Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (“SRNA”) is a case being heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan on January 18, 2018. The case challenges a decision of the SRNA’s Discipline Committee, which found Ms. Strom guilty of professional misconduct for statements she made on social media that were critical of the nursing care her recently deceased grandfather had received prior to his death.
This case raises important civil liberties questions regarding the role of free expression in professional regulatory proceedings. The Court is being asked to determine the proper scope of professional regulators’ disciplinary authority over the off-duty expressive activities of professionals. The outcome has implications not only for Canadian professionals, but for everyone who benefits from healthy democratic dialogue.
The BC Civil Liberties Association (“BCCLA”) is intervening in the case to draw attention to the potential chilling effect and improper encroachment on private life that results from professional regulators disciplining off-duty expressive activities of professionals. The BCCLA offers the Court a framework to appropriately balance the interests of regulators in ensuring the good standing of their profession with the interests of all professionals, and the public, in free expression.
The BCCLA is concerned about the chilling effect on professionals when their regulatory bodies discipline them for speech that is critical of their profession. Speech directed at the operation of public institutions lies at the core of protected expression in a democratic society. In the context of professional regulation, public critique of the profession by those with “insider” knowledge is foundational to rigorous, publicly accountable practice. The BCCLA intervenes in the Strom case to highlight how the public interest may be served by professionals feeling confident in voicing their criticisms publicly without fear of disciplinary censure. The BCCLA submits that a profession’s interest in maintaining its good standing does not extend to a right to claim a monopoly on criticism of the profession by its members.
The BCCLA is also concerned about the proper scope of professional regulators’ disciplinary authority. In this regard, the BCCLA submits that freedom of expression should not be limited by professional discipline where the impugned expression arises in a personal capacity rather than a professional one, absent evidence of reprehensible conduct on the part of the professional.
The BCCLA is represented in this case by Greg Fingas of Gerrand Rath Johnson LLP of Regina, Saskatchewan.