Three past board members of Humane Society Yukon pleaded guilty in territorial court on Friday for refusing to obey government orders.
Maryanne Baer, Isabelle Cote and Gerald Thompson all entered guilty pleas. Judge Richard Thompson sentenced them each to two years of probation. During that time none of them are allowed to serve as executives on any society registered under the Societies Act.
Past board president Shelley Cuthbert did not attend Friday’s hearing. She has pleaded not guilty and will appear again in court in September. In an email to the News, she declined to comment further on her decision.
Her court appearance will be nearly a year after the events that led to the charges. Last September, the government ordered the society to hold a special meeting to elect a new board in October and to re-instate memberships to people whose memberships had been illegally denied.
The board refused, putting them in violation of the Societies Act. They were charged in October. In November, the individual members all entered not guilty pleas.
In December, a new board was elected after the Yukon Supreme Court ordered the society to hold its annual general meeting.
Board members may be volunteers, but they need to follow requirements under the Societies Act, said Tracy-Anne McPhee, lawyer for the Crown. And the reporting requirements in the act are not burdensome, she said. But when people choose to serve on not-for-profit executives, they become “sought after by the community,” said McPhee. It’s important to “know what you’re getting into” when you serve on a board, she said. Ordering the accused to pay a fine would not send the same message to the community, she said.
This requirement created a problem for Thompson, the current secretary of the Lions Club. He was the former treasurer of Humane Society Yukon.
As such, he was responsible for financial statements. But it was “impossible” for him to have the statements ready for the annual general meeting, he told the court. He didn’t get all the information he needed until two days before the meeting was supposed to be held, he said.
Thompson has spent thousands of hours volunteering for different groups around Whitehorse, he told the court. “Unfortunately, I got caught up with the politics in this one, and I regret it,” he told the court.
Banning Thompson from serving as the Lions Club secretary is unnecessary, said Dan Richardson, the humane society’s lawyer who appeared by phone. It would “punish the Lions Club as well as Mr. Thompson.”
But Judge Richard Thompson agreed with the Crown that Thompson needed to step down. This has nothing to do with the Lions Club, he said. But it’s clear Humane Society Yukon willfully continued to disobey the government’s orders, he said. And that behaviour cannot be encouraged, he said.
Jillian Chown had also originally been charged with violating the Societies Act. Charges against her were dropped because she resigned the day after the government issued its orders and was not involved in the activities that led to the charges, said Thomas Ullyett, Yukon’s assistant deputy minister for legal services.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at firstname.lastname@example.org