Another Canadian nurse may lose her license to practice medicine in a landmark decision on medical coercion and freedom of expression.
On September 26, 2021, Saskatchewan nurse Leah McInnes received a complaint from a colleague for attending a rally that opposed COVID vaccine mandates. Despite promoting their use to decrease fatalities from disease, including the respiratory virus, she vehemently opposed medical coercion.
From August to October 2021, McInnes publicly denounced the government's pandemic response on social media, sparking an investigation by the College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan (CRNS) into her off-duty activism. The regulatory board accused her of spreading "misinformation" for expressing dissenting views, such as her pledge to advocate removing "insanely unjust mandates" and its invasiveness of private medical information papers.
They later charged her with "professional misconduct" under the Registered Nurses Act for her posts and participating in the rally, claiming she operated outside the scope of her duties and misused her power.
The College proposed McInnes admit to professional misconduct, but instead the accused stood by her beliefs in defense of freedom of expression. They went on to file a subsequent Notice of hearing against the nurse, which included a revised list of charges against her person.
The charges include participating in an "anti-vaccine mandate" protest outside of a hospital while identifying herself as a registered nurse and posting "anti-vaccine messages," said her legal counsel at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
On behalf of McInnes, her lawyers referenced the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses of the CRNS to defend her off-duty activism. "Nurses support a climate of trust that sponsors openness, encourages the act of questioning the status quo and supports those who speak out in good faith to address concerns," it reads.
Her lawyers contend the nurse had questioned the merits of mandatory vaccine policies in good faith, and that such expression is protected by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by relevant case law, according to a Justice Centre news release.
In the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling of Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, "[…] criticism, even by those delivering those services, does not necessarily undermine confidence in healthcare workers or the healthcare system." The ruling argued that open expression could "enhance confidence [...] of this massive and opaque system," and produce positive change.
"The Discipline Committee will hear how Ms. McInnes advocated against vaccine mandates and vaccine passports in support of patient autonomy, dignity and privacy in compliance with her ethical obligations," said Andre Memauri, one of the lawyers representing the accused. He contends the regulatory board "disseminated false information" concerning his client.
"It is very unfortunate that a registered nurse in the Province of Saskatchewan again faces regulatory reprisal for fair criticism of the healthcare system, after the Court of Appeal’s decision in Strom," said Memauri.
According to Justice Centre President, John Carpay, her case could become a landmark decision about freedom of expression for nurses and other professionals, and the power of regulatory bodies to control and censor the speech of professionals who belong to a professional association.
However, McInnes is not the only nurse facing a disciplinary hearing from her regulatory board.
Last week, Amy Hamm, a B.C. nurse and mother of two, continued her efforts against the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM), for co-sponsoring an 'I heart J.K. Rowling' billboard in 2020 that said, "there are only 2 genders."
At the time, Hamm told Rebel News that two members of the public filed a complaint about her advocacy. Soon after, she received tens of thousands of messages that threatened her with hate and abuse.
"I think that has the effect of showing people how toxic this debate actually is," she said.
The BCCNM accused the nurse practitioner of making "discriminatory and derogatory statements regarding transgender people" between July 2018 and March 2021. As part of a 332-page report comprised of her social media posts and statements on same-sex spaces such as women’s bathrooms, prisons, and rape shelters.
"Funny how I’m allowed to work despite their accusations that my off-duty conduct makes me unsafe," she posted on her X feed October 4. "This is a show trial. A witch trial," wrote Hamm.