Former humane society president has day in court

The former president of the once-struggling Humane Society Yukon says she believed orders from the territory's registrar of societies, which were not followed, would be challenged in court.

The former president of the once-struggling Humane Society Yukon says she believed orders from the territory’s registrar of societies, which were not followed, would be challenged in court.

Shelley Cuthbert appeared in territorial court Wednesday to face charges that she failed to comply with Sept. 10, 2012 orders after a highly-publicized investigation into the running of the society.

Following a three-hour hearing in which Cuthbert was the only witness, Judge Karen Ruddy said she would make her final ruling on Nov. 1.

The former president, along with other members of the board of directors, were charged under the Societies Act last year.

While the other members pleaded guilty and are now not allowed to serve as executives on any society for two years, Cuthbert pleaded not guilty and was given her day in court this week.

The registrar’s orders last year included a requirement that the board hold a special meeting to elect a new board and grant memberships to six who had been denied.

On the stand Cuthbert testified that the volunteer board had already discussed applying for a judicial review even before the registrar’s orders were officially released that September.

They knew the registrar probably wasn’t going to agree with the board’s decision to deny memberships, she said.

Cuthbert said the society instructed their lawyer, Carrie Burbidge, to file the appropriate paperwork for a judicial review.

They believed the documents were going to be filed after a small claims case involving construction work at the society was completed Nov. 1, she said.

The group was charged on Oct. 18.

That judicial review never took place, prosecutor Tracy-Anne McPhee pointed out.

“We were putting faith in our attorney that she was going to do that,” Cuthbert said, adding she still doesn’t know why the request for a review never went forward.

Cuthbert said she believed the application for a review was going to be based on “error in law and error in fact.”

McPhee questioned whether or not Cuthbert confirmed those plans with the lawyer. Cuthbert insisted she had. The email conversation was on her computer at home and was not requested by the court, she said.

Before wrapping up the hearing, Ruddy questioned whether Burbidge and another lawyer mention during the case – the preceding society president Marta Keller – were going to be called to give testimony.

Cuthbert’s lawyer, Eric Dolden, said his office was told Burbidge does not wish to participate since her legal treatment was being questioned.

In her opening statement that morning, McPhee questioned whether Cuthbert’s actions qualify as the “due diligence” defence required in this case.

The foundation to the defence is that certain steps were taken to follow the orders, she said. “It’s not ‘I didn’t take any steps to comply because I was planning a judicial review.’”

In Cuthbert’s defence, Dolden said that being the leader of a volunteer board is different from being a CEO and asked the judge to take into account other factors, like the knowledge and information Cuthbert had at the time.

The struggles and financial difficulties at the humane society have been very public.

At one point late last year, there were questions as to whether the group – which runs the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter – would be able to continue.

In May 2012, the registrar received a written complaint from six members of the society alleging various violations under the Societies Act.

Two months later, the office began a formal investigation that led to the Sept. 10 report and orders in question.

When those orders were not followed, the matter was sent to Yukon Supreme Court.

In December 2012, Justice Leigh Gower ordered the society to hold a special meeting to elect a new board and accept new members.

After Cuthbert’s testimony Wednesday the matter was adjourned. Ruddy gave the two lawyers instructions to file their closing arguments in writing.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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