Alexandru Tanase, a Canadian dental hygienist, has been stripped of his license because he violated an ethics regulation forbidding sexual relations between dental hygienists and their patients even if they are married. Many professionals have such ethics prohibitions, including lawyers. Tanase’s patient in this case, however, was his wife.
The College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario felt that a disciplinary hearing was necessary following a complaint against Tanase made by a jerk of a colleague who had read a Facebook post from Tanase’s wife about the care he had provided her. It wasn’t the first time: they had become romantically involved after Tanase had learned that she had neglected her teeth for years out of fear, and agreed to provide free in-office treatment as a kindness. This was in 2012; by 2014, the platonic friendship had turned to love, and they later became man and wife. Because of Ontario’s no-sex-with-dental-hygiene-patients rule, Tanase had stopped cleaning her teeth around this time. Ontario enacted the zero-tolerance policy in 1993 to protect patients from sexual exploitation, and under the (lazy and stupidly written) law, mutual consent creates no exceptions.
Another hygienist at a clinic where Tanase was employed told him that dental hygienists were allowed to treat their spouses. He was mistaken, though I would have believed him: why wouldn’t they be? But although the College had approved a spousal exemption in September of 2015, the Ontario legislature never formally adopted the rule. It had approved a spousal exemption for dentists, however.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, though, as the maxim goes (though mistake of law can be), so when the confused hygienist began treating his wife in 2016, he was unknowingly breaching an ethics mandate. Thus, after the complaint, the discipline committee ruled that it had no choice but to hold that Tanase had violated the ban on sexual relations with a patient and was subject to mandatory license revocation for at least five years. Stunned and angry, Tanase then appealed to the courts, arguing the law violated his constitutional rights.
The court noted that there was a previous case in which the College took no action against a female hygienist who treated her husband, and expressed puzzlement that this precedent hadn’t been followed. The court also observed that it was odd that dentists can ethically treat their spouses but hygienists are regarded as sexual abusers if they do the same.
Odd is not the word I’d use.
Nevertheless, the judges ruled the license revocation and the stigma of having the specifics of poor Tanase’s discipline posted on the college’s public website were not cruel or unusual punishment by constitutional standards—even though the court had acknowledged that the punishment was unusual, indeed unprecedented. “There is no other case of any dental hygienist anywhere in Canada who has been found guilty of sexual abuse for treating his wife,” the court said. “It is indeed unfortunate that the (discipline committee) elected to proceed with the complaint.” However, it concluded, current law and previous legal decisions upholding the validity of the mandatory punishment for a violation of the no-sex rule prevented a reversal.
“Unless and until the Ontario government approves the regulation put forward by the College of Dental Hygienists to enact a spousal exemption, the mandatory revocation and ancillary relief imposed by the discipline committee as they pertain to spouses must be upheld,” the panel said.
The villains of this utter fiasco are, in order of despicableness, the hygienist who reported Tanase out of meanness or malice, the College’s disciplinary board for not having the common sense and decency to refuse to act on the complaint, and the Ontario legislature for not fixing an obvious error, and indeed a trap, in the law.
The court cannot be faulted for upholding the law as written, though many judges, especially in the U.S., would have found some way to prevent this clear miscarriage of justice.
As for Tanase, he did nothing wrong at all. He and his wife should move to the United States.