaulting five patients during medical appointments between 2001 and 2017. In February, just days before his trial was set to begin in connection with other charges, he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two other women in 2005 and 2011.

“Arcel Bissonnette enjoyed the privileged position of being a doctor in the small rural community of Ste. Anne,” Crown attorney Renee Lagimodiere told Justice Sadie Bond Thursday morning.

“Along with that privilege came unquestioning trust from the patients who saw him for medical appointments,” said Legimodiere.

“Under the guise of medical examination, he breached that trust in the most egregious of ways.”

Some of the women Bissonnette assaulted made victim impact statements in court Thursday. None can be identified due to a publication ban.

One of the women, who was sexually assaulted in August 2001, recalled how she went to see Bissonnette because of abdominal pain after a surgical procedure when she was sexually assaulted.

‘It should have been a safe place’

“I found myself in the most vulnerable position that a woman can ever find herself in, which is to be fully naked in a small room, alone with a man I’ve never met,” the woman told the court.

“I had no choice because I needed urgent medical attention.”

She told the court she gave up her modesty and her own personal boundaries in order to trust a medical professional.

“Despite my discomfort and vulnerability, I believed it was a safe place. It should have been a safe place,” the woman told the court. “Instead, I discovered that a doctor’s exam room can be a place where a professional abuses his power over me.”

Another one of the women, who was sexually assaulted in June 2015, told the court she saw Bissonnette for a followup after going to the ER due to a concern she had with her pregnancy.

“My vulnerability was taken advantage of,” the woman told the court. “I left the medical clinic horrified and in shock.” 

The woman said the legal process has left her in a “fight or flight state for years,” and said she can’t help but think the assault will impact her ways she doesn’t know just yet.

A man with grey hair and wearing glasses walks past a building as the sun shines. He has a light spring jacket, white collared shirt and black tie.
Arcel Bissonnette is seen in a file photo from 2023, leaving the courthouse in Winnipeg. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The Crown argues there was a pattern of behaviour by Bissonette that shows there’s a risk he could reoffend.

He hasn’t practised medicine since November 2020, when the initial charges were laid.

In January 2024, prior to his guilty plea, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba revoked Bissonnette’s licence to practise medicine, calling his actions “disgraceful and dishonourable.”

His lawyers argue he’s a low risk to reoffend because he lost his medical licence.

The sentencing hearing continues Thursday afternoon.

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