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Saskatoon dentist threatened women with legal action for bad online reviews

(Josh Lynn / CTV News) (Josh Lynn / CTV News)

Two Saskatchewan women turned to the privacy commissioner after a marketing company hired by a Saskatoon dentist started pressuring them to take down negative online reviews.

The women say they were contacted by a man in Calgary purporting to be an employee of the Saskatoon Smiles Dental Group who pressured them to delete their bad reviews. According to details in a report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner obtained by CTV News, the women were even threatened with legal action.

Saskatoon Smiles owner Dr. Wes Antosh confirmed the man — who identified himself to the women only as Kal — was an employee hired to manage the "online reputation" of his business, the report says.

“This person describes looking at information from my medical files from Saskatoon Smiles Dental Studios and looking at them for the sole reason of finding ‘merit’ for my Google review, then threatening myself for ‘defamation and slander’ due to my Google review,” one of the former patients wrote in her complaint to the privacy commissioner.

Commissioner Ronald Kruzeniski said Antosh's employee breached the women’s privacy because he had no legal reason to access their contact information and details about their dental procedures while managing the online reputation of the business.

Unhappy with the results of a procedure, one of the women responded to Kal asking for a refund.

On Nov. 5, 2021, she received a contract from Meadow Lake-based lawyer Gerald Perkins offering to reimburse her the $3,746 for the dental work — on the condition that she delete all negative comments and agree to refrain from publicly commenting on Saskatoon Smiles in the future.

The contract, shared with CTV News, also includes a $5,000 penalty for disclosing the terms of the deal publicly.

In text exchanges between the victim and Kal, she describes the refund as “hush money.”

“It’s unethical and the reviews are there to protect the public and consumers,” she wrote.

For Kruzeniski, the concern was whether Kal or Gerald Perkins had the right to even contact these former patients, since their names and contact information were shared with the clinic in order to obtain dental care.

Even their contact information on the public forum of a Google review ought to be considered private health information in this case — at least for Kal, Kruzeniski says.

Private health information can only be shared by the trustee — in this case, Antosh — for “a purpose that will primarily benefit” the patient, said Kruzeniski.

Managing the online reputation of a business does not count, he said.

The privacy commissioner called on Antosh to stop collecting personal health information for the purpose of managing his or Saskatoon Smiles’ online reputation, and told him to destroy any information about the complainants within 30 days of the report, dated Sep. 13. 

CTV News reached out to Antosh for comment and has not yet received a response. Top Stories

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