Sexual Innuendo on TikTok is Unprofessional

Regulators can act when registrants engage in sexual innuendo on TikTok, at least when the postings relate to their practice, and they are health practitioners.

In Chaban v. Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, 2024 ONSC 1075 (CanLII), a registrant (a dentist) posted two short videos containing sexual innuendo. The first was set in an apparent office. The second referenced observations he can make in his professional practice.

Initially the dentist defended the videos on the basis that it did not involve patients and was consistent with the platform. The registrant later recanted from this position and acknowledged the unprofessionalism of the videos and indicated that he would change his social media behaviour. The regulator, referencing the initial response of the registrant and the harm to the public that flowed from the videos, required the registrant to attend for an oral caution and to complete a remedial program.

On judicial review the Court upheld the order. While the regulator mistakenly assumed that the registrant’s professional profile accompanied the videos, the Court found that misassumption to be immaterial:

The Videos themselves clearly identified their maker …. Only a click or two away from the Videos, on TikTok itself, was [the registrant’s] profile. It sets out his first and last name, his age, his profession as a dentist and refers to Toronto. It was a matter of just a few further steps to obtain all of the details of [the registrant’s] dental practice by inputting his full name and profession into Google.

The Court also concluded that the regulator’s discussion of the registrant’s initial response was appropriate:

… the Committee did not attempt to punish [the registrant] for a lack of remorse or failure to assume a submissive position in the face of its investigation. In fact, its decision makes no reference at all to the term “remorse”. Rather, the Committee articulated its concern with the lack of insight that [the registrant] displayed in his initial responses to the College.

The Court also affirmed that it was reasonable to conclude that there was a risk of harm to the public even if the conduct was not aimed directly at patients, because the videos:

  1. may offer the message that a dentist could infect their professional patient interactions with a prurient interest in those patients’ intimate sexual habits;
  2. include the dentist’s ostensibly approbative reference to seduction while he is sitting in an office, dressed in his scrubs.
  3. may make a patient reluctant to seek dental care or make a patient uncomfortable with their dentist (whether himself or another dentist) during the course of care.

 

Despite the registrant’s youth and newness to the profession, the direction was viewed as “neither disproportionate nor overly severe.”

The regulator’s position in this case was assisted because it published advisories on the issues.

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