A litigator with experience working with non-profit organizations believes the crux of the B.C. Supreme Court case between six community centre associations and the Vancouver park board is the fact there’s much more to the historical joint operating agreement than was ever written down.
Peter Roberts, a litigator at the downtown law firm of Lawson Lundell, said the results of the court case will have serious ramifications no matter which side wins.
“My suspicions is this will unfold in a way that will allow the park board to do what it has intended to do with the joint operating agreement,” said Roberts. “But if the associations win it will make it more problematic for any governing body with a long-term relationship in assisting a non-profit.”
Last week, the first stage of a two-part court case addressed a request for an injunction of the OneCard for use at Hillcrest, Killarney, Hastings, Kerrisdale, Sunset and Kensington community centres. The six associations are concerned because the OneCard eliminates the need for individual community centre association memberships.
According to the provincial Society’s Act, the associations must have a membership list to qualify as a non-profit society. The associations say non-profit status is vital to their ability in obtaining government funding or grants.
Roberts added should the court case favour the associations it will make it that much more difficult for the park board to make policy decisions and guide programs.
“They’ll have to consult much more earnestly then they have been if they need to reach a consensus,” said Roberts. “In effect it will give people veto power when it comes to substantive policy changes the park board might impose.”
Killarney Community Centre Association president Ainslie Kwan said the case should be decided within a week. She added city lawyer Ben Parkin argued there’s no need for an injunction of the OneCard because the park board had already agreed its use wouldn’t be mandatory at the six centres.
“But it wasn’t until we filed the injunction that they conceded,” said Kwan.
As reported in the Courier last week, the associations’ lawyer David McWhinnie said essentially the plaintiffs want to keep doing what they’ve been doing for decades.
“They have suffered irreparable harm and are worried about losing potential members,” argued McWhinnie in court. “People come in, see signs for the OneCard and nothing about membership.”
Parkin argued in court that the majority of the city’s community centre associations have accepted the OneCard without issue.
Meanwhile, Kwan said it’s community centre employees hired by the associations who are concerned for their futures.
“Staff is confused,” said Kwan. “They’re stuck in the middle and working with the associations but looking at the park board and wondering which one to sign on to.”
In a letter to employees of Kensington Community Centre dated Sept. 9 obtained by the Courier, association president Milan Kljajic described recent correspondence from the park board concerning their employment as “inappropriate.”
“… and we have contacted the park board, advised them of such, and directed them not to send similar correspondence to you,” wrote Kljajic in part. “…There is no immediate threat to your engagement with Kensington. The issues we have outlined in this letter are due to be determined in the future by the courts and cannot be decided by the park board of its own accord…”
Because the case is still before the courts, the city and park board have declined comment at this time.