time to clean house at the shelter

When exactly did Vladimir Putin assume control of the Humane Society Yukon? The Russian president has been seen nowhere near the Mae Bachur shelter, it is true, but the non-profit's recent operations bear all the hallmarks of an autocratic regime.

When exactly did Vladimir Putin assume control of the Humane Society Yukon?

The Russian president has been seen nowhere near the Mae Bachur shelter, it is true, but the non-profit’s recent operations bear all the hallmarks of an autocratic regime. It’s a distressing turn for anyone who cares about neglected animals in the territory, because smart donors are withholding funds until the society cleans house.

Those who disagree with the present board are vilified, purged from the membership list and banned from the shelter premises. Executives refuse to hold a special meeting that would allow the election of a new board, despite receiving a petition that legally requires them to do so. And when the territory’s registrar of societies notes all of this in a damning report, the president thumbs her nose and says she’ll take the case to the Supreme Court of the Yukon.

The humane society has long been plagued by petty infighting, but the farce that’s played out in recent months should be unacceptable to the group’s supporters. Ultimately, it’s up to them to pressure the board to set things straight. Hopefully this happens soon.

Members have been expelled on the flimsiest of pretenses. Ostensibly, this is “due to the pattern of behaviour that does not foster caring and compassionate care towards the animals and staff.”

But most of the specific examples cited by the registrar show another reason entirely: “Most of the rejections appear to be based merely on public criticism of the HSY board,” he concluded.

In an absurd twist, some rejected applicants turned out to be guilty of … advocating for animal rights. The irony of all this moved the registrar, a staid bureaucrat, to putting an exclamation point in his report.

These applicants were denied memberships because they publicly criticized the board’s decision to invite Brad Pattison, a controversial dog trainer, to Whitehorse for a fundraising event. (Critics allege that Pattison’s methods are abusive to animals – something he and the board deny.)

As the registrar notes: “Indeed, some of the applicants were rejected because of their public objection to a particular fundraising event on the grounds that the HSY even was cruel and uncaring toward animals and thus contrary to the HSY’s mission! The HSY board’s characterization of such criticism as contrary to the HSY’s mission of fostering ‘a caring and compassionate atmosphere’ is preposterous.”

Former members, meanwhile, including former society presidents and a past shelter administrator, have been banned from the premises for a range of unsubstantiated allegations. It’s hard to give these accusations much weight, given the board’s tendency to twist facts when it suits its interest.

While Marta Keller was still a board member this summer, she was denied access to the society’s membership list and financial records for a period of several months.

The reason? She held a conflict-of-interest in a legal case that pits the society against a construction company.

That doesn’t follow, of course. As the registrar sensibly puts it, “A conflict of interest regarding a particular contractual dispute does not warrant a complete refusal to communicate with the conflicted member on all matters.” It’s embarrassing that needs to be explained at all.

In other cases, the board claimed it couldn’t release the membership list to dissidents because doing so would run afoul of the territory’s privacy laws. That’s nonsense, too. As the registrar notes, “There is no privacy law that supersedes society obligations to allow members to inspect the membership list.”

All these rationalizations have one thing in common: They have all made it difficult for unhappy members to unseat the existing board. To trigger a special meeting to elect a new board, a petition needs to bear the signatures of at least 20 per cent of the membership.

The board seems to have done all they could to prevent this from happening. According to the registrar’s report, that includes breaking the law.

The criteria used to block memberships doesn’t look as if it’s been properly approved by the society. The registrar’s requests for proof the criteria passed muster have been met with silence.

It also turns out that current members can only be expelled with a special resolution passed by members at an annual meeting, and subjects need to be given an opportunity to be heard before the resolution is put to a vote. That hadn’t been done, either.

And when petitioners did collect enough signatures to trigger a special meeting, the board moved the goalposts to render the petition invalid.

First, board members dragged their feet, waiting 26 days to respond to the petition. By then, the board had revised its membership list, adding new members and removing those whose memberships had expired. As a result, the petition no longer met the necessary threshold.

The petition’s consideration was “inexcusably prolonged,” in the registrar’s view. Accepting new members on the same day the petition was finalized was “patently unfair,” since dissidents were working off a different list, and could have sought more signatures if they knew they needed to do so.

And it turns out that crossing out newly lapsed members is bunk, because, according to the society’s rules, you remain a member one year after your membership payment lapses.

The board also appears to be prepared to flout the law by not preparing financial statements for the year. It worries that an audit may result in the society losing its charitable status, as the society lacks records for donations.

That would be a shame. But it’s no excuse to break the rules. And why not at least prepare unaudited statements? Four months after the end of the fiscal year, it appears the board hasn’t done that either.

The current board lacked much legitimacy before this all blew up. Of the original board elected last summer, five of the seven have resigned. The rest of the board, including its acting president, Shelley Cuthbert, were appointed, rather than elected.

It’s clear that a sizable share of the society’s membership wants to replace the board now, not later. Yet the current regime seems intent to carry on until the bitter end. They’ve delayed holding their next annual meeting – at which time a new board is elected – until the last possible date, on Aug. 23.

After then, it’s hard to see what the end game is. Cuthbert told the News this week the present board doesn’t plan to seek re-election. Well, then, what is the point of all this?

The society’s legal fight with the registrar also looks like a pricey waste for a society that’s usually pleading for public donations. Cuthbert claims the latest legal crusade is being bankrolled by donors who have given money for the society to fight in court. That’s hard to believe.

Cuthbert, at one point, has even threatened to close the shelter. This simply seems unhinged.

She needs to remember her job is to help protect the shelter’s animals. So far, she’s done much to set back this cause. At this point, the best option would be to resign. Unfortunately, leaders with despotic streaks rarely know when it’s time to quit.

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