Saskatchewan Nurses’ College Drops Disciplinary Case Against Nurse Who Criticized COVID Vaccines

Saskatchewan Nurses’ College Drops Disciplinary Case Against Nurse Who Criticized COVID Vaccines
A syringe is prepared with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Montreal on March 15, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)
Isaac Teo

The regulator for Saskatchewan nurses has dropped its attempts to discipline a nurse who criticized COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions, says a legal advocacy organization.

In a press release on Nov. 7, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) announced that the College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan (CRNS) has ended its attempt to discipline Shelly Wilson, a nurse practitioner who offers clinical services to rural communities in southern Saskatchewan.

According to JCCF, Wilson had expressed views on social media regarding COVID-19 vaccines, masks, and treatment options in 2021 that “did not accord with public health or mainstream media narratives.”

In response, the CRNS  proposed that Wilson “voluntarily” enter into an agreement which required her to admit that her expression amounted to professional misconduct, the release said. If she disagreed, she could be referred to a discipline hearing.

The CRNS website states that should a registered nurse be found guilty of professional misconduct set out in the Registered Nurses Act of 1988, he or she could face suspension, expulsion from the association, or fines, among other penalties issued by its discipline committee.

Previous Case

Andre Memauri, one of the lawyers who represented Wilson, says the team is pleased that CRNS has considered Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal decision in Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (Strom) released last fall, which he said “clarified the limits of the college’s reach” into its members’ freedom of expression protected under Charter rights.

“We applaud the CRNS for revisiting the key principles of the Court of Appeal decision in Strom to arrive at this result,” Wilson said.

Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse in Prince Albert, Sask., was charged with professional misconduct by her college’s discipline committee after she commented on her Facebook page in February 2015 about concerns over the care her late grandfather received at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, a long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask., before he passed away.

“My Grandfather spent a week in ‘Palliative Care’ before he died and after hearing about his and my family’s experience there (@ St. Joseph’s Health Facility in Macklin, SK) it is evident that Not Everyone is ‘up to speed’ on how to approach end of life care ... Or how to help maintain an Ageing Senior’s Dignity (among other things!),” wrote Strom in her post, cited in the court’s ruling.

“So ... I challenge the people involved in decision making with that facility, to please get All Your Staff a refresher on this topic AND More.”

“Don’t get me wrong, “some” people have provided excellent care so I thank you so very much for YOUR efforts, but to those who made Grandpa’s last years less than desirable, Please Do Better Next Time!” she added.

Justice Barrington-Foote, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal judge in the case, ruled that the college’s disciplinary committee did not sufficiently consider the context of Strom’s posts, and therefore erred in finding her guilty of professional misconduct.

“Such criticism, even by those delivering those services, does not necessarily undermine public confidence in healthcare workers or the healthcare system,” the ruling said.

“Indeed, it can enhance confidence by demonstrating that those with the greatest knowledge of this massive and opaque system, and who have the ability to effect change, are both prepared and permitted to speak and pursue positive change.”

“In any event,“ the ruling added, ”the fact that public confidence in aspects of the healthcare system may suffer as a result of fair criticism can itself result in positive change. Such is the messy business of democracy.”