Montreal

McGill dentistry prof found guilty of sexual misconduct by Quebec Order of Dentists

Dr. Nareg Apelian faces a possible five-year suspension from practising dentistry and is no longer assistant professor of dentistry at McGill University, after the order's disciplinary council ruled he touched a patient inappropriately at his off-campus clinic in 2016.

McGill says dentist no longer works for the university

The Quebec Order of Dentists found Dr. Nareg Apelian guilty of touching a patient inappropriately during an appointment in November 2016. (ResearchGate)

The Quebec Order of Dentists has found Dr. Nareg Apelian — until last week, an assistant professor of dentistry at McGill University — guilty of sexual misconduct involving a former patient.

In a written judgment, the order's disciplinary council said it concluded Apelian had repeatedly touched the patient's breasts during treatment.

A hearing on what sanctions he will face hasn't yet been held, but Apelian could be suspended from practising dentistry for at least five years.

Apelian supervised McGill dentistry students and was listed as the faculty's program lead for continuing studies.

On Wednesday, when CBC asked McGill for its reaction to the dentistry order's ruling, Apelian's name still appeared on the university's website.

A McGill spokesperson told CBC that Dr. Nareg Apelian is no longer working for the university. (CBC)

McGill has now scrubbed the dentistry professor's name from its website.

"As of last week, Dr. Apelian is no longer employed by the University," said McGill spokesperson Chris Chipello on Thursday.

In an email, Apelian told CBC he is not guilty, and he plans on appealing the order's decision.

Off-campus dental appointment

The complainant cannot be named, due to a publication ban in place to protect her identity.

At the time of the incident in November 2016, she was a 21-year-old McGill student.

Suffering from headaches and jaw pain, she made an appointment to see Apelian to have her mouthguard adjusted. 

She had been to McGill's dental clinic on several occasions to see Apelian prior to the November appointment.

This time, Apelian said he could see her at his off-campus clinic, which she'd also visited once before.

According to her testimony, the dentist offered to accompany her there on public transit.

The complainant told the Quebec Order of Dentists she was scared to say anything while Dr. Apelian touched her inappropriately because the door to his clinic was locked, and they were alone there. (submitted by Ross O'Callaghan)

Following some alterations to her mouthguard, the complainant said Apelian checked various pressure points to evaluate her level of muscle tension, which he'd done before at the McGill clinic.

To relieve the tension, he massaged different points along her jaw, neck and shoulders.

She testified Apelian's hands then moved under her sweater where he began to rub her breasts quite vigorously.

She estimates this occurred off and on for quite awhile, both around her breasts and on top of her breasts.

The complainant testified she was scared to speak up because the door was locked, and they were alone in the clinic.

Eventually, she said she made up an excuse about needing to get to a class to escape.

Dental order sides with complainant

The Quebec Order of Dentists' disciplinary council said it found the complainant's version of events credible.

The council noted that after the alleged incident, she immediately contacted her then-boyfriend, as well as her father, to tell them what had happened.

She made a sexual assault complaint to McGill and the Order of Dentists, as well as the Montreal police.

McGill placed Apelian on administrative leave at the beginning of December 2016 while an internal investigation was conducted.

At the end of January 2017, the university's investigation concluded, and Apelian was allowed to return to work. 

He was asked to keep the university informed about the status of a police investigation, which was eventually closed because the police missed a deadline to pursue any action against him.

Dentist denies sexual misconduct

During the order's disciplinary hearing, Apelian testified that he had asked the complainant if he could release her trigger points. 

He maintains that he only touched her five centimetres below her clavicle. 

He denies touching the complainant's breasts and said he finds it unfortunate the complainant misinterpreted his gestures.

Apelian told the disciplinary council he offered to see the patient at his off-campus clinic because the equipment he needed was not readily available at McGill.

He told the council he was trying to accommodate the patient.

In its ruling, the council said these explanations undermined Apelian's credibility because the equipment, with the necessary authorization, was available at McGill. The patient's symptoms were also not urgent, it said.

In its ruling, the Quebec Order of Dentists' disciplinary council said the equipment Dr. Nareg Apelian needed to adjust his patient's mouthguard was available on campus. (CBC)

It ruled there was no justification for Apelian's hands to be anywhere near the complainant's breasts during treatment. 

The disciplinary council said the dentist's actions were unnecessary and unbecoming of the profession.

The Quebec Order of Dentists has yet to set a date for a hearing on what disciplinary measures it will take in Apelian's case.

The order told CBC Apelian could be suspended for less than five years, if he is able to persuade the disciplinary council a longer sanction is unjustified.

About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.

with files from Anna Sosnowski