A Saskatchewan nurse is making a final attempt this week to overturn charges of professional misconduct resulting from a 2015 Facebook post in which she criticized her grandfather’s end-of-life care.
Carolyn Strom is asking the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to overturn a disciplinary decision from the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association that her post violated their code of ethics.
In the post, Strom said care for her grandfather at St. Joseph’s Health Facility in Macklin was “subpar.”
Following a complaint from staff and an investigation, Strom was fined $1,000 for professional misconduct and $25,000 to cover some of the investigation’s costs, which were more than $150,000 as of last year.
Strom appealed the decision to Court of Queen’s Bench in 2018 , arguing she made the post as a grieving granddaughter and not as a nurse. Her appeal was rejected.
Roger Lepage, a lawyer for the association, said Strom should have taken internal measures instead of speaking publicly and identifying herself as a nurse. He said her post amounted to defamation against care providers at St. Joseph’s.
“It’s about the proper balancing of professional conduct and freedom of speech,” he said.
“It’s contrary to the public interest for an RN to make a statement that puts into question the confidence they should have in a long-term care centre.”
Strom’s lawyer, Marcus Davies, said Strom is now seeking public vindication and an annulment of the fee, which has not yet been paid. He argues his client’s case is fundamentally about freedom of expression. He said he’s optimistic the Court of Appeal, which has a more “vigorous understanding of charter rights,” will be better-equipped to address the case than Queen’s Bench.
“Carolyn did not act maliciously,” Davies said. “She did not bring disgrace onto her profession. She did not attack, demean or defame any other healthcare providers. We’re more confident in this case that this will be understood by the panel.”
Strom’s case drew international attention and support, particularly from other nurses. A 2017 crowdfunding campaign raised more than $27,000 to cover her fees.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Saskatchewan Nurses Union will reprise their roles as interveners in the upcoming case.
Megan Tweedie, a lawyer with the civil liberties association, said her organization is concerned the current ruling could have a ‘chilling effect’ on other health care workers who want to discuss their sector.
“We wanted to emphasize the societal costs when internal discipline chills speech that’s critical to our public institutions, especially critical insider knowledge,” Tweedie said.
Strom is seeking to overturn the finding of professional misconduct and a cancellation of the fees. The nurse’s association is seeking to uphold the finding and may also seek additional damages, which Lepage estimated could be roughly $5,000.
Davies said his client is anxious for the four-year case to come to an end. Barring an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, who may not agree to hear the case, this is likely the final decision.
“This has really taxed her personally and had impact on her family life,” Davies said. “… it’s only because of all the support she’s received that she’s able to say ‘Yes, let’s appeal.’ ”
The case is scheduled to be heard by a three-judge panel at the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on Sept. 17. The hearing will be live streamed at TheStarPhoenix.com
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019