October 24, 2021

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The Best Heatlh Under One Roof.

Wealthy Toronto couple seeks $11.5M as five-year feud with public health officials goes to court

In the unusual lawsuit, Dr. Rita Kilislian alleges that three medical officers of health conspired against her in a vendetta that started over a root canal

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A five-year feud between public health officials and an Ontario dental surgeon and her colourful millionaire husband is bringing unusual allegations of abuse of public office into court through a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

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Dr. Rita Kilislian runs a Peterborough specialist clinic and other dental offices in Ontario with her husband, Andy Curnew, who calls himself a “millionaire playboy philanthropist.”

Kilislian and Curnew are an oddity among Peterborough couples.

Their luxury custom remodel, creating a spectacular $3-million apartment in an historic downtown building around the corner from her Water Street clinic, prompted a real estate agent to declare, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

They are rare birds even in Toronto.

Curnew is known for throwing opulent, brassy parties at their Bridle Path mansion, a few doors down from Drake’s in the most affluent neighbourhood in Canada, including a bash for Curnew’s friend, Jeremy Bieber, at which his pal’s famous son, Justin Bieber, attended.

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His high society presence comes despite spending nine years in prison, “off and on” by his account, after conviction on assault, drug and gun charges laid in 2003, which he disputes and is pursuing a conviction review.

He since received his MBA and became a “serial entrepreneur” and philanthropist, with apparent success.

A replica of the Don Jail cell that Andy Curnew spent time in, in the backyard of Rita Kilislian and Curnew’s Bridal Path home.
A replica of the Don Jail cell that Andy Curnew spent time in, in the backyard of Rita Kilislian and Curnew’s Bridal Path home. Photo by Nick Kozak for Postmedia

Kilislian has been a registered specialist with the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario since 1997 in endodontics — a branch of dentistry dealing with dental pulp and tissues surrounding the roots of a tooth, such as root canals.

Kilislian and Curnew married in 2009, and Curnew helps run her clinics and often represents her in public.

Kilislian filed an unusual lawsuit in July against three medical officers of health in three Ontario regions, alleging they abused their public office and personal ties, conspiring against her in a vendetta.

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She is suing the Peterborough Public Health (PPH), and its head, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, as well as Dr. Robert Kyle, head of the Durham Region Health Department, and another medical officer of health, Kyle’s wife, who is not directly named in the suit but is clearly Lynn Noseworthy, head of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, which surrounds Peterborough on three sides.

The suit claims Salvaterra “had a personal vendetta” against Kilislian and her family, in league with Kyle and his wife.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“Peterborough Public Health emphatically denies each and every allegation and will defend against them thoroughly and vigorously,” PPH spokeswoman Sarah Gill said. Neither Kyle nor Noseworthy responded to the National Post’s requests for comment.

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Although the Ontario Superior Court registry has not yet processed any statements of defence in the case, a copy of a statement of defence on behalf of PPH and Salvaterra was sent to the Post by PPH.

That document says Kilislian is “the author of her own misfortune,” and if she suffered any damage from the incidents, it was “a result of her own negligence.” The statement asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit as frivolous and vexatious, with costs awarded.

The root of the dispute is a root canal.

I am a victim of harassment

In 2016, a patient came to Kilislian’s clinic, Kawartha Endodontics, for a root canal and about 10 days later came down with a serious internal infection that required emergency hospitalization and treatment.

The patient, according to records before the Health Services Appeal and Review Board, was Noseworthy.

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Concerned his wife’s infection was caused by infection during her root canal, Kyle complained to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario. After an investigation, the college was satisfied there was no need for action.

Kyle appealed that finding to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.

After a hearing, the board said that despite Kyle’s medical background in public health, the board accepted an opinion from an infectious diseases specialist from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto that the patient’s illness was not caused by any lapses in Kilislian’s infection control practices.

The board’s decision, in July 2018, ruled there was no risk to patient care or safety.

Kilislian and Curnew allege the couple remained unsatisfied and have since waged a campaign against Kilislian.

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“I believe that they have continued to act in a conflict of interest by using their powers to influence other dental practice closure campaigns,” Kilislian said in an affidavit. She calls it a “witch hunt.”

One year after the board’s decision, almost to the day, a complaint against Kilislian to PPH sparked a health inspection of her Peterborough clinic. The inspector reported several possible infection and control concerns and issued a closure order. The clinic was cleared for reopening 10 days later.

That didn’t end the matter, though.

In September 2019, Salvaterra called a news conference and said past patients of Kilislian’s clinic might have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV, although there were no known cases of such transmission linked to the clinic.

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Patients were encouraged by Salvaterra to see a doctor.

At the time, Salvaterra said they were alerting the public two months after the inspection because the clinic was appealing the inspector’s decision, which would delay a formal finding.

PPH said in the document sent to the Post that the alert was issued on advice from Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, and a provincial public health opinion that the clinic’s “deviations from accepted standards” noted by the inspector posed a risk to past patients.

This time it was Kilislian’s turn to complain to the health services review board.

In proceedings before the board, Kilislian, represented by Curnew, alleged the public alert was designed to ruin her business and that the inspection was not in response to a complaint from a patient or a member of the public, but by a public health nurse who’s worked with one or more of the public health officers being sued, using her maiden name, as part of a campaign against Kilislian.

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Dr. Rita Kilislian.
Dr. Rita Kilislian. Photo by Nick Kozak for Postmedia

PPH refused to identify the complainant, even to the review board. The PPH statement sent to the Post refers to the complainant as “a member of the public who had attended at the practice.” It says the complaint was made “in confidence” and the agency is prohibited from releasing the person’s identity.

Kilislian and Curnew also said the inspector went into areas separate from her clinical settings, and included items they use for teaching infection control in a “spot the error” scenario, where things are purposely arranged incorrectly to quiz students.

“At no time did any public health official ever inspect my clinical treatment rooms in Peterborough,” Kilislian told the Post. “What they inspected was an unrelated training facility in the same building.”

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The dispute got dirtier.

For his part, Curnew took his complaints to social media, where his Instagram account, with 153,000 followers, called Salvaterra “a disgraceful liar.” Another of his posts says: “Whats the difference between a medical health officer and God??? Answer, God doesn’t think that God is a Medical health officer.”

For PPH’s part, at a board review hearing last year, its lawyer handed out documents detailing Curnew’s past criminal convictions.

In late July, the board’s decision was released.

It sidestepped many of the accusations. The panel said the board’s mandate is only to “confirm, alter or rescind” public health orders, so many of Kilislian’s requests were beyond its jurisdiction.

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Salvaterra told the board she didn’t know Kyle and denied conspiring with other medical officers of health in initiating the investigation of Kilislian’s clinic. Because the July 2019 closure order had long since been rescinded, the board didn’t rule on whether it was appropriate to make.

What the board did rule on was whether PPH’s order for Kilislian to turn over information on her patients was reasonable, which the board found it was.

Just as one file was closing, another opened.

Kilislian’s lawsuit seeks $11.5 million in damages and an injunction preventing the defendants from speaking publicly about the complaint or the inspection of the clinic.

“I am a victim of harassment and have continued to be treated unfairly because of public health fear mongering,” Kilislian said about filing her lawsuit. If the court rules in her favour, she said she plans to start a fund to support other dental practices and local businesses hit by COVID-19 losses.

No date has been set for the hearing.

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