It was a significant legal victory for opponents of the current board running the Delta Hospice Society.
A petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court to stop an extraordinary meeting the board scheduled for Monday to change the society’s constitution to become Christian-based was successful, although the board is still in charge.
Christopher Pettypiece, who was removed from the board by the current board following last November’s heated annual general meeting, made the announcement at a large community rally at Paterson Park on Saturday.
Those in attendance were also reminded of the importance of signing up to become members in order to take back control of the society and vote out the board.
Opponents say it’s now run by a minority trying to impose their religious beliefs of the rest of the community while blocking membership for many Delta residents opposed.
Saying the board and president Angelina Ireland were in contravention of the Societies Act, the petition to court was filed last week by Pettypiece, Sharon Farrish and former board president Jim Levin.
The June 15th meeting, which would have been followed by a mail-in ballot of registered members, asked to change the constitution to include several statements including “To function as a Christian community that furthers biblical principles governed by the Triune God.”
It was the latest move by the board which is opposed to providing the legal procedure medical assistance in dying (MAiD) at the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner, having reversed a decision by the previous board to allow it.
Fraser Health has mandated that non-faith based hospices offer MAiD to those who ask for it, putting Delta Hospice on a collision course with the health authority and the province, which announced earlier this year the society would lose its funding.
Pettypiece at the rally noted the court ruled the board does not have the right to screen out members and that Ireland and the board acted in bad faith to manipulate the vote.
He said the court also decided no meeting of the society can be held without the direction of the court and that the court may appoint an independent chair.
Pettypiece also said the court ruled the board must provide a list of all members of the society to the petitioners as well as a list of all the people whose memberships were rejected.
He added the board must accept the applications of those who were rejected who are members in good standing with the society, and that mail-in ballots are prohibited.
“It’s a victory for choice. It’s a victory for Delta. It’s a clear victory for democracy and the fundamental importance of the division of church and state. It’s a victory for inclusivity and for tolerance,” Pettypiece said.
“These are all things we should cherish in our community and always be willing to fight for. And while this is a victory, we still have work to do,” he added.
Advising of a special meeting for June 15th, DHS board president Angelina Ireland wrote to members stating, "To that end, it has also become obvious that we must return to our roots and fully affirm our Christian identity. Christianity birthed the roots of hospice care."
In a statement, Ireland said, "We are highly concerned with the lack of justice in the court system today.”
The court action followed the DHS board rejecting without explanation many society membership applications, including those who had contributed to the building of the centre.
“The board of the Society has manipulated the membership list to stack the deck, by holding back up to six months, and ultimately rejecting without basis, hundreds of membership applications by community members concerned by the direction of the Society, all the while selectively accepting members supportive of their philosophy and direction. Once this manipulation was complete, the Society has now given minimum notice of an extraordinary meeting. It is intended to change what has always been an open, secular community organization into a closed, religious organizations,” the petition stated.
“The Society seeks to effect this very fundamental change by excluding those legitimately entitled to participate and by means of a voting process that is not permitted under the bylaws of the Society or Societies Act.”
Noting the April 15, 2020 list shows approximately 800 members added and that about half of the members reside in other communities, the petition noted the past practice of the society has been to accept memberships that are submitted in the proper form with the proper application fee.
The board’s “wrongful rejection of the Applications contravenes the open membership provided for in the bylaws of the Society, in breach of the duties of directors, and violates the Petitioners’ reasonable expectations,” the petition added.
The well-established practice that memberships are processed automatically can be considered an implied term of contract between the society and its members, the petition explained.
The petition further stated, “The proposed bylaws seek to require that members of the Society make a commitment to the Christian faith, and seek to provide the Incumbent Board (and any future board) with the power to terminate memberships of people who, in the board’s discretion, do not share that faith-based commitment.”
The petition also had a number of affidavits attached from those whose membership applications were rejected including several prominent names such as former MLA Vicki Huntington, former mayor Beth Johnson, former police chief Jim Cessford, school board trustee Daniel Boisvert and others.
Saying they are a private society that has the right to vet applications, Ireland in a recent interview denied the board was acting in contravention of the Societies Act.
“It’s right in our bylaws, there’s nothing new about this. We have been entirely inundated with memberships. Our society swelled from a couple of hundred members to fifteen hundred. Just the sheer administration of that, and where do we put all those people for a meeting? We’re just a small 10-bed hospice, a few volunteers, and we understand there was a huge campaign to inundate us,” Ireland said.
“It was quite planned to completely overwhelm us and we don’t have the staff to take care of the request of all these people, I think, have fairly malicious intent to come after us. The membership is at the full discretion of the board of directors and it’s the board’s responsibility to take a look at every single application. We did our best to provide as many members as we could,” Ireland explained.
Saying their main concern is to protect their 10 beds for hospice palliative care, Ireland said the intent of the Delta Hospice was never to be a euthanasia facility.
Several at Saturday’s rally called on Ireland and the board to step down.