A Calgary psychiatrist alleged to have subjected gay soldiers and conscientious objectors to electric shock “cures” in apartheid South Africa went on trial Oct 11 for allegedly sexually abusing male patients between 1999 and 2010.
Aubrey Levin, 73, faces 10 counts of sexual assaults on patients assigned to him by the justice system. A further 11 counts were dropped prior to trial.
The trial was originally delayed so Levin could undergo a mental competency hearing. While lawyers and experts agreed Levin is in the early stages of dementia, he was found mentally fit by a jury Oct 9 to stand trial, the Calgary Herald reported.
On Oct 11 jurors were shown two videos recorded by one of Levin’s alleged victims. They show Levin touching the genitals of another alleged victim – for more than 10 minutes in one video.
Levin was first arrested and charged with sexual assault on March 23, 2010, following allegations from one of his long-term patients, representatives at the Calgary Police Service (CPS) said.
Subsequently, numerous people approached the CPS sex crimes unit alleging Levin had sexually assaulted them during counselling sessions or court-ordered visits. These assaults allegedly occurred at Levin’s office or examination rooms, the CPS said.
As a result of the complaints and a four-month investigation, investigators identified additional complainants and charged Levin with a further 20 counts of sexual assault, bringing to 21 the number of complainants and charges against him.
One of Levin’s patients told CTV News two years ago he took the alleged abuse because he was afraid to protest. He said he had gone to Levin about a gambling problem and became uncomfortable when Levin asked him inappropriate questions about his sexuality.
“I didn’t want him to write anything negative about me. So I pretty much kept quiet through the whole ordeal, and the next time I came forward I was going to bring a tape recorder and record everything he was going to say, just to protect myself,” the man told CTV.
Levin made his first court appearance in Calgary Provincial Court on July 30, 2010. The current trial is taking place in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench.
Levin is being represented by one of Calgary’s top criminal lawyers, Alain Hepner. Hepner could not be reached for comment.
This is not the first time the former colonel in the South African Defence Force has been embroiled in controversy.
South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found Levin responsible for “gross human rights abuses” during the country’s apartheid era. He worked as the chief psychiatrist at a military hospital where aversion shock therapy was used to treat homosexuality, the commission heard in a submission from the Health and Human Rights Project (HHRP), according to a 1997 release from the South African Press Association (SAPA) posted on the website of South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
According to SAPA, the HHRP said Levin was first named in a December 1986/January 1987 edition of Resister, a publication of the Committee on South African War Resistance.
The article said electrodes, connected by wire to a machine, were strapped to subjects’ arms. Subjects were shown pictures of naked men and encouraged to fantasize, then were subjected to electric shocks.
“The increase in the current would cause the muscles of the forearm to contract — an extremely painful sensation,” the article said. While the subject was screaming with pain, the current would be switched off and a colour Playboy centrefold substituted for the previous pictures.
“The psychiatrist (in most cases Levin) would then verbally describe the woman portrayed in glowing and positive terms,” the publication said. “Sessions were held twice daily for three to four days.”
The HHRP said that while subjects had to give their consent, most were between the ages of 18 and 24 and were still coming to terms with their sexuality. Some soldiers were subjected to hundreds of shock treatments.
Twelve years ago, the so-called Dr Shock told a South African newspaper the procedure was accepted within the psychiatric profession at the time.
Levin denied he had been involved in the administration of the therapy.
The psychiatrist’s arrest two years ago sparked a review of court cases in which he had testified as an expert witness.
According to the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta, Levin was suspended under Alberta’s Health Professions Act, which allows for the suspension of a doctor while under investigation.
Laurentian University sociology professor Gary Kinsman is the co-author of The Canadian War on Queers, which documents the Canadian government’s security apparatus’s methods of rooting out gays and lesbians from the military and the civil service.
“Certainly, quite horrific things were engaged in by the South African military [in the apartheid era],” Kinsman says.
And, he says, many English-speaking people and Afrikaners fled the country as the anti-apartheid struggle gained strength to avoid being implicated in abuses that took place under the regime.
Kinsman suggests many were able to use their credentials to get privileged positions in Canadian professions.