Nova Scotia

Former chiropractor ordered to pay $100K related to anti-vaccine posts

Dena Churchill, a former Halifax-based chiropractor, has been ordered to pay her regulator $100,000 as part of a settlement agreement on charges of professional misconduct related to her sharing anti-vaccination views online.

Dena Churchill admitted to professional misconduct after N.S. College of Chiropractors investigation launched

The decision released Thursday by the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors notes Dena Churchill did not comply with multiple requests from the registrar to remove offending posts from a variety of social media accounts. (Facebook)

A former Halifax-based chiropractor has been ordered to pay her regulator $100,000 as part of a settlement agreement on charges of professional misconduct related to her sharing anti-vaccination views online.

In a decision released publicly Thursday, a hearing committee of the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors took into consideration Dena Churchill's "dire financial circumstances" and gave her 10 years to pay the money. But it also said if she has not paid at least $30,000 by Jan. 2, 2022, the full amount becomes due immediately.

"Dr. Churchill's conduct brought the profession of chiropractic into disrepute," the hearing committee writes in its decision.

"Dr. Churchill has shown no remorse. There is genuine concern that she is ungovernable."

The college launched an investigation a year ago after its registrar filed a complaint regarding Churchill's extensive posts on social media about topics outside her scope of practice, most notably posts about vaccines that made disproved claims.

The guideline from the national chiropractic association, which is observed by the Nova Scotia college, is for chiropractors not to discuss vaccines in any capacity.

Licence surrendered in January

In January, Churchill surrendered her licence and entered into a settlement agreement with the college, admitting she was "professionally incompetent as a result of incompetence arising out of mental incapacity."

Churchill had been scheduled for a hearing in late May on 15 allegations of professional misconduct and one count of conduct unbecoming a chiropractor.

However, the hearing was cancelled earlier that month when Churchill entered into a settlement agreement with the college, admitting to the charges.

In that decision, which was also released publicly Thursday, it is noted Churchill did not comply with multiple requests from her registrar to remove offending posts from a variety of social media accounts.

'This is an egregious matter'

A separate hearing was required after the two sides could not agree on costs, with the college originally seeking the full amount related to the investigation and administrative process to that point, which was $178,831.34. The college later reduced its claim to $100,000.

The committee disagreed with Churchill's assessment that the finding of professional misconduct was "not an egregious breach" and awarded the college the full amount it was seeking.

"This is an egregious matter. Dr. Churchill admitted she is guilty of professional misconduct. Dr. Churchill was responsible for social media posts outside her scope of practice which were harmful to the public."

Need for deterrence

The decision noted that at no point has Churchill backed down from her views and that, prior to what has been "a protracted matter," she was given multiple opportunities to remove the social media posts in question.

"This entire matter could have been avoided if Dr. Churchill deleted offending posts from her social media account. She refused."

In siding with the college on costs, the hearing committee said members were "particularly aware of the relevance of deterrence, particularly in light of the prolific social media posting of views harmful to the public."

The college's executive director, John Sutherland, said the decision and amount awarded shows how seriously the regulator took the matter.

"This has been a very substantial investigation," he said. "I think the decision relative to costs clearly presents a perspective on the job the regulator had to do and I think a difficult job."

Can't take away 'doctor'

While Churchill is not licensed to practise chiropractic in the province — and the regulator has set very stringent terms for what would be required before she could potentially get her licence back — the college does not have the ability to prevent or limit her use of the term "doctor."

"Our legislation does not give us that authority," said Sutherland.

"All we can do is act in accordance with our legislative authority."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca