Sylvester Ukabam testifies at sexual assault trial
Sylvester Ukabam, a former Regina doctor charged with seven counts of sexual assault against former patients, took the stand on Monday morning to kick off the third week of the trial.
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 patients who accused him of inappropriate actions during physical medical examinations between 2010 and 2018.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox started Monday’s questioning by showing Ukabam several photos of his former clinic. Fox had Ukabam describe the layout of the clinic and identify different medical equipment that was visible in the photos.
One of the photos showed a sign on the examination room about chaperones being present during a physical exam.
Ukabam said the photos were taken in 2017, after at least one of the alleged victims had filed her complaints.
Ukabam said when he first met patients, he would tell them in his office that chaperones could be present during exams.
He said patients would “very rarely” ask for chaperones. Ukabam said his medical assistant would act as a chaperone if one was requested.
During questioning, Fox pulled an item out of an evidence box to show the courtroom and asked Ukabam to identify it. The former doctor said it was one of the medical gowns used in his clinic.
Ukabam said when he examined patients in his clinic, he would instruct them to put the gown on with the opening in the front because of his need to examine their abdomen and chest.
He said he would tell female patients to leave their bra and underwear on when changing into gowns.
Ukabam said if underwear needed to be removed for a procedure like a rectal exam, he would wait and have the patient remove them right before the procedure began.
During the testimony, Justice Brian Scherman stopped Ukabam several times to ask him to slow down. Scherman said Ukabam’s accent and quick responses made it difficult to understand what he was saying.
UKABAM’S EXAMINATION PRACTICES
Fox asked Ukabam to walk through his process for conducting a rectal exam.
Ukabam said he would ask patient to lie on their left side with their knees bent, while he stood on their right side. He said he would put on his gloves and lubricate his finger, put his right index finger into the rectum and feel around for masses or tenderness.
He said he would then move his finger farther up in the rectum and tap the “left wall” to see if there was any tenderness.
Ukabam said tapping the left side of the anal wall can indicate if there are any concerns or problems in the genital area.
“The wall of the rectal canal is in contact with the wall of the genital system,” Ukabam said.
Fox asked Ukabam if inserting a finger into a patient’s vagina is part of his process for a rectal exam. Ukabam firmly said “no.”
The defence then asked Ukabam to describe his process for a colonoscopy.
He said the procedure would always be conducted at the Regina General Hospital’s Endoscopy Unit instead of at his clinic.
He said the patient would change into a hospital gown and would be instructed to take off their underwear when changing into their gown.
Ukabam said there would be at least two nurses in the endoscopy procedure room. He said one nurse always stands by his left side to assist the doctor and the other would monitor the patient’s vitals.
He said the nurse to his left would be positioned “very close” to him and would be expected to remain there throughout the procedure.
Before the procedure begins, Ukabam said the patient would sign a consent form and would then be asked to lie on the exam bed on their left side, with their knees pulled up to their chest.
The former doctor said at that time, medication would be administered to the patient to sedate them through an I.V.
He said one of the two drugs administered for conscious sedation is used to relax the patient and sometimes causes amnesia.
In addition to causing amnesia, Ukabam said patients often fall asleep because of the effect of the medication, however can still react if addressed by the doctor.
“After the medication has been administered, we start the procedure,” Ukabam said, saying he would start with a rectal exam to check the area before inserting the scope.
Ukabam said about three feet of the colonoscopy scope is inserted into the rectum during the procedure.
Late in the afternoon, Fox began asking Ukabam about the complaints made by alleged victims.
The first complaint he referenced came from a patient who received a colonoscopy performed by Ukabam in 2013 who alleged to feeling pressure in her vagina during the procedure.
“I was shocked that she could make such a complaint,” Ukabam said, referring to when he first learned about her allegations.
According to forms read out loud in court, the patient had been administered what Ukabam called a normal dosage of drugs for a conscious sedation before the colonoscopy took place.
Ukabam said during his years of performing colonoscopies, he has never accidentally placed his fingers inside a vagina during the procedure.
He said only once in his career has the colonoscopy accidentally been inserted momentarily in the vagina. He said when that happened, the patient was informed right away.
The defence read from medical records that said the complainant had continued to see the doctor at his clinic for a regular annual visit following the alleged assault. Ukabam said he never heard her raise concerns about the 2013 colonoscopy during those visits.
Ukabam said he became aware of her complaint in 2018.
Court was adjourned after Ukabam addressed the allegations from the first complainant. It is scheduled to resume on Tuesday morning, when the defence is expected to question the former doctor about the five other alleged victims.
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