Judge dismisses appeal of nurse fined $26K for Facebook post
A $26,000 fine levied against a Prince Albert nurse who publicly criticized her grandfather’s care will stand, a Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench judge has ruled.
The fine handed down by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association disciplinary committee against nurse Carolyn Strom falls within “a range of possible, acceptable outcomes as to costs,” Justice Grant Currie wrote in his decision, released Wednesday.
The decision dismissed Strom’s appeal of both the fine and the disciplinary committee’s ruling she was guilty of professional misconduct.
The nurse’s case is not criminal in nature, and, according to Currie’s decision, the focus of the appeal is on whether the disciplinary committee’s ruling against Strom and the subsequent fine landed within the SRNA’s given powers.
“By law, the committee had a great deal of leeway in coming to its decisions. The focus of this appeal is whether the committee’s decisions fall within that leeway or exceed that leeway so as to constitute unreasonable decisions that must be reversed,” Currie wrote.
In a post to Facebook more than three years ago, Strom publicly criticized her grandfather’s treatment at a long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask. Part of the post said staff weren’t “up to speed” on end-of-life care or on how to help maintain a patient’s dignity.
An investigation was launched by the SRNA after a complaint about the post was received, and, in late 2016, a disciplinary committee found her guilty of professional misconduct.
She was handed the $26,000 fine — $25,000 of which was meant to refund the SRNA for the costs of the investigation into her post and the resulting hearings — in April of last year.
Strom’s lawyer, Marcus Davies, stated during appeal arguments in January the SRNA decision and fine was “unreasonable” and “incorrect.”
Strom was on maternity leave for one year, and wasn’t set to be back at work for seven months, when she wrote the Facebook post, according to Davies. The code of ethics of which she was found to be violating doesn’t apply to a person who isn’t at work, he argued.
“She was off-duty and you’re applying rules that apply to her when she’s on-duty. If you want to apply off-duty rules, make some, but until that happens, you can’t do this,” Davies said.
He also argued a decision not to overturn the appeal will be “very frightening,” in terms of freedom of expression.
Currie’s decision acknowledged freedom of expression as an element in the case, but he wrote it was not the focus of the appeal.
“Ms. Strom’s right to freedom of expression is indeed one of the subjects of this appeal. Freedom of expression is not the focus of the appeal, however,” the decision read.
“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.”
Lawyers for the SRNA’s investigation committee argued in January the appeal shouldn’t be granted because the discipline committee’s decision was reasonable.
“The decision they wrote was justified, it was intelligible and it was transparent,” Roger Lepage told reporters. “That’s the test that a court has to apply before overturning a decision.”
Lepage said Strom should have complained through proper channels, rather than on social media, and argued her post harmed the reputation of nursing staff and undermined the public’s confidence in the care facility.
“Members of the public had approached some of the staff to say, ‘What’s going on at this facility? We’re hearing things.’ It became evident that the public was worried about what kind of care was going on at the facility,” Lepage said.
A GoFundMe page started last year to raise money for Strom has raised about $27,500.
--- with files from Angelina Irinici