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Tell Christy Clark: Don’t rush through Societies Act reforms

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 12:47

Please write today to tell the BC government not to press through its reforms to the BC Societies Act. Email fcsp@gov.bc.ca before the end of 15 October 2014.

Clark’s Liberal government is looking to overhaul the law that regulates over 27,000 non-profit societies, including almost every active freethought organisation in the province. Many of the reforms are likely good ideas, like allowing societies to be registered and file documents electronically; however, at least one section would potentially allow members of the public to sue non-profits if they feel they are “carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.”

Given that every non-profit is already required by the same law to operate in the public interest, there seems no reason to open non-profits up to the risk of frivolous lawsuits. Vancouver community advocate Sandy Garossino believes this proposal is designed to allow the province’s oil and mining industries to sue environmental NGOs. By the same logic, religious groups could use this same clause to persecute atheist and pro-choice organisations by claiming they are a threat to “traditional values.”

Most frustratingly, the government’s White Paper has been hiding on their website for months with little notification to the thousands of non-profits that are going to be affected by this. Every organisation in the province should have been told about this consultation and given the chance to respond.

The paper is 166 pages. There is simply not enough time to know what other changes will impact non-profits in the province. A quick glance suggests extra reporting requirements and changes to what needs to be in the by-laws.

The government needs to extend the deadline for responses and seek feedback from those who are set to be affected.

Here’s my letter:

As a former member of a BC society’s board of directors and staff member for two societies, I am worried by the quiet nature of this consultation. I only became aware that the government was considering on reforming the Society Act yesterday and in that time have not had a chance to carefully consider the 166-page white paper you have produced.

I don’t think my situation is unique. Every one of the 27,000 BC societies should have been notified that the government is considering re-writing the rules they are governed by. The consultation must be extended until this happens.

While many of the reforms are likely good ideas, such as allowing societies to be registered and file documents electronically, at least one section – 99 – seems to open organisations to frivolous lawsuits from members of the public. The section would allow non-profits to be sued if someone feels they are “carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.”

Given that every non-profit is already required by the same law to operate in the public interest, there seems no rational reason to open non-profits up to this risk. Many non-profits are set to challenge the status quo and push for societal change. These actions inevitably bring about critics who would welcome the ability to sue to protect their positions of privilege rather than defend themselves in the public debate.

Please scrap section 99 and extend the deadline for responses until you are able to seek feedback from those organisations who are set to be affected.