Freedom of speech is increasingly under attack from professional bodies seeking to regulate what their members can say. In most cases, this censorship would not be constitutional if it were imposed directly by legislation, but courts are too-often too deferential when the restrictions are imposed by arms of the state like professional regulators.
In this case, in 2015 Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse who has dedicated her life to helping others, posted comments on social media relating to the end-of-life care that her grandfather had received at a care facility in Macklin, Saskatchewan. In the comments, Strom politely but pointedly criticized the care her grandfather had received from some of facility’s staff.
For this, Strom was brought before a professional disciplinary committee and found to have engaged in professional misconduct. She was ordered to pay $26,000. This despite the fact that the disciplinary committee did not find any factual problems with her post, which was written in non-inflammatory language and deliberately did not reveal the names of any of the staff whose professionalism she criticized (she had also acknowledged the good care her grandfather received from some of the staff).
On April 11, 2018, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench (SKQB) held that it had to show extreme deference to the decision of the committee and ruled that the decision was “reasonable.” She is now appealing to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.
The issue at the heart in this appeal is whether Strom is free to speak about her first-hand experience of the poor quality medical care that her ailing grandfather received, or whether the province of Saskatchewan—through a professional regulator—can restrict her right to freedom of expression and stop her blowing the whistle on what she perceived as poor quality care.
No Canadian should ever face these sorts of financial and professional pressures just for speaking out honestly on behalf of an ailing loved one, especially since the Charter guarantees the right to free speech. This is why the CCF is supporting Ms. Strom.
CCF Launch: December, 2018
Legal Jurisdiction: Saskatchewan
Next Key Date: June 4, 2019 (hearing date at Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal)
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