Sask. nurse fined $26K for critical online post has appeal dismissed

A Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench judge wrote that, "an administrative body's decision can be reasonable even if it is not correct."

Carolyn Strom's lawyer says they will appeal again

Nurse Carolyn Strom was fined $26,000 by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association after being found guilty of professional misconduct after making a critical Facebook post. (Victoria Dinh/CBC News)

A Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench judge has dismissed an appeal by a Saskatchewan nurse who was found guilty of professional misconduct after making a Facebook post about her grandfather's care.

Nurse Carolyn Strom was fined $26,000 by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association after criticizing her grandfather's palliative care online.

In his decision, Justice Grant Currie wrote that he could find no reason to interfere with the association's decision.

"Even if the court might have decided the matter differently, the court will not change the administrative body's decision unless the court is persuaded that the decision is unreasonable," wrote Currie. "The significance of giving deference is that such an administrative body's decision can be reasonable even if it is not correct."

Strom's lawyer argued the penalty was excessive and unreasonable. He made the case that it was important that people in self-regulating professions be allowed to make public comments about public issues.

Currie disagreed that the association unreasonably limited the nurse's freedom of speech.

"The discipline committee balanced the right to freedom of expression with the need, under the Act, to address Ms. Strom's professional misconduct," he wrote. "Having found professional misconduct not because she expressed her concerns but because of how she went about it, the committee observed that Ms. Strom was not left without an avenue for expressing her concerns."

Currie also wrote that the $26,000 cost was not unreasonable, in part because the association noted the cost to run the tribunal exceeded that amount by roughly six times.

The nurse was also ordered to write a self-reflective essay on what she did wrong, and complete an online course on the associations's code of ethics.

Strom did not work in the care home her grandfather was living in.

SRNA urges nurses to use "appropriate avenues"

Carolyn Hoffman, executive director of the SRNA, said she expected Justice Currie's decision.

"He was very clear that the discipline committee did act within the leeway of the law and within the parameters given to them," she said.

Disciplinary committees always include at least one public representative and three to four registered nurses.

Registered nurses are allowed to use social media, according to their code of ethics. Hoffman says they can air concerns online, but couldn't say in what situation it might be appropriate.
Carolyn Hoffman, executive director of the SRNA, says registered nurses can use social media, but they must adhere to the profession's code of ethics when airing concerns. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

"It's really important to look on a case-by-case basis," she said.

"The onus is very high when you say you are a registered nurse, to post in compliance with or adhering to our code of ethics."

In Strom's situation, Hoffman believes the concerns about her grandfather's care should have been brought to staff at the facility, then the director, and finally, if those routes are unsuccessfully, to ministry officials.

​Strom to appeal decision

According to Marcus Davies, Carolyn Strom's lawyer, he and his client plan to appeal again.

"We have 30 days to serve our notice to appeal and we will be doing so," he said in an email.

Strom's appeal will have support from at least one health care advocate in Saskatchewan.

"I think it possibly sets a precedent that should worry every person working in health care and subject to the jurisdiction of a self-regulating governing body. It sets a chilling standard for what's acceptable communication," said Steven Lewis

"I find it to be an enormous over-reach on the part of the disciplinary body and the irony is this wasn't a zealous disciplinary body protecting the public. This is an over zealous disciplinary body looking after the hurt feelings of people at the facility."