FREDERICTON — A family doctor who now practises in New Brunswick has been found guilty of misconduct by a professional tribunal in the United Kingdom after making "sexually motivated" remarks to someone who identified herself a 13-year-old girl.
The person he was conversing with in an internet chat room, by text message and on WhatsApp was actually a police detective.
In a ruling dated Friday, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in the U.K. suspended the registration of Dr. Hafeez Awan for nine months, saying the order "serves to uphold public trust and public confidence in the medical profession."
The electronic conversations at issue occurred in January 2016 when Awan was working in Leeds and nearby Wakefield. He moved to Canada in October 2017.
In its ruling, the tribunal says that after being told he was conversing with a 13-year-old, Awan "continued to try to engage with Person A via different social media platforms and made inappropriate and sexually motivated remarks to her." It says he tried to arrange to speak with her by telephone when an adult would not be present.
Transcripts of the messages entered as evidence show Awan, who was using the name Medic333, asked, "r u at school?" when Person A said she was 13. In a later conversation, when she said she didn't want him calling when her mother was there, he replied, "i know what u mean." He later told her they would not be able to meet until she was 16 because it would be illegal.
"The Tribunal noted that Dr. Awan told Person A that he was a doctor during the initial conversation on Lycos. Whilst these conversations did not take place in a clinical setting, the Tribunal considered Dr. Awan to have breached his position of trust," the ruling stated. "It took the view that Dr. Awan's conduct was unbefitting with that of a registered medical practitioner."
In his evidence to the tribunal, Awan said he believed the chat room was for adults only and that Person A was lying when she said she was 13.
Awan, who graduated from medical school in Pakistan in 2000, told the tribunal that he had been robbed and violently assaulted during a 2014 trip to Pakistan and that the injuries still affect him today. He said he blamed his brother's wife for the attack because she had told people he would be visiting.
Awan said he had an argument with his brother over the phone on Jan. 5, 2016 about the incident, and after the call he visited the internet chat room as a way to de-stress. That was the day of his first conversation with the person posing as a teen, and he said he would have acted differently if he had not been suffering from "brain fog".
A lawyer told the tribunal that prior to the allegation, Awan had an unblemished record, and he only became aware of the allegation after moving to Canada in October 2017. He said Awan has taken positive steps to ensure the misconduct is not repeated.
Dr. Awan could not be reached for comment Friday, and a recording on his office phone number in Saint John, N.B., said the office would be closed until Nov. 29.
Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons said the college first became aware of the allegations last May. He says they are looking at the British ruling and won't make a decision on Awan's ability to practice in New Brunswick, or comment, until the end of the month when the college board meets.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.