A massage therapist who sexually assaulted two female clients on separate visits to his Airdrie clinic will not serve jail time, due in part to his elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison.
Upendra Bhatt, 63, received a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by 12 months of probation in a written decision issued Wednesday by provincial court Judge Karim Zaher Jivraj.
Bhatt, then co-owner of Blossom’s Massage and Spa, was convicted early last year of intentionally touching a 21-year-old woman without her consent during a September 2018 visit to the business.
Last October, he pleaded guilty to a second charge of sexual assault related to a February 2017 incident at the clinic.
“The crime committed by Mr. Bhatt is serious. He occupied a position of trust . . . and used his credibility as a professional massage therapist to manipulate them for his own sexual gratification,” Jivraj wrote.
“To add insult to injury, the accused was remunerated for his services.”
The Crown had sought a sentence of between 12 months and the maximum 18 months of imprisonment.
Jivraj wrote he is satisfied the conditional sentence is just and proportionate, and also considered Bhatt is under added risk of contracting COVID-19 if he was incarcerated due to his age and various underlying health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
At his trial, court heard Bhatt rubbed the complainant’s exposed breasts and buttocks during the hour-long 2018 appointment she booked to relieve soreness in her back and jaw.
During what was the woman’s first time receiving a massage, Bhatt had her disrobe down to her underwear.
The complainant testified Bhatt spent seven to 12 minutes massaging her breasts while suggesting he was looking for cancer and lymph nodes, at one point saying to her, “wow, you have a nice body.”
The February 2017 complaint involved a woman who told Bhatt she wanted a “waist-up” massage on her back and shoulders but was repeatedly encouraged to receive a full-body massage to help with her blood circulation, according to an agreed statement of facts.
The woman agreed to let Bhatt massage her feet and legs, but experienced him moving his hands up her inner thigh and making contact with her private area two or three times.
Bhatt also told the complainant her underwear was “pretty,” and that she had a “very nice body for having children.”
Neither woman provided a victim-impact statement prior to sentencing.
Bhatt, who had no previous criminal record, must remain at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the first year of his sentence, followed by a strict daily curfew for eight months.
He is no longer a licensed massage therapist and has largely been unemployed since the charges were filed, court heard. Under the conditions of his sentence, he is banned from the premises of Blossom’s Spa, which his wife now operates.