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Canada's sports doctor to the stars faces drug charges

One of Canada's most prominent sports medicine specialists, Tony Galea, has been charged with illegally importing and selling drugs, according to the doctor's lawyer.

RCMP confirmed they raided the Toronto-area offices of Dr. Galea on Oct. 15 and a police investigation is continuing, according to Sergeant Marc LaPorte, the RCMP's media-relations liaison based in London, Ont. "So I can't really comment on the nature of the investigation at this point."

Dr. Galea said in an interview there has been "a misunderstanding" with police over his use of what he referred to as "homeopathic medications" that have not been approved by Health Canada. The medications, which he had brought into the country from Germany by an assistant, were the reason for the RCMP visit, Dr. Galea said.

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While he said the medicines have not been approved by Health Canada, he added that according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he is allowed to use them on patients, provided the patients have been properly informed.

Dr. Galea's lawyer, Christophe Preobrazenski, said in an interview the doctor faces charges for smuggling and selling the medications. "This isn't Ben Johnson. These aren't steroids," the lawyer said.

Mr. Preobrazenski said Dr. Galea's first court appearance is in December, making for a long wait before his client can clear his name.

"He has the pulse of the international community and the international sports community has his pulse," the lawyer said. "We're not talking about the charlatans with cancer cures and everything else, or the other ones, the superagents, propping up their athletes with superenhancement drugs. This is not it at all. This is really going into healing injuries."

Dr. Galea's client list includes some of Canada's most prominent athletes, such as Olympic gold medalists Donovan Bailey and Mark McKoy.

Earlier this month, figure skater Patrick Chan, a world silver-medal winner and one of Canada's top hopes for an Olympic gold at Vancouver in 2010, went to Dr. Galea for treatment of a tear in his left calf muscle. It was the day before the office was raided. There is no evidence to connect the raid with any of the client treatments.

Dr. Galea said police confiscated the homeopathic medicines and took him to a local police detachment, where he was processed and released the same day. Sgt. LaPorte said he has been told the search warrant "has been sealed" and could not confirm whether police seized anything from the doctor's office.

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Mr. Chan, a two-time Canadian champion, Four Continents champion and 2009 world silver medalist, underwent a procedure known as PRP under Dr. Galea's care.

In layman's terms, platelet-rich plasma therapy involves spinning a patient's own blood in a centrifuge, and red platelets - about four times the normal concentration - are injected back into the patient's muscle. It is believed this method speeds healing.

The treatment is only permitted under international anti-doping rules with the appropriate paperwork, known as a Therapeutic Use Exemption.

"There's a group of homeopathic medications we use for muscle tears and they're not available in Canada," Dr. Galea said. "So I had one of my assistants get them from Germany. And we use it on the treatment of muscle tears. It wasn't Health Canada-approved, but under the College of Physicians and Surgeons, I can use substances that are not approved by Health Canada. But the patients have to be informed. So that's what kind of was the misunderstanding with the RCMP."

The doctor said none of these medications was used on Mr. Chan, however.

"What we did on Patrick was purely platelets - platelets and plasma," Dr. Galea said. "But the problem is, when you're doing platelets and plasma, everybody hears growth factors and they always assume that you're using, like, banned growth hormone. They kind of blur the borderline between the two. And that's why WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency]has certain restrictions on what you're using."

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Mr. Chan withdrew from this month's Cup of Russia in Moscow, but says he expects to come back for the Skate Canada International Grand Prix event Nov. 19-22.

Dr. Galea's lawyer, Mr. Preobrazenski, said the doctor "does great work and there's a lot about nothing, that this thing's going to disappear. It's going to be what I call Pulp Fiction at the end of the day...

"He's not a pharmacy. He doesn't go out there and sell. That in itself is a legal argument, that he wasn't selling."

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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