P.A. nurse loses appeal

Prince Albert nurse Carolyn Strom. Submitted photo.

Carolyn Strom was fined $26,000 for comments she made on Facebook criticizing the care her grandfather received

Prince Albert nurse Carolyn Strom’s appeal against a professional misconduct violation and a fine has been rejected by a Court of Queen’s Bench justice.

Justice Currie of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon ruled the disciplinary board of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (SRNA) was not unreasonable and was within its rights to discipline and fine Strom for comments she made on Facebook.

Strom took to Facebook in February 2015 to criticize the care her grandfather received at a long-term care home. She was on maternity leave at the time. On April 4, 2017, she was hit with a $1,000 fine and tacked on $25,000 in legal costs.

In deciding to appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench, Strom said the decision to penalize her risked setting a precedent that could chill free speech rights across the province, and even across the country.

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association supported Strom’s appeal.

While Justice Currie dismissed the appeal, he didn’t rule on whether the SRNA came to the correct decision. Rather, he ruled on whether the organization made a reasonable decision within its legislated authority. He found they had.

“For the most part, the Legislature has empowered the association to do what it thinks is best,” he wrote.

Currie also found the issue of Freedom of Expression is not the focus of the appeal, rather one of the subjects of Strom’s appeal.

“The focus of the appeal is whether the discipline committee made the kind of mistake that requires the court to interfere with the committee’s decisions,” he wrote.

“The committee had a great deal of leeway in coming to its decisions. The focus of this appeal is whether the decisions fall within that leeway or exceed that leeway. I have concluded that the committee’s decisions fall within the leeway the law allows, so the decisions stand. The appeal is dismissed.”

That does not necessarily mean the decision the SRNA made was correct, Currie noted. He said a decision can be reasonable under the legislation even if it is not correct.

The justice said there are instances where the correctness of a disciplinary body decision can be appealed, but that is only when there is a true constitutional question or a true question of jurisdiction, or when there is a question of law outside the expertise of the administrative body and the issue is of central importance to the legal system.

Strom argued the Charter issue is beyond the knowledge of the discipline committee. She also argued the committee was wrong to conclude that the codes of conduct apply off duty.

Currie decided the second issue was one of correctness, not reasonableness. He dismissed the argument.

He found the first issue did not apply either, as the committee did consult the charter, and Strom was not left without a way to express her concerns.

“As is plain from the evidence before the committee, avenues were available to Ms. Strom for asserting her criticism of other registered nurses … without causing the harm the committee found had been caused.”

He wrote that the committee’s decision falls within the range of outcomes that could come out of a balancing of Charter rights and responsibilities.

Strom’s lawyer, Marcus Davies, said she would not be commenting further. He did say they plan to file an appeal.