Court of Law vs. Court of Public Opinion

Few discipline cases have achieved as much notoriety as the discipline of Ms. Strom, a nurse in Saskatchewan, for posting comments on Facebook that were critical of the care that her grandfather had received at a facility. Ms. Strom was found to have engaged in professional misconduct, fined $1,000, and ordered to pay $25,000 in costs. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the decision was skewered in the court of public opinion. In fact, journalist André Picard made the case a focal point of his keynote address to the Canadian Network of Agencies for Regulation (CNAR) conference in 2017. He argued that the decision to prosecute the case at discipline reflected a misguided choice of regulatory priorities and a fundamental lack of appreciation of the role (and future) of social media.

Ms. Strom appealed the decision. However, in Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, 2018 SKQB 110, the Court upheld the disciplinary decision. Repeatedly citing the principle of deference to the expertise of the specialist tribunal, the Court found it was reasonable for the tribunal to assert jurisdiction over the off-duty conduct of a nurse, to find that the conduct was unprofessional, to conclude that the infringement on the nurse’s freedom of expression was reasonable, and to award $25,000 in costs.

This case illustrates the multi-faceted accountability of regulators, which does not always result in consistent messages.

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