Ontario nurse under investigation over anti-mask, conspiracy theory Facebook posts

The head of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is describing the controversial views reportedly expressed by a local nurse practitioner — now under investigation — as “the most extreme example I have seen in my own profession.”

“I have never encountered something like this,” CEO Doris Grinspun told Global News on Thursday, in response to social media posts on accounts tied to nurse practitioner Kristal Pitter.

“Thankfully, I don’t know of anyone else in nursing that has such extreme views. From time to time we do have people that question vaccines but very few in between.”

Read more: Vancouver protesters rally against masks, though experts say they slow spread of COVID-19

According to the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) and a LinkedIn profile, Pitter is employed with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s inspection branch. The CNO website stresses, however, that “employment contact information may be nursing or non-nursing.”

Pitter has drawn attention for posts to a Facebook page in her name espousing views that contradict the messaging and best practices outlined by the ministry and health care experts in relation to responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic. She’s described as an “entrepreneur” and “nurse practitioner” on the Facebook page itself.

Global News has reached out to Pitter for comment but had yet to receive a response as of publication time.

One post to the Facebook page reads: “What is the medical and scientific evidence for these COVID measures? There is none. There’s an agenda folks.”

“How can you inspect if you don’t believe in the science? How can you inspect infection control practices if you don’t believe in the science? That’s when my alarm bell goes on,” Grinspun said.

Another post shares a link to an article that states masks are “neither effective nor safe,” from Technocracy.news, which media bias venture NewsGuard (a browser extension reported on by reputable news sources including CNN Business, CBS, The New York Times, and Reuters) says “severely violates basic journalistic standards.”

Another Facebook post suggests that COVID-19 was not the cause of death for Carsyn Leigh Davis, 17, of Florida.

Among the controversial social media posts is this one suggesting the reported cause of death of a Florida teen was false.
Among the controversial social media posts is this one suggesting the reported cause of death of a Florida teen was false. via Facebook

In addition to trying to combat the pandemic, public health officials have been battling against misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus. A survey out of Carleton University in late May suggested that nearly half of Canadians can’t tell coronavirus fact from conspiracy theory.

In an interview conducted at the time the survey came out, Carleton University journalism professor Josh Greenberg said study authors found popular conspiracy “memes” are seeded and distributed in the “highly fragmented” information-sharing landscape of social messaging apps such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.

“It used to be that the media landscape had a centre, what we now call legacy news organizations,” Greenberg said. “But increasingly, we get news from not only those sources but also dubious actors. Everyone is a news organization now.”

Read more: It’s not just Trump — Twitter fact-checking thousands of tweets, many about coronavirus

Some posts on the Facebook profile under the name Kristal Pitter even include content that has been flagged by Facebook for containing “false information.”

Grinspun told Global News that it was particularly sad to see “one of our own members of the profession being so misinformed and either so naive or so extreme in her views that [she] feels the need to post it.”

“And she ought to know that as a health professional, she enjoys a great degree of power status and that her words have an impact on others. That’s where the danger is and that’s why this needs to be looked at. I’m glad that someone is looking into this,” she added, referencing an investigation into the social media posts.

Some posts on the Kristal Pitter Facebook page have been flagged for false information.
Some posts on the Kristal Pitter Facebook page have been flagged for false information. via Facebook

When asked for comment during an unrelated appearance on London Live with Mike Stubbs on Thursday, health minister Christine Elliott would only say that she cannot speak to the details of the case because “I understand it’s under investigation right now.”

“What I can say as I said earlier is that even though we are moving into Stage 3, it doesn’t mean things are OK. We still need to follow the public health rules about physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene, and the other rules that have been put forward by our chief medical officer of health.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health reiterated the province’s stance on face coverings as one of the measures encouraged to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We continue to strongly urge individuals to wear a mask or facial covering when physical distancing is a challenge,” wrote Alexandra Hilkene.

Read more: Quebec government suspends all advertising on Facebook during July

A spokesperson for the CNO said “we cannot comment at this time about a specific nurse,” but did provide information surrounding general concerns regarding “opinions and beliefs that are contrary to public health directives and their employers.”

The CNO says nurses are “accountable to use accurate sources of information, such as research, to inform their practice.” The CNO also notes that the nurse-patient relationship is “one of unequal power, which places nurses in a unique leadership position in the health-care system.”

“Therefore, it is part of a nurse’s professional accountability to lead, role model and follow public health directives that keep their patients safe,” the spokesperson continued.

“Nurses must not impose their personal beliefs and biases on patients. These include political, religious and cultural beliefs. When a nurse’s own personal beliefs conflict with a patient’s care plan, the nurse provides safe, compassionate and timely care to those patients until other arrangements are in place.”

Additionally, the CNO spokesperson says “nurses must respect the philosophy and policies of the settings in which they practice.”

2:26 Anti-mask protest in montreal

Anti-mask protest in montreal

— With files from Global News’ Sam Cooper.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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