A Saskatchewan nurse is fighting a $26,000 fine she received after posting critical comments to Facebook about her grandfather’s care in a long-term health facility.
Carolyn Strom was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) in 2016 and handed the financial penalty.
She tried unsuccessfully to appeal her case last year and is to appear before Saskatchewan’s Appeal Court on Tuesday to ask that it overturn the earlier dismissal and quash the regulatory body’s decision.
Strom says the case has taken a toll on her health and she’s experiencing a range of emotions.
“When you keep getting a bad ruling how can a person keep up the hope?” she wrote in a message to The Canadian Press.
“But it’s just too important to not give up.”
Strom made Facebook comments in February 2015, weeks after her grandfather died, that criticized some unnamed staff at his long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask.
In one of her comments, she said that not everyone at the institution was up to speed on how to approach end-of-life care. She also identified herself as a registered nurse.
“I challenge the people involved in decision making with that facility, to please get All Your Staff a refresher on the topic And More — to those who made Grandpa’s last years less than desirable, Please Do Better Next Time!” one comment read.
Court documents filed on behalf of the nurses association question whether professionals have a charter right to post whatever they want on social media and publicly denigrate health-care facilities without getting all the facts from administration.
“In short, do professionals have a charter right to be unprofessional?” the document asks.
Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, says there’s no question Strom’s case raises issues of freedom of expression.
“What has happened here can certainly be understood as a restriction on this individual’s ability to express herself, to criticize the operation or activities of a particular institution.”
He says her comments count as freedom of expression and are understood to have protection by the charter. However, rights under the charter are subject to limits which can be demonstrated to be reasonably justified.
“So that’s the question.”
The BC Civil Liberties Association is intervening in the case and suggests it could set an important precedent.
“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 litigation counsel Megan Tweedie.
“It’s important to note that she did not single out any particular person in her commentary. She was talking about her grandfather’s care in a general way.”
There’s also a suggestion that regulatory bodies, such as nurses associations, have expertise about a specific subject area that courts may not, Moon adds.
“So the courts should give some leeway, should show some deference, to this body when making decisions like this, including decisions about freedom of expression and justified limits on it.”
WATCH (June 2019): Interveners allowed in nurse’s appeal of fine for criticizing long-term care home