A dental hygienist in Ontario who lost his licence for treating his wife’s teeth is appealing to the public after losing his bid to have his punishment overturned.
“I’m fighting for over 14,000 dental hygienists in Ontario that can’t provide and want to provide care for their spouse.”
Earlier in September, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision to uphold the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario’s (CDHO) discipline committee’s decision to revoke Tanase’s licence after he treated his wife’s teeth.
In Ontario, it’s considered professional misconduct if a dental hygienist has “sexually abused a patient.” According to the Regulated Health Professions Act, sexual abuse includes any sexual intercourse or other types of sexual relations.
Consent is irrelevant, and a spouse is included in the definition of a patient.
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“There is a mandatory revocation of a professional’s licence for a finding of sexual abuse,” said Neil Abramson, head of Torkin Manes’ litigation department and a specialist in defending health professionals.
The CDHO council approved a regulation to exempt spouses from the sexual abuse provisions in 2015, but it hasn’t been passed as law yet in Ontario.
“The College of Dental Hygienists have, for some time, had a regulation, which they are seeking the government’s approval about, but they don’t have it yet,” Abramson said.
“The dentists do.”
Court documents show that before Tanase started treating his wife, she told him that she had a fear of dental treatment and therefore hadn’t sought care in several years. After Tanase provided care to his wife, she posted on Facebook expressing her gratitude, at which point a complaint was launched to the CDHO.
“Once there’s a complaint, statutorily, under the Regulated Health Professions Act, the College shall investigate,” Abramson said. “They have no discretion not to investigate.”
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The CDHO declined an interview with Global News, but according to a document on its website, the Ministry of Health delegates to health colleges the ability to govern a profession only if they do so in the public interest.
If the CDHO ignored the legislation, “the most dramatic step that the government has the right to take is to bring in a supervisor to run the College,” Abramson said.
“Then, the people that are running the College would no longer be running the College, and they’d lose all autonomy.”
Seth Weinstein, Tanase’s lawyer, told Global News that the Divisional Court’s ruling is “disappointing on a number of levels.”
“The difficulty with the case is that the Divisional Court is bound by precedent cases,” Weinstein said. “There are precedents that exist in the Court of Appeal that have held this zero tolerance mandatory revocation provision to be constitutional.”
Weinstein said Tanase has asked him to file a leave application to the Court of Appeal.
The fees Tanase is required to pay for his appeal amount to $35,000.
“It’s just heartbreaking and ridiculous at the same time because everybody feels sorry for me, but they have to follow the law and literally destroy everything that I am and everything that I’ve worked for.”
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The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) is supporting Tanase in the case. The organization has shared Tanase’s story on social media and has written to the Ontario government.
According to Ondina Love, the CEO of CDHA, the only provinces in Canada that have legislation regarding providing dental hygiene care to spouses are Ontario and New Brunswick.
“There are no regulations in the rest of the country,” she said.
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Love said Ontario even goes a step further than New Brunswick; the latter does not require a mandatory revocation of a hygienist’s licence for five years if a complaint is received.
“We really feel that for so many reasons, dental hygienists across the country, including Ontario, should be able to treat their spouse,” Love added.
“It’s a huge access to care issue.”
Love pointed to people who are living in rural and remote communities.
“If you’re living in a rural or remote community, and there’s no other dental hygienists in the area, you would have to travel hundreds of miles in some cases to be able to receive dental hygiene treatment,” she said, adding that some people also have anxiety about seeing the dentist.
According to court documents, the CDHO discipline committee said while its “sympathetic” to Tanase’s personal situation, its “hands are tied by a strong legal rule.”
The committee said it also hopes to see Tanase as an active member of the dental hygiene profession again. After five years, he can apply to have his licence reinstated.
“You have to make a fresh application to become a member, and of course, colleges that are faced with health professionals who haven’t been practicing for five years have a very real concern about whether that person’s clinical skill is up to snuff because they’ve been out of practice,” Abramson said.
In other words, there’s no guarantee whether Tanase will even get his licence back, according to Abramson.
Now it’s a waiting game as to whether the Ontario government will approve the spousal exemption proposed by the CDHO.
“If it is approved, we would then argue that there is not misconduct or that it should apply retrospectively to his circumstances,” Weinstein said. “We’d have to see how the legislation is crafted.”
Abramson said Tanase’s case is “very unfortunate.”
“It speaks to the gross unfairness in the broad-sweeping nature of the legislation,” Abramson said of Tanase’s conviction.
“Of course, sexual abusers should be stopped…but a dental hygienist loses his licence forever effectively because he treated his wife?” he added. “I have great difficulty with the notion.”
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While Ontario’s Ministry of Health didn’t provide Global News with an interview, David Jensen, the ministry’s media relations co-ordinator, provided a response over email.
“The ministry is aware that the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario has submitted a proposed regulation which would allow its members to treat their spouses,” Jensen wrote.
“Each regulation submission is subject to prior review by the Minister of Health and approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The proposal is currently under review and will be brought forward for the Minister’s consideration at the earliest available opportunity.”
“Six months from now, I’ll probably have to sell my house, and I’ll be forced to pay fees,” he said.
Since Tanase has appealed to the public through social media, he’s heard from many supporters, including some of his former patients.
“I’m really, really thankful for the support and whatever I got so far is beyond expectations,” he said.
“I have patients reaching out, patients I haven’t seen in over a year and a half.”
The CDHO’s counsel, Julie Maciura, declined to comment on the case.
“I’m waiting for a miracle. I need somebody to bring this up to the government,” Tanase finished.