Nurse’s battle over $26K fine for Facebook comments heads to Sask. Appeal Court

A lawyer for a Saskatchewan nurse who was disciplined for criticizing her grandfather’s care on Facebook says the decision to punish her was based on numerous legal errors.

Carolyn Strom was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association in 2016 and fined $26,000.

She’s appearing before the Saskatchewan Appeal Court and asking it to quash that ruling.

Her lawyer, Marcus Davies, argues that the association’s discipline committee misquoted from legal decisions and directly misrepresented the outcomes of cases it relied on to reach the decision.

“Essentially, the discipline committee made up case law and followed it,” Davies said Tuesday.

In February 2015, weeks after her grandfather’s death, Strom made Facebook comments that some unnamed staff at his long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask., were not up to speed on delivering end-of-life care.

The nurses association is asking the Appeal Court whether professionals have the charter right to say whatever they want on social media, and publicly embarrass health-care facilities without getting all of the facts.

Davies called the complaint against Strom manufactured and cited how the facility’s executive director made a photocopy of her comments and circulated it amongst nursing staff.

“We need the freedom of expression for the purpose of protecting our right to make others uncomfortable,” he told the court.

“Ms. Strom is guilty of nothing more serious than that. Apparently, she made an institution and some who worked there uncomfortable.”

Davies also challenged the association’s legal counsel to test the truth of what Strom said.

Court heard evidence had been presented during her disciplinary hearing from a registered nurse at the facility who said that under a different administration, no education was allowed to be brought in for two years.

Davies also said the facility’s executive director agreed with a quote from former premier Brad Wall, who said more needs to be done to improve long-term care and that some have been let down.

“That was precisely what Carolyn Strom said.

“Why is it when a granddaughter says it, it’s professional misconduct? That’s a question we’ve had to wrestle with for four years.”

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, Canadian Constitution Foundation and the BC Civil Liberties Association are intervening in the case.

 The nurses union says the regulatory body’s action against Strom have reasonably lowered the bar for a finding of professional misconduct.

“If this ruling is upheld and her $26,000 fine is upheld, it’s really sending a message that you can’t criticize anything about the health-care system if you are a nurse,” said Megan Tweedie, a lawyer for the civil liberties group.

(Canadian Press)

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