Quite a number of constituents have written to me expressing serious concerns about the proposed changes to the Societies Act. Here is the action that I have taken so far.
To provide some context, starting in 2009, the Ministry of Finance began a process to review and update the 1996 Societies Act in order to “modernize and update the statute that provides rules for the incorporation and governance of not-for-profit organizations in B.C.”
The Ministry released a White Paper that outlined a number of policy recommendations and included a revised draft of the Societies Act. The public consultation process for this White Paper ended on October 15th.
During the public consultation period I heard from a large number of constituents (and from others across British Columbia) concerning section 99 of the draft legislation, entitled “Complaints by Public” .
In order to summarize the public feedback I received during the consultation period, I sent a letter to the Minister of Finance on October 16th to ensure that the public, and my, concerns were brought to the direct attention of the Minister.
October 16th 2014
Honourable Mike de Jong
Minister of Finance
Victoria BC V8V 1X4
Dear Minister de Jong,
I am writing to you with respect to the BC government’s Societies Act White Paper. I have received a fair amount of correspondence from constituents, societies and others across British Columbia who are concerned with the direction laid out in section 99, entitled “Complaints by Public”. I would like to ensure that their, and my, concerns are brought to your attention.
To begin, I am unclear as to what existing problem section 99 is meant to be addressing. The White Paper does not identify any specific issue that was the impetus for this provision being brought forward.
Section 99 of the Societies Act White Paper appears to lay out a mechanism that I believe has enormous potential to be abused. Relying on an extremely vague definition of ‘public interest’, this section could act as a vehicle for an unprecedented period of SLAPP lawsuits against groups that cannot afford to defend themselves.
Societies play a critical role in our province. Many of them have minimal financial resources, are staffed or supported by volunteers, and very limited access to legal support. If enacted into law, Section 99 could be used as a bullying tactic. As a result, Societies would have to operate in a culture where freedom of speech is at risk of litigation. While I am not a lawyer, it strikes me that the constitutionality of Section 99 might be called into question.
I recognize that the Societies Act White Paper is being advanced at this stage to gather public feedback on proposed legislation. Nevertheless, I hope that the Ministry recognizes the substantive concerns that are being expressed regarding section 99.
I sincerely hope that changes will be made to the Act before it is brought forward to the legislature for debate and that a legal opinion is obtained as to the constitutionality of Section 99.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this matter,
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head
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