From the Misty Moon to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, a bizarre legal affray took a decade to settle
by Colby Cosh
YEARS ago, the destinies of three Nova
Scotians came together in a situation strange enough to be a Hollywood
movie. A promising law student watched his life and career explode when he
was charged with sexual assault; an anonymous woman, his accuser, saw her
personal history become a public circus; a respected psychiatrist ended up
with a huge legal bill and a suspension from the profession just because
he was concerned about a possible injustice. Their weird story finally
ended on October 9, but the mysteries behind the affair will probably
The tale begins on October 26, 1991, at the Misty Moon Cabaret in
downtown Halifax. Kenneth A. Ross, then 27, was a second-year law student
at Dalhousie University. At the bar he met the woman later referred to in
legal documents as "Jean Smith." Ross had dated "Ms. Smith" in their
undergraduate days, and Ms. Smith agreed to go back to Ross' place for
drinks. That is where the accounts of what happened diverge.
According to Ms. Smith, she was fending off amorous advances when Ross
suddenly started punching her in the face. He then forced her to perform
oral sex. Ross, on the other hand, recalled preparing to sleep with the
plaintiff when she started asking strange questions--was he going to tie
her up, or force her to perform oral sex? When he said no, she began
"kicking" and "thrashing," so he gave up and called her a cab.
Jean Smith, obviously upset, told the driver she had been raped, and he
took her to a hospital. Soon after, she spoke briefly with Dr. Eric
Hansen, a Halifax psychiatrist who had treated her occasionally since
1983. Dr. Hansen remembered her as a patient who had left home at 16,
passed through phases of religious fervour and alcoholism, and had
eventually begun to get her life in order. A letter he wrote in 1983
describes her as a "good kid who got into the wrong crowd and has now seen
the light." He mentioned an "adolescent adjustment reaction," and believed
Ms. Smith had witnessed traumatic, violent events in the family
By June 1992, Ross' her-word-against-his jury trial had begun. One day,
Dr. Hansen read a newspaper story on it and remembered his most recent
conversation with Ms. Smith. Although her name was not published, he
recognized her story. The differing accounts of the events in Ross'
apartment troubled him. He thought they could result from a "dissociative
experience" in Ms. Smith's mind--that she had innocently had a symbolic
"flashback" and imagined a harrowing sex assault. He was concerned that
her testimony might be unreliable, but he was uncertain what to
The guidelines for physicians in this situation are not written in
stone. Doctor-patient confidentiality is nearly sacred, but a doctor is
allowed to break it to prevent a miscarriage of justice. That is the
theory, but Dr. Hansen is perhaps the first Canadian physician ever to
actually do so. Through a lawyer, he asked the Provincial Medical Board
(PMB) (since renamed the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons)
how to behave. They refused to advise him, but urged him to consult his
conscience. While he was grappling with the dilemma, Ross was found guilty
and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.
Dr. Hansen chose to notify the crown prosecutor that he had
confidential knowledge relevant to the Ross case, though he disclosed no
facts. The Crown notified the defence, and the defence asked the court to
question Dr. Hansen and seize the relevant records. In April 1993, Ross'
conviction was overturned and a fresh trial ordered. Then things started
to get really complicated.
Within a matter of weeks, Ms. Smith complained to the PMB about Dr.
Hansen's violation of her privacy. Meanwhile, two other women came forward
with stories of spookily similar sexual assaults they said Ross had
perpetrated. In pre-trial hearings, Ross' lawyer fought to have these new
accusations thrown out because of the possibility of collusion. The
motions were denied. A new charge, a more serious one of sexual assault
causing bodily harm, was tacked on. Ross decided to cut a deal. In
February 1995, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced, again, to 18
The PMB, which had been unable to advise Dr. Hansen on his ethical
problem, now turned against him. In panel testimony, some fellow
physicians came forward to praise him. "An informed and aware psychiatrist
would have...come to very similar conclusions," said one. "Whether the
same psychiatrist would have had the moral courage to act...is more
doubtful." But other doctors disagreed. One psychiatrist told the panel
that "People do not re-experience trauma in any symbolic form, but in fact
quite exactly...it is very difficult to take Dr. Hansen's use of
diagnostic entities seriously."
In 1996, the panel found Dr. Hansen guilty of professional misconduct
and suspended him from practice for three months. Ms. Smith had sued the
PMB to keep it from publishing in its decision the private details she had
brought forward herself, but that case was dismissed rather contemptuously
by a judge. Then Dr. Hansen's lawyers seized on a clause in the medical
board's controlling statute allowing for judicial review of its rulings.
He appealed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, which was set to hold a
hearing October 9 of this year.
With less than a week to go, the board's lawyers put a deal on the
table: pay us $25,000 in legal costs, accept a two-month suspension and we
will drop the matter. Dr. Hansen proved unable to refuse; he would have
lost far more than $25,000 if the Supreme Court had turned the tables and
awarded costs to the PMB.
"My client settled, in my view, for human reasons," says Dr. Hansen's
lawyer, Michael Ryan, Q.C. "This matter had taken a terrible toll on his
family. I was confident we would have success at the [appeal], but he
settled on my advice. He had to decide whether he was willing to open old
wounds." Mr. Ryan says the doctor intends to return to his thriving
practice after the two-month break.