Outside Charles Duncan's former office. Duncan closed his practice on October 31, 2019. VOICE PHOTO

Charles Duncan sentenced in June on sex assault charges

Disgraced ex-family doctor Charles Duncan has been released from jail pending an appeal of his conviction of sexual assault. The release order was dated June 17 by the Ontario Court of Appeals in Toronto.

Duncan was found guilty on January 21 of six charges of sexual assault by Justice Deborah Calderwood in St. Catharines. In June, Calderwood sentenced Duncan to 15 months incarceration, plus three years probation. He briefly served as an inmate at the Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene before his release.

Duncan’s partner, Barbara Vyrostko, and son Callum Duncan acting as sureties, posted bonds of $10,000 each. A lengthy list of conditions is attached to the bail order.

Duncan agreed to surrender into custody on the morning of his appeal hearing, or December 17 2022, whichever occurs earlier. Failure to surrender into custody in accordance with the terms of his release order will constitute an abandonment of his appeal.

Charles Duncan and his partner, named in court as Barbara Vyrostko, depart the St. Catharines courthouse for a lunch break on April 8 2022, not to return. Duncan’s lawyer cited a health issue as the reason for his client’s absence. DON RICKERS

Duncan must pursue his appeal with all due diligence, and any failure to do so may result in the dismissal of the application to extend the surrender date.

He must reside with his partner and surety, Barbara Vyrostko, at her Port Robinson address. He must advise anyone entering the home of his convictions and the conditions of his release in advance of their arrival.

Duncan cannot communicate with, or be within 50 metres of, any of the women who were named in the legal action, nor their immediate families. He also must not be in the company of, or communicate with, directly or indirectly, any person under the age of 16 years, except in the physical presence of at least one of the sureties. He cannot attend a public park, swimming area, daycare centre, school playground, community centre, or any place where persons under the age of 16 are present, or can reasonably be expected to be present, except while in the presence of at least one of these sureties.

Additionally, Duncan must not seek, obtain, or continue with any paid or unpaid activity that involves being in a position of trust or authority towards persons under the age of 16 years, and must not possess any weapons classified under the Canadian Criminal Code.

Duncan’s lawyer, Seth Weinstein, witnessed the bail document.

A failure to comply with any condition of this release may result in the revocation of the release order, and a return to incarceration.

This was not an isolated lapse of judgment. Only a real jail sentence will send the appropriate message.

Conditions imposed on Duncan at his original sentencing included counseling as assigned by his parole officer, submission of a DNA sample, and registering in the national sex offender directory.

Justice Calderwood had specified that the period of incarceration should be served at a correctional facility that is not a federal penitentiary.

Duncan, who practiced family medicine in Pelham for decades, resigned from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in October 2019, and also gave up his license to practice medicine, after the College commenced an investigation into allegations against him of professional misconduct and incompetence.

After one of the alleged sexual assault victims told her story to the Voice that autumn, several other women came forward with similar allegations. Duncan was formally charged with seven counts of sexual assault and one of sexual exploitation, and was arrested by Niagara Regional Police in November 2019. The women involved were aged 16 to 64 at the time of the alleged incidents.

A publication ban prohibits the publication of any information that could identify the named complainants in the case.

During the trial, some 50 letters of support for Duncan were entered, from family members, former patients, staff, and medical colleagues. Duncan had no prior criminal history, and previously had an unblemished record with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

Defense counsel Weinstein had argued that a Conditional Sentence Order (CSO) was appropriate in Duncan’s case, and had recommended 18 months of non-custodial house arrest. He suggested that Duncan’s crimes were on “the lower end of the spectrum” with regard to sexual assault, involving mainly inappropriate touching, and insisted that Duncan’s age, 79, and poor health (he has been diagnosed with leukemia and prostate cancer, and is receiving treatment for both) deserved consideration.

That position had been contested by prosecutor Todd Morris of the Crown, who insisted that a period of incarceration of two to four years was a more fitting sentence. Morris noted that the crimes represented a significant breach of trust, involved multiple victims over a lengthy period spanning two decades. He sought a sentence “proportional to the gravity of the offence.”

Duncan had previously declined an opportunity to address the court.

Justice Calderwood cited numerous court cases to buttress her decision. Victim impact statements appeared to have had a compelling influence on Calderwood, who recounted for the court the feelings of shame, embarrassment, anxiety, and depression felt by the women.

Mitigating factors included Duncan’s poor health and advanced age, continued support from his family, and the many positive references to his expertise and care as a family physician over many decades.

Aggravating factors, said Calderwood, included his breach of trust, the intense negative impact of his actions on the victims, and his apparent lack of contrition.

Her Honour also who noted that since the charges stemmed from actions which occurred over almost two decades, “this was not an isolated lapse of judgment. Only a real jail sentence will send the appropriate message.”