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BCCLA celebrates important legal victory upholding freedom of expression for frontline healthcare workers

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October 7, 2020 – The BC Civil Liberties Association (“BCCLA”) is celebrating a significant legal victory in a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision upholding a Saskatchewan nurses’ freedom of expression rights. The BCCLA intervened in the court case to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and to emphasize that disciplining members of professional associations who speak out sets a dangerous precedent preventing workers from advocating for the public good for fear of administrative reprisal.

BCCLA staff counsel Megan Tweedie states: “We applaud this decision as a confirmation of the importance of freedom of expression in Canada. We are grateful that the Court of Appeal agreed with us and recognized that Ms. Strom’s Charter rights were violated when she was disciplined by her professional body for her personal social media posts.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that frontline healthcare workers and professionals are empowered to shine a light on the public health sector. We will continue to fight for the rights of all Canadians to speak out without fear of employer or administrative retaliation.”

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal released its decision on October 6, 2020, granting the appeal in Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, overruling a disciplinary decision of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (SRNA). The SNRA had found registered nurse Carolyn Strom guilty of professional misconduct for her social media posts. Ms. Strom was punished and fined $26,000 by the SRNA for criticizing the care her grandfather received at a long-term care facility on Facebook in 2015. Ms. While she appealed this decision in 2017 to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan, the court upheld the SRNA’s decision.

In an important decision, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal then overruled the decision of the SRNA and the lower court.  The Court of Appeal ruled that Ms. Strom’s freedom of expression rights were infringed and she had a right to criticize the care her grandfather received.  The judgment also explicitly recognized that criticism of the health care system is in the public interest and when it comes from frontline workers it can bring positive change.

The Court’s decision can be found here.

The BCCLA was represented by Greg Fingas of Gerrand Rath Johnson LLP in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Contact: Megan Tweedie, BCCLA Senior Counsel (Litigation), [email protected]