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Nurse could lose professional license if her gender-critical views are deemed 'unsatisfactory'

Amy Hamm under investigation for "I (Heart) J.K. Rowling" billboard, activists call it transphobic.

Updated: July 18, 2021 - 10:36pm

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A Canadian nurse could lose her professional license for putting up a billboard praising J.K. Rowling, because it implies support for the Harry Potter author's view that biological sex trumps gender identity.

Amy Hamm is under investigation by the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM) following activist complaints that her gender-critical views are transphobic and a threat to "trans and gender-diverse communities," according to her lawyers at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).

It's not clear what the exact evidence is in Hamm's proceeding. The nurse and single mother told Just the News there was nothing "specifically" relevant to sharing views on gender identity in the professional nursing code. 

JCCF mentioned a 332-page report largely comprised of "tweets and articles" Hamm had written and its own "detailed submissions" on her behalf, but declined to provide them to Just the News until the Inquiry Committee reaches a decision.

A hearing hasn't been scheduled, according to JCCF lawyer Lisa Bildy. "At this point, the committee is considering whether to dismiss the complaints or proceed to a disciplinary hearing (or try to work out a consensual resolution)," she wrote in an email

BCCNM communications specialist Johanna Ward declined to confirm "whether we have received a complaint about a specific individual," instead pointing to its rules on professional conduct reviews, which say investigations can take up to a year if they involve medical documentation. (JCCF emphasized there are no patient complaints or confidential medical records at issue.)

The committee reviews information "to determine if the nurse or midwife's conduct or competence appears unsatisfactory," the rules say. Penalties range from "education" and supervision to reprimands and "cancellation of registration," which would render Hamm unable to practice in the province.

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Professional codes of conduct are the latest battleground for free speech, with diversity, equity and inclusion principles being used to regulate what members of their professions can say and do.

Last year, a U.S. federal court struck down Pennsylvania's code for lawyers on the basis that it violated the First Amendment. That hasn't stopped New York from considering a similar code for lawyers, also based on the American Bar Association's Model Rule 8.4(g).

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, a Canada-based group that defends faculty against cancel culture, said it's supporting Hamm because "many academics are members of regulated professions and are at risk of similar treatment for expressing unpopular ideas in the public square."

"The fear to speak out is everywhere"

Hamm and a fellow activist paid for the "I (Heart) JK Rowling" billboard in the heart of Vancouver last fall, which the CBC said emulated a similar billboard supporting Rowling in Edinburgh the previous summer. 

The issue was hot at the time, with Vancouver pulling city funding for a rape crisis center in 2019 on the basis of its biological women-only policy.

Rowling drew controversy that year for publicly defending a U.K. woman, Maya Forstater, who was fired for her gender-critical tweets. Last month, a U.K. appeals court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees with beliefs such as Forstater's and sent her case back to a new tribunal to consider whether she actually faced such discrimination.

"I don't think it's possible for women to defend their legal rights or even the definition of womanhood if anybody can say that they are a woman and it will be so," Hamm told the CBC. She has been organizing local events on gender identity and women's rights for more than two years, is a founding member of the Canadian Women's Sex-Based Rights coalition, and hosts a podcast on gender-critical views.

The billboard was defaced with paint during the approximately 30 hours it stayed up, according to JCCF. The outdoor advertising company took it down after a city councilmember called out the company by name for facilitating "clear, intentional messaging meant to stoke hate, exclusion & division."

Hamm has alluded to the BCCNM investigation on Twitter without sharing many details. "I've gotten supportive [direct messages] from physicians and nurses in Canada & other countries. The fear to speak out is everywhere," she tweeted Tuesday.

Her union's legal program declined to give her "help with a specific part of the investigation" that her lawyers at JCCF weren't handling, Hamm tweeted Wednesday. She said the union lawyer's signature included preferred gender pronouns.

The BC Nurses' Union told Just the News it wasn't aware of the Hamm investigation or whether she was a member of the union. Because there's apparently "a legal process relating to this," the union will not comment, communications director Sharon Costello wrote in an email.

The BCCNM had discretion to ignore the two activist complaints against Hamm "on the basis that they were vexatious, frivolous, or made in bad faith," JCCF said, but instead referred the matter to its Inquiry Committee. 

Hamm's lawyers warned that "activists are now weaponizing the professional regulatory regime to intimidate opponents and punish opinions outside of a narrow orthodoxy," with targets gagged from discussing their investigations. JCCF cited "a recent rise in politically motivated complaints across Canada against professionals" who challenge COVID lockdowns, transgender ideology and other "accepted narrative[s]."

The public interest law firm told Just the News earlier this month it was "preparing litigation materials" on behalf of a University of Saskatchewan medical professor who was removed from faculty and administrative duties for warning about "the risks of mRNA vaccines to children."