Ontario massage therapist sexually assaulted women two years after receiving closed-door caution

In 2014, an undercover female investigator told the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario that Fernando Vigon-Campuzano had touched her “inappropriately” during a massage.

The college chose to handle the case behind closed doors — cautioning the massage therapist and ordering him to take additional training. At the time, none of this was posted to Vigon-Campuzano’s profile on the college’s website and he was allowed to continue to practise.

Two years later, Vigon-Campuzano sexually assaulted two women during massage therapy sessions. He was convicted by a judge in criminal court this past January, with a sentencing hearing scheduled for March.

Critics have said the criminal conviction demands an explanation from the college as to how it handled the 2014 case and why it allowed Vigon-Campuzano to continue to practise, with the public kept in the dark.

“It’s like the colleges are just begging to be taken over and lose their right to self-regulate when you hear of an incident like this,” said medical malpractice lawyer Paul Harte. “Of course they owe the public answers, and if they’re not prepared to give it to the public, it should certainly be demanded by the minister of health.”

Vigon-Campuzano was convicted in January by Superior Court Justice David E. Harris of two counts of sexual assault stemming from incidents at two different massage therapy establishments in 2016.

One of the complainants — identified as Ms. M.-B. due to a standard publication ban in sexual assault cases — testified that Vigon-Campuzano massaged her inner thigh, near her vagina, and that she was confused whether this was appropriate or not. He stopped after she told him not to touch her in that area.

She also testified that he started massaging her breasts even though she said she did not want a breast massage. Soon after, he also put his hand on top of her vagina “and moved his hand using small quick motions, as if to stimulate vibrations,” according to the judge’s decision.

Among the defence’s arguments regarding her credibility was that Ms. M.-B. tipped Vigon-Campuzano after the session, and that this “belied her testimony that she was sexually assaulted,” according to the ruling. But the judge rejected that argument.

“I do not agree. She testified that she was in shock and just wanted to get out of there. The tip was an automatic action” of neutral importance, the judge wrote.

The other complainant, identified as Ms. H, testified that Vigon-Campuzano pressed into her vaginal area with his hands and inserted two or three fingers into her vagina. She testified she was shocked and confused and the session ended shortly after.

She was also “extensively” cross-examined about giving Vigon-Campuzano a tip, but the judge found it had no weight on her credibility.

Vigon-Campuzano also testified and “unequivocally denied” touching Ms. M.-B.’s breasts and vaginal area and Ms. H’s vagina, according to the ruling. His lawyer, Jennifer Myers, declined to comment to the Star.

The case raises the question of whether the assaults could have been prevented.

The fact Vigon-Campuzano had a prior history with the college first emerged in October 2016 — after the assaults. It became public after one of the two women complained to the college and Vigon-Campuzano signed what’s known as an undertaking, promising to surrender his licence and never reapply.

The undertaking, which is posted on his college profile, says he acknowledges being cautioned and ordered to take remedial training in 2014 “with respect to inappropriately draping a female client and sexually touching a (female) undercover investigator.”

The college has refused to publicly provide further details on the 2014 case, such as why its complaints committee, which operates behind closed doors, did not send the allegations to a public discipline hearing, which hears from witnesses testifying under oath.

The complaints committee decision, obtained this week by the Star, provides some insight. An undercover investigator was sent in after the college received an anonymous letter from a woman in 2014 who said she felt uncomfortable that Vigon-Campuzano draped her in a way that sometimes exposed sensitive areas during the session.

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The investigator, using the pseudonym “Ms. M.S.,” reported that Vigon-Campuzano insisted on treating parts of her body that were of no concern to her, according to the committee decision. He also did not use proper draping techniques, according to the investigator, leaving her gluteal and pubic areas exposed.

She reported he “touched her inappropriately when he worked very close to the genital area,” according to the decision. “She stated that she could feel his hand ‘move over top of pubic hair.’” He also made contact with her breasts while massaging her sternum.

The committee found the concerns about his conduct to be “serious and require significant action,” and chose to caution Vigon-Campuzano and order him to take remedial training. The committee found a public discipline hearing was unwarranted because it didn’t appear Vigon-Campuzano had a “sexual intent.”

“Inappropriate draping that results in the exposure of sensitive areas of a client’s body is serious,” the committee wrote. “In addition, massaging these areas without first obtaining informed client consent could be perceived as crossing appropriate clinical boundaries and possibly as sexual abuse.

“In this situation, however, there did not appear to be any evidence of sexual intent on the part of Mr. Campuzano. It appears, instead, that Mr. Campuzano lacked attention to college requirements.”

The college pointed out to the Star that, at the time, the law prevented colleges from posting cautions and orders to take remedial training on a member’s profile. It could only post information if the case had been sent for a discipline hearing. A new law enacted by the Ontario government in 2017 now allows colleges to post more information about a member’s conduct.

The college said it has also made changes of its own since 2014, including expediting cases involving allegations of sexual abuse and requiring written consent for the treatment of sensitive areas. It said it has also taken steps to improve its decision-making processes, including training on risk assessment and on the considerations to apply in sexual abuse cases.

“The college acknowledges that the process and our actions would likely have been very different if the new provincial legislation was in place at the time of the original investigation in 2014,” the college said in a statement to the Star that also confirmed the college is investigating Vigon-Campuzano over his recent conviction.

“We are sorry that this happened, and believe the changes we have made better protect Ontarians receiving treatment by the massage therapists we regulate.”

Harte, the medical malpractice lawyer, points out there was nothing in the old law that prevented the college from sending Vigon-Campuzano’s case to a discipline hearing in 2014.

“The college’s position makes no sense,” he said. The fact an undercover investigator came in “suggests there’s a reasonable basis to refer this to discipline. If they just had an anonymous complaint, that’s one thing, but if they have an investigator and the investigator goes out and confirms the concerns, they need to err on the side of caution and refer to discipline, even if they lose.”

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