Nurse supports JK Rowling, professional license threatened: BC College of Nurses and Midwives v. Amy Hamm

The Justice Centre is defending Amy Hamm, a Vancouver-area nurse, in an investigation by the BC College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM), after complaints were filed against her because of her “gender critical” views and her sponsorship of a billboard that said, “I ♥ JK Rowling”. Ms. Hamm, a single mother of young children, is facing calls for her to be permanently removed from her career in nursing for expressing her opinion on an important issue currently being debated in the public square.

Gender-critical feminists typically profess that transgender people have the right to live their lives with dignity and without harassment, but that identification as trans does not equate to literally changing sex. Conflating sex (a biological classification) with self-identified gender (a social construct) poses a risk to women’s rights, particularly in settings where natal women have an expectation of same-sex privacy and protection, such as women’s prisons, changerooms, and rape shelters. Women’s sports are another area where the implications of the biology-versus-gender debate have real impact, gender critics note.

In December of 2019, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, spoke up on Twitter in defense of a British woman, Maya Forstater, whose employment contract was terminated because she, too, expressed gender critical views. Following her tweet, Ms. Rowling was accused of “transphobia”, denounced by many celebrities—including some of those who were made wealthy by her books—and suffered a deluge of vile social media abuse. Ms. Rowling ultimately wrote a piece to explain why she was an ardent defender of women’s rights, and how that in no way meant that she was “transphobic”.

The billboard supported by Ms. Hamm was posted in September 2020. Ms. Hamm’s sponsorship of the billboard was referenced in a CBC article, in which she was quoted as saying, “Women’s rights are important and we need to stand up for them and it’s not transphobic to do so.” After a city councillor condemned the billboard on Twitter the advertising company quickly took steps to replace it. During the 30 hours the billboard was up, it was defaced by opponents throwing paint.

Shortly thereafter, a self-proclaimed “social justice activist” complained to the BCCNM that Amy Hamm’s alleged “transphobia” made her unsuited to her career as a nurse and called for Ms. Hamm’s removal from her current and future nursing positions. A second anonymous complaint was also submitted to the College, which accused Ms. Hamm of “promoting and stoking hate speech towards trans and gender‐diverse communities”.

Meanwhile in the UK, Ms. Forstater’s case at the employment tribunal was initially lost on the basis that her gender critical perspective— essentially that biological sex is real, important, immutable, and not to be conflated with gender identity—was not a protected belief. The tribunal had found that gender critical beliefs were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” Ms. Forstater appealed the decision, and in June 2021 was vindicated by a judge who ruled that Ms. Forstater’s gender critical beliefs, which were widely shared, including by respected academics, and which did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons but only to protect the rights of biological females, were entitled to protection under the UK Equality Act.

In Ms. Hamm’s case, the College could have screened out the complaints on the basis that they were vexatious, frivolous, or made in bad faith. Instead, the matter was referred to the BCCNM Inquiry Committee for further investigation. A 332-page report, much of which is comprised of tweets and articles written by Ms. Hamm, was provided to Committee. The Justice Centre also presented detailed submissions to the Committee on Ms. Hamm’s behalf, arguing that professional misconduct must not be permitted to be redefined to include speaking unpopular truths, and that to do so is to undermine the very foundations of a free and democratic society. Furthermore, the lawyers supported by the Justice Centre submitted, the College is tasked with keeping patients safe and regulating the profession in the public interest, and not with giving social justice activists a tool for ‘cancelling’ people with whom they do not agree.

The Justice Centre and Ms. Hamm are concerned that activists are weaponizing the professional regulatory regime to intimidate opponents and punish opinions outside of a narrow orthodoxy, thrusting professionals into a stressful and often lengthy disciplinary ordeal which they are told they may not discuss. In this case, there are no patient complaints, and no confidential medical records in issue—just activists expressing “concern” that Ms. Hamm’s views should prohibit her from a career as a nurse. In the view of the Justice Centre, the public has a right to know that regulatory bodies are vulnerable to this abuse, and that there has been a recent rise in politically motivated complaints across Canada against professionals who express opinions contrary to the accepted narrative, whether that be gender critical views or opposition to lockdowns.

Professional governing bodies are created by statute and are therefore subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Justice Centre’s submissions defend the right of health professionals to express their opinions on matters of policy in the public square and argue that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, as guaranteed by the Charter—including health professionals. The Justice Centre noted that attempting to have a nurse professionally disciplined for her opinions and commentary on matters of public interest amounts to bullying and should not be encouraged by the College.

Ms. Hamm’s hearing began at the BCCNM September 21 to 23 and again October 24 to 27, 2022. The charge against Ms. Hamm reads: “Between approximately July 2018 and March 2021, you made discriminatory and derogatory statements regarding transgender people, while identifying yourself as a nurse or nurse educator. These statements were made across various online platforms, including but not limited to, podcasts, videos, published writings and social media.”

The hearing continued for four additional dates in January 2023.

“This case involves worldviews and rights that have come into conflict, and whether an off-duty nurse is allowed to engage in debate about such a politically charged matter in the public square,” says lawyer Lisa Bildy, co-counsel for Ms. Hamm. “Of course, conflicts are best solved by discussion and debate, not censorship and punishment. The College is tasked with keeping patients safe and regulating the profession in the public interest. But we should be concerned when the regulatory process becomes a tool for use by activists to complain about professionals whose opinions they wish to punish,” Ms. Bildy adds.

Ms. Hamm’s hearing resumed once again for 10 non-consecutive days on October 23, 2023. In total she spent 21 days before the panel, spanning 14 months: three days in September 2022, four days in October 2022, and four days in January 2023, and 10 days in October and November 2023. In these concluding hearing days, Ms. Hamm’s legal defence called on the expert witnesses of: Dr. James Cantor, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto who specializes in research on unusual sexual interests and is an internationally recognized expert on the science of human sexuality; Linda Blade, a former elite heptathlete, coach, credentialed kinesiologist, and champion of women’s sport; and Dr. Kathleen Stock, a British philosopher, writer, and former professor at the University of Sussex until 2021.

“The colleges of nurses, colleges of doctors, colleges of psychologists, law societies and other regulators need to stop policing speech and stop abusing their authority by forcing woke ideology on good people like Amy Hamm,” stated John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre.

Written arguments in Hamm’s case will be submitted in the early part of 2024.

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