“The number one goal is always for me to just feel like I’ve reclaimed my power and gotten justice for what happened,” said Ellina Rabbat, one of the proceeding’s representative plaintiffs
Content warning: graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
Affidavits in a proposed class proceeding allege the University of Ottawa was made aware of former doctor Vincent Nadon’s inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature in or about 1995 through complaints by two female students. According to those affidavits, the University told both women in a letter that it would not pursue any formal investigation due to a lack of physical evidence of any wrongdoing by Nadon.
Nadon, who was employed by University of Ottawa Health Services (UOHS) as a physician from 1990 to 2018, was arrested on Jan. 18, 2018. He was charged with 94 counts of voyeurism and sexual assault pertaining to 51 victims.
On Dec. 5, 2018, Nadon was found guilty of two counts of voyeurism and 12 counts of sexual assault arising from his misconduct while practicing at the UOHS health clinics between 1990 and 2018. Nadon was sentenced to serve seven years in a penitentiary, but was granted day parole in January 2021 and full parole in July.
The women, who identify as A.M.C. and C.E.G. in the lawsuit’s motion, disclosed in their affidavits that they met with a woman, who identified herself as a counsellor working at the University, shortly after their respective appointments with Nadon. The pair met the counsellor at her office on campus, where they disclosed the details of their encounters with Nadon.
Both women, who knew each other at the time through A.M.C.’s cousin, allege in the lawsuit that they were sexually assaulted by Nadon at the UOHS clinic on campus.
“He stood over me, and looked right into my eyes. I believed he was enjoying himself while he was touching me because of his unbreaking eye contact with me. Both his actions and what I took to be his enjoyment made me feel very uncomfortable and did not feel right,” wrote A.M.C. in her affidavit.
According to documents filed in court, A.M.C. went to the clinic for symptoms of what she believed to be a yeast infection. Instead, Nadon conducted what seemed to be a medically unnecessary and non-consensual breast examination. Nadon requested she leave her breasts exposed before proceeding to insert his finger (or fingers) into her vagina.
“During a visit with Dr. Nadon, he performed a gynecological examination. I felt very uncomfortable during my examination because he was staring at me, I believe he was not wearing gloves, and he took what I believed to be a very long time examining my vaginal area with his fingers. His examination did not feel right or proper to me,” wrote C.E.G. in her affidavit.
The pair became aware of each other’s experiences with the disgraced doctor when C.E.G. spoke to A.M.C. shortly after her examination.
The women were both disappointed by the University’s response to their complaints.
“Receiving this letter was like a slap to my face, because the woman at the University had been very supportive and sympathetic, and she had said to me and C.[E].G. that she would help us,” wrote A.M.C. in her affidavit. “This letter was the opposite of the concern and care the woman had portrayed. I felt demoralized and disheartened.”
“Receiving this letter was demoralizing. I felt disappointed and powerless. I, therefore, decided not to pursue this matter any further with the University,” explained C.E.G. in her affidavit.
The women did not further pursue their complaints with other organizations such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).
“I also did not make a complaint to any other organizations, such as the CPSO or police, because I assumed they would dismiss my complaint, just as the University had dismissed it,” wrote C.E.G.
“I felt powerless to take further action on my complaint. I believed any further action on my part, such as going to the police, would simply result in the police reaching the same conclusion as the University,” concluded A.M.C.
A.M.C said in the affidavit that she discarded the letter because it “was a constant reminder to me that perhaps I had been wrong or overreacted to Dr. Nadon’s actions towards me.” The letter was not included in the motion, but A.M.C. did attach a copy of her physical examination documents, which are dated October 10, 1995 and signed by Nadon.
According to the grounds of the motion, “[t]he University of Ottawa received at least two complaints in or about 1995 by former patients of Nadon, regarding his inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. The University of Ottawa failed to take appropriate steps to prevent the improper conduct from occurring again, including requiring the dismissal of Nadon from the UOHS.”
In an email to the Fulcrum, Sean Brown, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs and a senior partner at Flaherty McCarthy LLP, said he “anticipates Nadon will acknowledge that a sexual assault complaint was made against him by at least one patient, to the University, in or about 1995.”
