Shelter spat headed for Supreme Court

Ongoing disputes at the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter are heading to the territory's highest court of law. Corporate Affairs released its report into the society this week.

Ongoing disputes at the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter are heading to the territory’s highest court of law.

Corporate Affairs released its report into the society this week. It found the society illegally denied memberships to individuals for “preposterous” reasons.

The society has been ordered to reinstate these memberships and hold a special membership meeting no later than Oct. 5 for the purpose of electing a new board.

Opponents of the current board are praising the government’s decision.

“It’s a victory for the shelter, for the animals, for all of us who’ve had our names and reputations dragged through the mud,” said Jordi Mikeli-Jones, a former society president and member.

Mikeli-Jones was not one of the original complainants. But she had her request for membership renewal denied and was banned from the shelter’s premises at the end of July.

The board has no intention of obeying these orders, president Shelley Cuthbert said.

Barely an hour after receiving the report, she emailed the registrar to say the board is requesting a jurisdictional review.

The board knew the registrar would make these orders, and it had decided months ago to pursue a jurisdictional review when the investigation was released.

The report is “biased,” she said.

The original complaint, filed in May by member Madeleine Girard on behalf of a group of concerned members, asked the investigator to examine if the society was violating the Societies Act and its own bylaws. It also asked for the president to be removed.

Girard resigned from her position on the board in April. She also has a lawsuit against the society, as does Ovation Construction, owned by her brother, Paul.

These lawsuits motivated the complaint, said Cuthbert.

But the investigator’s report shows the society consistently broke the Societies Act, even after the office clarified its legal obligations numerous times.

Both Girard and Marta Keller repeatedly requested to see the society’s membership lists. They were denied, although the law clearly states members must be allowed to view this document at any time. They both received letters saying they needed to set up at time to view the lists, the report says.

Keller resigned from the society’s board on Aug. 3, but she was denied information about board meetings and access to society records, including financial statements, for months, the report says.

The board did this because of her apparent conflict of interest with the lawsuits, the report says. Letters from the society’s lawyer instructed Keller not to communicate with the board about the suits. The board took this to the extreme.

In July, the registrar’s office wrote Cuthbert to tell her “conflicts of interest do not necessitate a complete bar to communication on all matters, and it’s unclear how the conflicts in question justify refusing to communicate at all with the conflicting individuals,” the report says.

At the end of July, the board denied membership to six individuals because their actions violated the society’s mandate to create a loving environment for animals. The society has no bylaws about screening membership, thus no legitimate basis to deny members, the report says.

The reasons for denial were “preposterous,” the report says. None of the reasons cited listed actions the individuals in question took towards animals. They mainly concerned criticisms of the board that were published in newspapers and online. Some of these were criticisms of a recent fundraising event, which members thought would harm animals.

A petition dated Aug. 9 asked for a special meeting to be held to remove the current board. Under the Societies Act, approval by 20 per cent of members is needed to call a meeting. Throughout the investigation, the society’s board sent the registrar’s office many member lists showing changes.

Regardless of what list was used, the registrar found the minimum threshold to call a special meeting was met, the report says. Regardless, the special meeting was denied.

Cuthbert and board members had decided months ago not to continue on in their positions, she said. They believe fighting the issue in court is best for the society, she said.

Since the last seven-person board was formed in August 2011, five people have resigned. The current board is properly constituted, the report found. But the appointment of so many members on an interim basis should not be the norm, the report says.

The numerous financial reports missing from the society are also concerning, the report says.

These reports were missing when this current board was formed, Cuthbert said.

But its latest decision has done nothing to ease dissidents’ concerns or change their perception of the society’s management. Cuthbert is just being a sore loser, said Mickeli-Jones. An independent review is what the society needed, she said.

Public money is being used to fight this legal battle, she said.

Donations are covering some of the thousands of dollars this case will cost, said Cuthbert. People have donated for this specific reason out of their own initiative, she said.

Girard, who also had her membership banned in July, found the board’s decision to pursue a jurisdictional review particularly worrisome.

Going to the Supreme Court is “a total mockery of the membership, total mockery of the government that provides funding for the humane society and it’s a mockery of Corporate Affairs’ decision who have placed orders,” she said.

Both Girard and Mikeli-Jones would gladly take their memberships in the society back, they said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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