3 Ontario nurses disciplined for social media posts related to pandemic launch $1M libel suit

·5 min read
Ontario registered nurses Kristal Pitter, Kristen Nagle and Sara Choujounian, left to right, have been investigated by the nursing regulator for social media posts during the COVID-19 pandemic. A libel suit has been filed against their professional association and a B.C. media company. (CBC News - image credit)
Ontario registered nurses Kristal Pitter, Kristen Nagle and Sara Choujounian, left to right, have been investigated by the nursing regulator for social media posts during the COVID-19 pandemic. A libel suit has been filed against their professional association and a B.C. media company. (CBC News - image credit)

Three Ontario nurses who have faced discipline for their stances on the pandemic are suing the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and a media outlet in British Columbia, with the libel suit seeking $1 million.

Kristen Nagle of London, Kristal Pitter of Tillsonburg and Sara Choujounian of Toronto have been investigated by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) for sharing their controversial views about the pandemic on social media.

All three nurses are entitled to practise in Ontario without restrictions.

Pitter, a nurse practitioner and former nursing home inspector for the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care, has been cautioned by the CNO, along with Nagle, about spreading misinformation on social media about the pandemic.

Nagle, a former neonatal intensive-care nurse at London Health Sciences Centre, was fired last January after she was charged by law enforcement for failing to comply with Ontario's emergency pandemic health restrictions in November 2020. She was charged again in April 2021.

3 are members of Canadian Frontline Nurses

Choujounian, a former practical nurse with a Toronto home-care agency, will face a CNO disciplinary hearing this June for professional misconduct in connection with a dozen social media posts related to the pandemic, including claims surgical masks increase the risk of cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax and COVID-19 vaccines are "unsafe."

Sarah Choujounian/Instagram
Sarah Choujounian/Instagram

Nagle and Choujounian were also investigated by the Ontario nursing regulator for making a trip to Washington with a group of peers, during last January's non-essential travel ban, for allegedly promoting theories that the pandemic is a hoax and hospitals had a role to play in misrepresenting it.

All three nurses are part of Canadian Frontline Nurses (CFN), an offshoot of Global Frontline Nurses, that was created to "empower health-care workers who disagree with lockdowns," according to the CFN's Facebook page.

The statement of claim was filed in a Toronto court on Dec. 13, 2021, by the CFN on behalf of Pitter, Nagle and Choujounian, and names four defendants:

  • The CNA.

  • CNA president Tim Guest.

  • CNA's chief executive officer, Michael Villeneuve.

  • The B.C. media company Together News Inc., which has four small-town newspapers in the Comox Valley.

The lawsuit claims the defamatory statements against the plaintiffs were made by each organization separately in September 2021, against a backdrop of anti-lockdown demonstrations at hospitals across Canada.

CNA article didn't refer to nurses by name

In its allegations against the CNA, the lawsuit claims the organization made defamatory statements about Pitter, Nagle and Choujounian on its website on Sept. 9, 2021, in an anonymous opinion piece titled "Enough is enough: professional nurses stand for science-based health care."

Sofia Rodriguez/CBC News
Sofia Rodriguez/CBC News

The article does not name Pitter, Nagle or Choujounian. Instead, it makes reference to "the reckless views of a handful of discredited people who identify as nurses," saying they "have aligned in some cases with angry crowds who are putting public health and safety at risk."

The CNA post also refers to the demonstrators at the September hospital protests as "surly mobs" who "harass, threaten, and even assault health-care workers coming and going in the business of saving lives."

The lawsuit says that while the CNA article did not explicitly refer to the plaintiffs by name, it "was intended" and "could be understood to refer to them," claiming the CNA "knew or ought to have known" the statements were libel.

The statement of claim said the CNA article was "meant and was understood to mean" the plaintiffs "are not nurses," are "anti-science," "put public health and safety at risk" and "formed part of a crowd that was intent on causing trouble or violence" through harassing and threatening health-care workers.

Suit claims plaintiffs faced 'ridicule, hatred'

In its allegations against Together News Inc., the lawsuit claims, the company made defamatory statements in an anonymous opinion piece published on Sept. 11, 2021, entitled "Quack! Quack! These pro-virus nurses have dangerous ideas."

The article explicitly names Canadian Frontline Nurses, Pitter, Nagle and Choujounian.

The statement of claim alleges the article paints the three registered nurses as "disgraced," "highly disturbed and unstable" and that all three women were "terminated because their employers did not trust them."

The lawsuit also claims the TNI article suggests "Pitter was responsible for COVID deaths in long-term care facilities," and paints Nagle and Choujounian as participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, protest that resulted in an attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.

The lawsuit says Pitter, Nagle and Choujounian have been subjected to "ridicule, hatred and contempt," and have been "injured in their feelings, their personal and professional character and reputation."

Court documents also say the three registered nurses "continue to suffer personal embarrassment and humiliation, and have experienced great emotional anxiety" as a result of the publications.

Lawsuit asks for $1M in damages

The plaintiffs are asking for $750,000 in general damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.

CBC News contacted the CNA on Friday. Through a spokesperson, the organization said via email it couldn't comment because it "had no knowledge of this lawsuit and has yet to be served."

Also Friday, Together News Inc. said in an email that it would not comment on the matter as it had yet to receive court documents.

"We have not been served, so don't have sufficient detail to comment at this time," the email said.

CBC News also spoke with Alexander Boissonette-Lehner, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, on Friday.

"As the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time," he said.

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