“We expect he will agree that this required him to contact his professional negligence insurer who retained a lawyer for him. We anticipate he will say that he was never contacted by the University to investigate this complaint, and simply forgot about it after he heard nothing further. This evidence, if given, will corroborate the evidence of some of our class members who have sworn Affidavits saying that they lodged complaints with the University, about Nadon and his misconduct, in 1995. If the University knew in 1995 that Nadon was a concern, and if it and its clinic did nothing, then shame on them,” Brown wrote.
Vincent Nadon’s counsel declined to answer the Fulcrum’s questions, instead providing the following statement.
“The class action is ongoing. Because of this, we can not provide answers to your very insightful questions,” wrote Nadon’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon.
Victim shares her thoughts
Ellina Rabbat is a representative plaintiff in the proposed class proceeding, which seeks damages of $110 million from the University of Ottawa, UOHS, the management company, and Nadon. From 2012 to 2017, Rabbat was a student at the University of Ottawa, and from 2013 to 2017, she was a patient of Nadon. In 2016, Nadon recommended she take a pap smear test, which he administered in 2017 and during which time he exhibited a number of inappropriate behaviours which Rabbat says made the appointment feel awkward, embarrassing and bizarre. In 2018, following Nadon’s arrest, Rabbat contacted police to report that she believed she was sexually assaulted according to court-filed documents.
In Jan. 2018, upon hearing of Nadon’s arrest, Rabbat tried to file a complaint with the University. She recalls going around campus seeking resources, first from the student centre, then from the registrar’s office, and later her faculty, the faculty of social sciences.
“I asked anyone that I could think of what sort of resources [there were] or what I could do to file the complaint or if there was any support — where can I go? And I just didn’t really get anywhere with that. I would be sent from one place to the other. They told me to go to a different office. I didn’t actually get anything useful from my efforts there,” said Rabbat in an interview with the Fulcrum.
While the University was unclear to Rabbat where to go after the assault occurred, the institution had been a key factor in her choice to use Nadon as a physician in the first place. When first seeking a new family doctor as a student, Rabbat said she was directed by the University to the UOHS clinic.
“There was never a doubt in my mind that the clinic was a [U]niversity clinic. It was on campus. When I paid my tuition fees, [I was aware that] part of those fees were healthcare and access to these clinics,” she said.
Rabbat did contact the police regarding her assault, and made a post on social media recounting her experiences with Nadon. As a result of her public post, she and Candace Mak, another lawyer from Flaherty McCarthy who represents the plaintiffs, began communicating.
“The goal, from day one up until now, is just to get justice for myself. And if that helps the other victims and if that helps future potential victims, then that’s amazing. But yeah, the number one goal is always for me to just feel like I’ve reclaimed my power and gotten justice for what happened,” said Rabbat.
“I don’t think I could have ever expected how long it would have taken and the emotional impact that it would have.”
Rabbat credits her lawyers with making the legal process largely hands-off and making her comfortable throughout. However, the lawsuit is never far from her mind, and it is not the only psychological weight that remains.
Rabbat said the experience has left her with a heightened awareness regarding everyday power dynamics and the ways in which they can be abused. It was the power imbalance in the doctor’s office, she said in her interview, that led her to be unaware she had the right to ask Dr. Nadon or UOHS for a chaperone during her examination or a dressing gown to cover herself during the examination. She said that she now contends with a feeling of compromised safety that follows her to doctor’s offices, workplaces, and throughout public encounters. It’s these lingering effects that make it difficult for her to feel closure.
“It’s not a feeling of, ‘I’ve overcome that. I’ve reclaimed my power,’ it’s still a really uncomfortable and sad memory. And it’s a memory that I’ll always have. And I’ll always have to think about it every time I go to the doctor’s office. I think it’s going to take a while before I’m able to think about what happened and not have it affect me so much.”
Rabbat now goes to therapy weekly using a grant provided to her by CPSO. She is not yet comfortable discussing the incident with her therapist in any detail.
Rabbat is not the only of Nadon’s alleged victims to be left with long-term effects.
Another victim, whose testimony is included in the plaintiff’s motion under the initials E.M., testifies to a lasting distrust of physicians, which has led her to leave conditions associated with the birth of her children untreated as alleged in court-filed documents.
“After two deliveries, I had rectocele and c[y]stocele — two conditions that require treatment in the intimate area. I had returned to perineal physiotherapy treatments to address these conditions. However, I have cancelled all my appointments and I am not ready to go back yet because I am not comfortable with the idea of being treated in this area of my body. [There is] discomfort daily and chronic constipation as I feel unable to undergo these treatments,” wrote E.M. in her affidavit.
