Toronto dentist charged with sexually assaulting patients, sexual interference with minors still practising
Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ont. investigating, but dentist not required to notify patients of charges
- LATEST UPDATE | Since the publication of this story, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario has imposed conditions on Amir Haydarian, including a restriction on treating patients under 18 and a requirement to have a monitor present when he is with adult patients. Read the full story
More than six weeks after being charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual interference involving minors, with patients alleged to be among the victims, a Toronto dentist continues to practise.
His patients, however, likely have no idea what Amir Haydarian, 54, is accused of.
With the exception of a notice on the website of the provincial dental regulator, Haydarian is not required to post a notification of the charges on his website or in his office or to notify his patients. He has continued to take appointments at his practice, the Mount Pleasant Dental Centre in Midtown Toronto.
"People have a right to know," said University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman.
"Legally, it's quite complicated, but ethically, you have to have mechanisms where, if you believe there is any significant risk to a person — and particularly a child — that notification needs to be made clear to the public."
Details of accusations covered by publication ban
Haydarian was charged on June 26 with five counts of assault; one count of uttering a death threat; four counts of sexual assault; and four counts of sexual interference (a charge that applies in cases where the victim is under the age of 16).
He was subsequently charged with an additional count of sexual assault on July 21 and is currently out on bail.
The charges relate to offences that allegedly occurred between November 2019 and April 2020. The Toronto Police Service and its Child and Youth Advocacy Centre as well as Durham Regional Police Service have been involved in investigating the allegations. (Haydarian owns the building in which his office is located and also co-owns two residential properties in Toronto and a farm in Clarington, Ont., in Durham Region east of Toronto.)
The identities of the alleged victims and the specifics of the accusations are covered by a publication ban.
But CBC News has confirmed that the alleged victims include children under the age of 16 and that some of the alleged victims were Haydarian's patients.
Haydarian's lawyer, Joseph Neuberger, said his client intends to plead not guilty to all charges and "has had an unblemished career as a dentist."
"These allegations are shocking to Dr. Haydarian," Neuberger said.
None of the allegations has yet been tested in court. Haydarian's next appearance is expected in early September.
Police, courts not required to notify college
Under rules established by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO), a dentist facing criminal charges is required to notify the college. But in Haydarian's case, the college learned of the charges from an alleged victim.
Neither the police nor the courts are required to notify the RCDSO of criminal charges against members of the professional organization, which serves as the regulatory body for dentistry in the province.
Bowman said that needs to change.
"Trust is the foundation of the entire system … and if you don't have trust, the entire thing falls apart," he said. "People have got to feel completely safe in medical and dental environments."
An investigator from the college formally interviewed the alleged victim who notified the RCDSO of the charges on July 6. But the college only confirmed that criminal charges had been laid on July 22.
On Aug. 7, more than a month after a complaint was initially raised, the college held an initial hearing into Haydarian's case.
Dentist's case being reviewed, college says
In a statement, the RCDSO said Haydarian's case is being reviewed by a panel of its inquiries, complaints and reports committee.
"The panel has a range of options available to it, and the decision will be released in due course," the statement said.
A separate disciplinary panel could revoke the dentist's licence or take some other action. The college has not indicated which, if any, sanctions it's considering or whether the initial committee has imposed any conditions since the Aug. 7 hearing.
Haydarian, who according to his website has been practising for at least 10 years, is at the beginning of what could be a long battle in the criminal courts and before his own professional organization. The legal process could take years to resolve. The professional hearings could last 18 months, though they may be suspended until the criminal charges are resolved.
When a serious complaint, such as one involving criminal charges, is brought against a dental professional in Ontario, the RCDSO convenes an initial panel. It has the power to issue an interim suspension, preventing a dentist from seeing patients.
However, under provincial legislation, it must offer that dentist two weeks to respond, during which time the dentist is free to continue operating their practice and is not required to notify patients of those allegations.
"I don't think there is any reason the dentist requires two full weeks of notice. I think that's a long time," said Lorian Hardcastle, a law professor and specialist in patient rights at the University of Calgary.
She said laws in Ontario changed in 2017, making it easier to suspend dentists in the interests of protecting public safety but that the changes still don't address the long gaps between charges being laid and consideration of a suspension.
"I think there is no reason these committees can't strike up quicker and impose sanctions if they're going to impose them."
Physicians' regulatory body would 'limit or suspend' licence
By contrast, the regulator of medical doctors, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said in an email statement to CBC News that its legal team would work "to ensure it is a matter of days, not weeks, before these matters are resolved" in a similar situation.
Were sexual assault charges to be laid against a medical doctor, it said, it would "seek to either limit or suspend the license of the accused physician" and might impose restrictions on how they practise medicine, such as requiring a supervisor to oversee the doctor's work.
In the days before the panel hearing, Haydarian's office continued to book appointments for him.
"The dentist has a right to a full and complete review, but also during that time, people have got to be alerted and protected," Bowman said. "You're really putting up bureaucracy rather than protecting people."
In British Columbia, investigations into complaints of a sexual nature made to the College of Dental Surgeons of B.C. are handled by an outside investigator, according to information from the college.
Where criminal charges are involved, disciplinary action would only be taken before the criminal process is complete in extraordinary circumstances that involve protection of the public, the college said in an email to CBC News.
In B.C., when the continued practice of a dentist who is the subject of a complaint poses a risk to the public, the committee investigating the complaint may hold a proceeding and place limitations on the dentist's practice until the complaint is resolved through the criminal process.
Haydarian was released on bail on June 29. The conditions of his release are listed on the RCDSO website and specify that he must not contact any of the alleged victims, is prohibited from having weapons and must notify police if he moves.
- A previous version of this story said the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario could bar a physician from treating patients of a specific gender if it learned that doctor was charged with sexual assault. In fact, the college is no longer allowed to impose gender-specific restrictions on physicians.Aug 11, 2020 3:23 PM ET
- A previous version of this story contained a headline that said the dentist was charged with sexually assaulting patients and minors. In fact, he is charged with four counts of sexual assault and four counts of sexual interference, which is a separate offence in the Criminal Code from sexual assault and applies to victims under the age of 16.Aug 10, 2020 8:08 PM ET