Ontario’s nursing regulator says it is investigating two nurses who travelled to Washington, D.C., last week to attend a rally by a group of their peers that has made unsubstantiated, conspiratorial claims about “COVID fraud” and hospitals’ alleged role in misrepresenting the coronavirus pandemic.
Kristen Nagle, a neonatal ICU nurse from London, Ont., and Sarah Choujounian, a registered practical nurse from Toronto, travelled to the United States last week despite current public health directives to avoid all non-essential travel in order to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The College of Nurses of Ontario confirmed the two nurses, who have participated in events protesting COVID-19 public health measures in Canada, were already under investigation and that it is aware of their recent trip to attend an event organized by Global Frontline Nurses (GFN).
The group’s members claim hospitals around the world are misreporting cases of the virus and needlessly placing patients on ventilators and diagnosing people with COVID-19 in order to make money off the crisis.
“I can advise that CNO is investigating these members and that we are aware of the information indicated,” said spokesperson Angela Smith in response to CBC News questions about the investigation.
Smith said regulations prevent the college from providing details on the status of the investigation.
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, calls the views promoted by Global Frontline Nurses “pure conspiracy theory.”
“It’s damaging because what people need is factual information,” Grinspun, who has filed a complaint against Nagle with the college over her past activities, said in an interview.
“When you hear this from one of your own, and in this case, two of our own, one RN and one RPN, it’s shocking.”
GFN’s members gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 hours before thousands of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump descended on the Capitol to try to stop the certification the presidential election results by violently overwhelming police and storming into the building.
According to a press release issued ahead of the GFN event, the intent was to “share insight about COVID fraud and corruption inside hospitals.”
Attended past anti-mask events
Nagle and Choujounian have attracted the attention of American media for attending the GFN event at a time when the U.S.-Canada border is supposed to be shut to all non-essential travel.
The two nurses are no strangers to public controversy. Both have participated in rallies against wearing masks and government-mandated lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nagle, who works as a neonatal nurse at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), was one of the organizers of an anti-mask rally in Victoria Park in November that resulted in a number of charges being laid under the Reopening Ontario Act.
Since that rally, Nagle has been placed under investigation by the college and her employer. A spokesperson for LHSC said she will remain on unpaid leave pending the results of the hospital network’s probe.
Erinor Jacob-Levine told CBC News in an email that LHSC is aware of Nagle’s trip south of the border.
“We want to assure our community that we take this situation and the new events that have come to light very seriously,” Jacob-Levine said.
“While we are not able to address the specifics of an internal investigation due to privacy, safeguarding the health of our patients and their families, staff and physicians is of the utmost importance and remains our top priority.”
Toronto nurse says she was fired from nursing home
Choujounian currently works for S.R.T. MedStaff, according to the Ontario College of Nurses. The company describes itself as “a leading provider of nursing and personal support services to over 30 hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area.”
Carolyn Acton, vice-president of patient services and operations at S.R.T. MedStaff, said in an email that the company could not discuss Choujounian’s travels because of privacy considerations.
However, she said policies are in place to prevent staff who have travelled outside the country from coming in contact with patients.
“Currently, any staff who has travelled outside of Canada is required to self-isolate for 14 days and to contact Public Health,” Acton wrote. “At the end of the 14 day isolation period, we re-screen staff and also require that they are cleared by Public Health prior to being reinstated for work.”
A YouTube video shows Choujounian telling a crowd at an anti-lockdown rally in Toronto in November that she was fired from her job at Norfinch Care Community, a nursing home in the North York neighbourhood of Toronto, for “speaking the truth” and sharing her opinion about the pandemic online.
Sienna Senior Living, the company that owns Norfinch Care Community, confirmed to CBC News on Monday that Choujounian is “no longer an employee” at the nursing home but wouldn’t provide further details, citing privacy reasons.
Nurses facing ‘death threats and harassment’: GFN
Jeff Louderback, a spokesman for Global Frontline Nurses, confirmed the two Canadian nurses attended the Jan. 6 event but told CBC News via text message that Nagle and Choujounian were “not available for interviews” because they have been subject to “death threats and harassment.”
CBC News attempted to contact Choujounian on social media and received no reply.
Attempts were also made to reach Nagle through her social media accounts and through her brother on social media but were unsuccessful.
The nurses documented their trip and the GFN event on social media.
They were seen together with other GFN members in one video posted on Nagle’s Instagram account last week. The video was made private following media reports about the trip but was seen by CBC News while it was still public.
In the video, Nagle and Choujounian are seen with at least five other people, none of whom are wearing masks, inside what appears to be a hotel room.
They recount attending a Trump rally that was held last Wednesday south of the White House before some of the supporters moved to the Capitol.
“I keep getting messages wondering if we’re OK. We are all safe,” Nagle says in the video before passing her phone to Choujounian, who talks about carrying a pro-Trump flag for fear of being mistaken for a supporter of the far-left group Antifa because she was dressed all in black.