Disciplined Professional’s Social Media Posts Allowed by Saskatchewan Appeal Court
November 2020 Charity & NFP Law Update
Published on November 26, 2020

By Barry W. Kwasniewski


The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan released its decision in Strom v Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association on October 6, 2020. The decision concerned the appeal by a registered nurse (the “Appellant”) whose off-duty conduct on social media had prompted the Discipline Committee of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (the “Association”) to investigate and make a finding of professional misconduct against the Appellant.

In her social media posts, the Appellant complained about the treatment that her grandfather received in the last days before he died at a public long-term care centre in Macklin, Saskatchewan, sharing an article that criticized the level of care her grandfather received, advocating for increased government spending in hospice and palliative care. The Appellant also shared her social media posts with Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health and the Saskatchewan Opposition Leader. A number of employees of the health centre took offence at the Appellant’s social media posts and a complaint was made to the Association.

The Association conducted an investigation and found professional misconduct on the part of the Appellant, contrary to the Registered Nurses Act (“RNA”), the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses, 2008 and the Standards & Foundation Competencies for the Practice of Registered Nurses, 2013, which the Association interpreted broadly in what it described as “principles of responsibility for off duty conduct”. The Association found that the Appellant had identified herself as a registered nurse to give credibility and legitimacy to her comments.

The Appellant challenged the Association’s decision before the Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan, which affirmed the disciplinary decision and found that the Association had balanced the fundamental importance of open and forceful criticism of public institutions with the need for civility in the regulated profession.

The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan found that the Association’s discretionary authority to discipline its members in accordance with its bylaws, such as the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses, 2008, are provided in accordance with the RNA, which highlights the overriding purpose of protecting and promoting the public interest. The court held that criticism of the healthcare system is in the public interest and that the Association focused solely on the personally critical portions of the Appellant’s social media posts and failed to recognize that her comments were “self‑evidently intended to contribute to public awareness and public discourse”.

Therefore, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan allowed the appeal and set aside the disciplinary decision by the Association that the Appellant’s conduct constituted professional misconduct. The decision of the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan is important with respect to the issue of freedom of expression, and the limits of professional governing bodies in imposing discipline on their members.


Read the November 2020 Charity & NFP Law Update