Rabbat hopes that her story and that of Nadon’s other victims might serve to help young people — and especially young women — understand that there is a potential danger because of the power dynamics that exist between doctor and patient.
“I want young adults to know, especially women, that if ever they are in a situation where a power dynamic is present, it’s so important to ask if they feel truly safe and if they feel like they have done everything possible to protect themselves.”
She also hopes that universities will implement streamlined resources to help victims get support in the event that abuses are committed.
“I want to see crisis centers. I want it to be part of student onboarding so that they have that valuable information the moment they become students,” said Rabbat.
“My message to the [U]niversity is that it’s really way too long overdue. There needs to be a really clear and obvious place for students to go if they’ve been a victim of any form of sexual assault or harassment. It’s time. Students, young people, should feel empowered to speak up and to reach out. But if there’s nowhere that they know ahead of time that they can go to, then they probably won’t. And that really needs to change.”
University refusing to take responsibility for harm caused by Nadon to victims
All three of the Ottawa defendants — that is, the U of O, UOHS, and the management company — have issued notices of intent to defend against this claim as of Jan. 30 2020. None of the defendants, Nadon included, have yet defended the action. While this is not unusual at this point in proceedings, it belies what Brown considers a nagging unwillingness on behalf of the Ottawa defendants to take responsibility for their alleged role in this tragedy. It is the lack of transparency that Brown finds frustrating.
“What frustrates us the most is that the position that has been taken right from the very beginning, that there is no relationship between Nadon and the university, or Nadon and the University of Ottawa Health Services. Or, for that matter, [that] there’s no sufficient relationship between the University of Ottawa and its clinic, the University of Ottawa Health Services, that would give rise to … vicarious liability,” said Brown in an interview.
Contrary to the position maintained publicly by the U of O, documents contained within the plaintiff’s motion suggest that UOHS and the University of Ottawa were closely associated with one another.
Contracts contained in the plaintiffs’ motion reveal that even after direct administrative control was transferred to the management company in 1990, the U of O retained various powers, including the right to veto the continuity of employment of those employed by Health Services.
Furthermore, UOHS remained financially associated with the University until its rebrand in March 2021. According to the same 1990 contract, financial records were to be made available to the University upon request. This transparency between the [U]niversity and UOHS was critical, since the clinic was a recipient of funding that was levied by the University via student fees. Surplus from these fees was returned to Health Services’ program fund, but UOHS was required to obtain approval from the Secretary of the University in order to draw from this fund.
Outside of the legal binds, which appear to demonstrate a close relationship between the two institutions, there were a number of symbolic links that publicly suggested their association.
The clinic used the U of O’s name and logo, both of which are legally copyrighted. The clinic also used the University’s website, where students could book appointments and find information including wait times and clinic hours. A separate website for UOHS did not exist prior to Nadon’s arrest. Even the email for the privacy officer for UOHS-related concerns was attached to a ‘uOttawa.ca’ address.
As a consequence of these visible links, UOHS appeared to be operated by the University: as such there was an impression that students would have the University’s protection accordingly. It is a motif throughout the plaintiff’s motion: Nadon’s victims believed that he was an employee of the university. Many chose him as their health care provider for just that reason.
UOHS and the University did not provide specific answers to the Fulcrum’s questions regarding the proposed class proceeding and the relationship between the University and UOHS.
“The University is aware of this class action lawsuit. Since the matter is before the courts, we cannot comment,” wrote Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn, the University of Ottawa’s manager of media relations, in an email to the Fulcrum.
“This matter is before the courts and therefore we will decline to comment,” said Christian Fisher, president & CEO of the ByWard Family Health Team, in an email to the Fulcrum.
This is a developing story.
A non-comprehensive list of domestic and sexual assault resources appears below…
- Womxn’s Resource Centre, 85 University Private, UCU220
- Offers peer-to-peer support listening, quiet semi-private spaces, as well as workshops, events, and discussions.
- Human Rights Office, 1 Stewart Street, Room 121
- Offers resources for survivors of sexual violence and bystanders and sexual harrassment, as well as providing training to combat sexual violence.
- Counselling and Coaching Services, 100 Marie-Curie Street (4th Floor)
- Offers several resources to cater to each student’s needs including Therapy Assistance On-line.
- Survivor hotlines
- Online support
- Supporting a survivor
- Talking with Assault Survivors: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
- Emergency resources
- Community resources