Saskatchewan nurse faces disciplinary proceedings over expressing her opinions

REGINA, SK: The Justice Centre supports Leah McInnes, a registered nurse who will appear before the College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan disciplinary tribunal in Regina starting on October 10, 2023 for four scheduled days.

The College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan (CRNS) alleges that Ms. McInnes was guilty of professional misconduct when she joined protests against existing and anticipated vaccine mandates and vaccine passports during the Covid pandemic. She is also accused of professional misconduct for social media statements she made between August and October 2021 to express her opinions regarding vaccine mandates and vaccine passports and other related issues such as freedom of choice and medical privacy.

The College alleges Ms. McInnes’ comments were restricted to Saskatchewan-related vaccine policies and that no “mandates” were ever brought into force in Saskatchewan. As a result, the College claims her public statements about “mandates” amounted to “misinformation”, “disinformation” or “misleading” information, and additionally that she had misused her position of power as a nurse. Of note, virtually the entire media apparatus, government officials and medical authorities have frequently (and almost unanimously) referred to vaccine policies by government and other entities as “mandates,” in Saskatchewan and across the country.

After an initial investigation, the College proposed an agreement that would have Ms. McInnes admit to professional misconduct, but she rejected this offer, choosing instead to stand up for her Charter right to express her opinions. The College charged her on March 28, 2023, and filed a Notice of Hearing, the contents of which were later expanded after Ms. McInnes demanded clarity from the College as to what exactly the College alleged to be “misinformation”, “disinformation” or “misleading” information.

There are similarities between this case and another involving a Saskatchewan nurse a few years back who had voiced concerns about health care on social media. In 2020, in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s decision in Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, the court overturned a discipline committee’s finding of professional misconduct against Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse from Prince Albert. She had made social media posts criticizing a long-term care facility for its treatment of her grandfather, now deceased.

In an authoritative statement strongly supporting free expression, the Court wrote, “Such criticism, even by those delivering those services, does not necessarily undermine public confidence in healthcare workers or the healthcare system. 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 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.”

John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre, stated, “It is troubling that this College is trying to silence and punish Ms. McInnes after the ground-breaking decision of the Court of Appeal in Strom.”

These legal proceedings taken by the College against Ms. McInnes follow in the wake of other cases where the Justice Centre has successfully supported the defence of the right of professionals to exercise their Charter-protected freedom of expression.

In 2020, the Justice Centre successfully defended Nova Scotia emergency room physician Dr. Christopher Milburn, threatened with discipline by the College after a complaint was filed regarding his opinion column published in The Chronicle HeraldDr. Christopher Milburn v. Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons | Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).

The Justice Centre also continues to support the defence of British Columbia nurse Amy Hamm, facing disciplinary proceedings from the BC College of Nurses and Midwives over Ms. Hamm’s ‘gender critical’ opinions and comments. This followed her involvement with an “I ♥JK Rowling” billboard display in Vancouver, endorsing Ms. Rowling’s view that women and girls deserve their own safe bathrooms where biological males may not enter.

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