Sunday 29 June 2014


Those who have followed this blog closely may recall that the Pecover sisters on Vancouver Island -- Jean Hunter and Helen O’Connor who, in their youth, had been neighbours of Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan and his second wife Calgary stage actress, Evelyn Hambly – firmly believed that the doctor as well as being an abortionist had also been a bootlegger. It appears from a very interesting series of Alberta Supreme Court decisions taken during the early and middle 1920s that doctor had begun that other illicit career at that time. For, in 1925 after investigations of certain charges of misconduct on Dr MacLauchlan’s part, his name was ordered erased from the register of the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. Some of his misconduct seems to have arisen from bootlegging while employed at a Calgary hospital. In April and May of 1927 MacLauchlan then 33 years old and seven years out of McGill Medical School (where he had been a prize-winning student) appealed the College’s decision, winning readmission on a technicality. In turn, the College appealed the decision and the appeal succeeded. Yet another appeal by MacLauchlan followed. 

Both parties hired high-powered legal help in the cases. Acting on behalf of the College was C F Adams, at the time Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Law Society. Acting for MacLauchlan during his first appeal was E V Robertson, a prominent Calgary lawyer (who later died young – only 40). For the second appeal he had the assistance of A.L. Smith, one of the pit bulls of the Alberta legal profession. 

What were the six charges of unbecoming and unprofessional conduct that the Court made a decision upon on May 17, 1927? Four stood out. One of these related to the excessive number of prescriptions for narcotic drugs issued by MacLauchlan over a period of time which ended in January, 1920. It is not clear if the incidents all took place in Calgary. In any case, more than five years passed before this particular complaint was looked into and, as the Court noted, MacLauchlan had not repeated the offence during that later period.  

Another charge related to a woman upon whom he had performed an unnecessary thyroidectomy. He was criticized for his failure to confer with other members of the medical staff of the hospital, the name of which is not given in the court document. This is called the Dawson case and his failure to consult was punished by a suspension from the institution’s staff.  Writing about the matter, the judge states that “the Dawson case strikes me as being rather a case of negligence or of unskilful treatment than misconduct.”  

In the liquor-related case, it appears he was dispensing liquor to people he should not have been but whether these people were staff, patients or simply outside people is not clear. According to the documents such practices were not unusual among other medical staff. It is interesting to note that prohibition was in effect in Alberta between 1916 and 1924. However, it appears that doctors may have had the right to dispense alcohol for “medicinal purposes” and that MacLauchlan in particular took advantage of this right. As the judge wrote: 

 His abuse of his privileges as a member of the medical profession in the dispensing of liquor was unbecoming and improper and in fact quasi-criminal, it being in breach of the law. It is, of course, no defence that many others were, as he says, doing it.  

In relation to the Thyroidectomy, the judge wrote: 

I can see no excuse for his failure to make a full report on the Dawson case to the insurance company. According to the record he stated that he knew at the time of the inquiry that this was wrong and pleaded his inexperience in excuse for it, the incident having taken place in 1922, three years before the inquiry and when he had been in practice here for about three years.  

The fourth incident was called the Becthold incident. Details are extremely vague in the documents but it appears to have occurred in relation to Dr MacLauchlan being jailed – for an unknown reason -- on a very short term basis and a Mr Becthold paying the doctor’s bail. The incident, which involved an unpaid loan from Becthold to MacLauchlan, was described in the court documents as “either dishonesty or gross impropriety” since Becktold’s generosity was not repaid -- ever. Some of the money was paid to a Calgary lawyer, Gregory A Trainor, as a fee for his services on behalf of the doctor.   

Seeking to put the various charges in perspective and to be fair and sympathetic to MacLauchlan, the judge wrote: 

I think the punishment inflicted [in the earlier decision by the College to strike MacLauchlan from its list] too severe. The appellant is a young man who has been practising his profession for but about eight years. The erasure of his name from the register means the taking from him of his means of livelihood for I fancy he will not be able to practice his profession in any other country so long as he is in bad standing in this province. The result of course is the absolute waste of all the years and the money that he spent in qualifying himself to practice it and the beginning of life anew in some other calling. I do not think that his offences call for such drastic punishment. While they are six in number they cover a period of about that number of years.  

As mentioned above, the cases attracted some quite prominent members of the Alberta legal profession, including Bencher Charles F Adams, who was a former Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Bar Association and acted on behalf of the College, and E.V. Robertson for MacLauchlan. Acting in MacLauchlan’s final (and successful) appeal was Arthur L. Smith, K.C., a formidable criminal lawyer who was nationally respected. During his career, A.L. Smith was associated with many of Alberta's great law cases including 1933’s MacMillan vs. Brownlee, in which a sitting Premier of Alberta, John Edward Brownlee, was initially brought low by accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him by a young woman, 18 year-old Vivian MacMillan, employed as a stenographer at the government buildings and her father Allan MacMillan. Although the girl and her father initially won damages from the premier, the latter appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Alberta and had it overturned. It was A.L. Smith who handled the cross-examination of Vivian MacMillan on Brownlee’s appeal and reduced her to tears and confusion in the court.  

The upshot of the Alberta Supreme Court cases between 1925 and 1927 appears to be that it is quite easy to demonstrate that Dr Robert Henry MacLauchlan always had a whiff of shadiness to his character and it appeared fairly early in his career.

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