'I would never do that': Former doctor responds to sexual assault allegations from fifth and final complainant
WARNING: Coverage of this trial contains details of sexual assault allegations.
Sylvester Ukabam, a former doctor accused of sexually assaulting five patients, responded to allegations from the fifth and final complainant from the witness stand on Thursday morning.
Ukabam practiced as a gastroenterology specialist in Regina prior to giving up his medical license in 2018. He pleaded not guilty to seven counts of sexual assault levelled against him by five former female patients, who accused him of inappropriate actions during physical examinations from 2010 to 2018.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox questioned Ukabam about the fifth complainant in the sexual assault trial. Ukabam responded to other complaints throughout the week.
Last week, the fifth patient alleged Ukabam positioned her on her hands and knees during a physical exam. She said he touched her vaginal area for about 10 seconds, then put a lubricated gloved finger into her vagina for about 30 seconds.
She also alleged he asked to hug her after the exam, which she agreed to because she felt shocked and afraid.
From the stand, Ukabam said the fifth complainant was one of the earliest patients he saw when he moved to Regina.
The defence walked through several physical and rectal exams Ukabam had performed on the patient in the years leading up to the appointment when the alleged assault occurred, which was in 2014.
Fox asked Ukabam if he remembered having a student or intern help him at the office that day. Ukabam said he did not remember, but his records confirmed there was a student present that day.
The patient testified she agreed to have the student present for her appointment, but said the student did not come into the room for her physical exam.
“I don’t allow students to come into the examination room for intimate medical examinations,” Ukabam said. “If the patient requests for a chaperone, I would ask the medical assistant to be the chaperone.”
He said he remembers some parts of the appointment.
“I remember that we discussed her symptoms. I remember that we discussed some stressors, still. I remember some conversation that we talked about in the office when we discussed what was going on in her life,” Ukabam said.
He said during the appointment, her complaints were about pain running from her mouth to her anus. That prompted him to conduct a physical and rectal examination. He said he does not remember conducting the exam.
Fox asked Ukabam about the patient’s allegation that Ukabam asked her to position herself on her hands and knees.
“That was totally bizarre. I’ve never done anything like that in all my years of practice,” Ukabam said.
Fox then asked if he inserted a gloved, lubricated finger into her vagina.
“Never, and not on any patient,” Ukabam responded.
The defence asked if he would have moved his finger around in her vagina and said ‘I can feel your stomach.’
“I would never do that, no,” Ukabam said.
The patient alleged Ukabam told her she looked sad after the appointment and asked if he could give her a hug.
Ukabam said they often talked about her depression and he would often ask why she seemed sad.
He said he would very rarely give a patient a hug, or ask to give a patient a hug. He said he does not recall asking to give her a hug.
“It’s not impossible,” he said, when Fox asked if it could have happened. “It’s possible, but would be most unusual.”
Ukabam said the patient did not raise any concerns with him during or directly following the appointment.
He said he learned about her complaint a few months after the appointment.
“I was very much shocked, particularly for someone I had seen for so long,” Ukabam said.
Ukabam said over the years of seeing the patient, she had confided in him about some stressors in her life.
Fox read Ukabam’s medical notes on the patient about her depression. One of his notes said “she looked sad.” Ukabam said he noted her depression because it could affect her stomach conditions.
As with other complainants, Fox asked Ukabam about the medications prescribed to her throughout the years.
To finish his questioning, Fox asked Ukabam about his resignation in December 2018.
He said once the word of a hearing was posted on the College of Physicians and Surgeons website and the media had picked it up, he made the decision to resign.
“I just felt stressed out and I had planned to retire in a year from that date,” Ukabam said. “Since these things were beginning to impact my work, I felt it was better to retire a year before my scheduled retirement.”
Ukabam told the court he had seen about 5,000 patients in Regina throughout his career.
He said he’s done thousands of scope procedures and examinations.
On Thursday afternoon, the Crown began its cross examination of Ukabam.
Crown prosecutor Jackie Lane opened by questioning Ukabam about his medical files throughout the years.
She said in the early days, he appeared to keep more detailed records of his patients. She noted the patients’ blood pressure, heart rate and allergies would be listed in his notes, but in more recent years, that information didn’t appear to be recorded.
He said he would only record some of that information if it was abnormal.
The Crown asked Ukabam about how clearly he remembers the patients who filed complainants against him in this trial.
“There are five women, two of them I had no clue who they were,” Ukabam said. “Three women I recognized.”
Lane then began asking Ukabam about his practice for physical exams.
He said he would not do physical exams at every appointment, but he would for any new patient or for patients who were experiencing new symptoms.
According to medical records read in court, some patients who are part of the trial had complained of new symptoms at several appointments, but Ukabam said he did not conduct physical exams on them during the meeting.
He said that was because some of the symptoms they were experiencing were normal, or he would instruct them to get a referral from their family physician for symptoms that were outside of his speciality.
Lane then turned to Ukabam’s practice of instructing patients to wear medical gowns with the opening in the front for physical exams.
After brief hesitation, Ukabam said he instructs both male and female patients to wear their gowns that way.
“Are there times when you’re doing an examination of the chest that a patient might need to remove their bra?” Lane asked.
“No,” Ukabam said. “I don’t instruct women to remove their bras.”
Ukabam said he would conduct a rectal exam at the end of a physical, after he had examined the abdomen and chest.
Lane asked if Ukabam would have female and male patients remove their underwear right before the rectal exam begins. He answered yes.
“The patient slides it toward their ankles. They don’t take it off completely,” Ukabam said.
Lane asked Ukabam if his patients vary in age and mobility. He answered yes.
She asked if it was difficult for a patient to pull down their underwear while wearing a paper gown and lying on a paper sheet.
“It’s going to be a struggle for many people to get their underwear down to their ankles, isn’t that correct?” Lane asked.
“That is the way I have always practiced,” Ukabam responding, adding his patients have never complained.
Lane asked Ukabam about his testimony from earlier in the week, saying he once put a colonoscopy into a patient’s vagina instead of their anus.
Ukabam said both he and the nurse noticed as soon as the scope camera appeared on the screen they were watching. He said they both informed the patient about what had happened.
The trial is expected to resume Friday morning with re-examination from the defence, including a new witness being called to the stand.
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