What was to be a protest walk turned into a celebration Saturday morning as those gathered learned the court had blocked recent efforts to change the Delta Hospice Society into a faith-based organization.
Hundreds of people gathered at Paterson Park on June 13 for the Walk for Choice at Delta Hospice, an event aimed at showing support for “a hospice that respects patient choice and offers all belief systems the end-of-life care options available through our health care system,” according to event organizers.
The walk was planned in response to the current Delta Hospice Society (DHS) board’s proposed changes to the organization’s constitutions and bylaws that would see the society adopt a Christian mandate in its ongoing fight against offering medical assistance in dying (MAiD) at the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner.
The move had drawn sharp criticism from many in the community, with allegations the board had rejected hundreds of membership applications in an attempt to ensure the changes would go through.
However, minutes into the event organizer and former DHS board president Chris Pettypiece informed attendees that a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, June 5 seeking to stop a planned extraordinary general meeting of the DHS this Monday (June 15) and mail-in vote on the transition into a faith-based society had been successful.
“I am so proud to stand here today and tell you that we won!” Pettypiece said, to loud cheering from the crowd.
“The court ruled that the current board does not have the right to screen out members. The court has also stated that [DHS board president] Angelina Ireland and her current board have acted in bad faith to manipulate the vote,” he said before reading the orders handed down by the court on Friday.
The court ordered the meeting on June 15 be cancelled, and that the society must seek the direction of the court before giving notice of any future meetings. As well, the court prohibited the planned use of mail-in ballots, and ruled it may appoint an alternative chair for future society proceedings.
The court also ordered the board to provide a list of all society members to Pettypiece and his fellow the petitioners, former DHS presidents Sharon Farrish and James Levin, as well as a list of all the people whose membership applications were rejected in recent months. Further, those whose applications were rejected by the board are to be accepted as members in good standing of the society.
“I call that a sweep,” Pettypiece said.
“Today is a victory for choice, it’s a victory for Delta, it’s a clear victory for democracy and the fundamental importance of the division of church and state. It’s a victory for inclusivity and for tolerance. These are all things that we cherish in our community and things we should always be willing to fight for.”
DHS board president Angeline Ireland, in an brief emailed statement regarding the court’s decision, said the board is “highly concerned with the lack of justice in the court system today.”
In his remarks Saturday, Pettypiece said there is still more work to do.
“With the court’s rulings we now know that we can, through membership and advocacy, vote this board out through a democratic process, and I think we will.”
Also speaking at the event were Delta Mayor George Harvie and Delta South MLA Ian Paton.
Harvie told the crowd that he, with the support of council, is committed to “getting rid of this board,” saying it is the responsibility of everyone attending the walk to get control of the membership.
“We will not tolerate losing the opportunity for choice in our precious Delta Hospice,” he said.
Harvie said that at Monday’s regular council meeting he would be seeking a motion from councillors Dan Copeland and Dylan Kruger, who also attended Saturday’s walk, to give the DHS advance notice that the city would be cancelling the tax exemption it gives the society-run Charity Shoppe on 56th Street in Tsawwassen at the end of the year.
The mayor also said he will be requesting the provincial government audit the hospice’s finances and ask Fraser Health to do regular inspections of the facility to ensure it is adhering to the health authority’s requirements for palliative care.
“I want to assure the good staff that are working under these awful conditions, stressful conditions, that we have their backs,” Harvie said.
“We have a number of complaints from former and current members of the staff that have alerted us to inaccuracies and not following proper regulations, so we’re going to follow up on that.”
Harvie closed his remarks by calling on the current board “do the right thing, resign on Monday.”
(The Reporter has reached out to DHS board president Angelina Ireland for comment on Harvie’s remarks.)
Paton and Harvie both highlighted that Delta’s elected officials across three levels of government are united in their opposition to the current board’s plans.
“We’ve met, we’ve all banded together — which you don’t see too often in politics these days — but we all stand for the Delta Hospice and for everything you folks are doing,” Paton said. “So let’s carry on and let’s get it back to the way it always has been and the way it should be.”
In February, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the Fraser Health Authority had given the DHS a year’s notice that it would terminate its contract due to the board’s refusal to allow MAiD at the hospice.
The facility is located on Fraser Health property, rented to the society for $1 a year, and the health authority provides the hospice with $1.5 million in annual funding, which covers 94 per cent of the 10-bed centre’s operating costs.
On May 29, Dix reaffirmed Fraser Health’s decision to end its service agreement with the society, saying funding will continue until Feb. 25, 2021 so long as the DHS complies with the existing contract.
— with files from Tom Fletcher
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