Fifty-six organizations, including BC FIPA, have submitted a joint letter to the BC government that raises concerns of a proposed overhaul of the BC Societies Act. The new legislation would allow any member of the public (or a corporation) to bring a legal action against a society on the basis that it is acting against an undefined ‘public interest’. This proposed provision is unprecedented according to the government’s own consultation document.
FIPA and others worry that this will cause a chilling effect as these groups may avoid activities that could be seen as controversial, in case they are taken to court.
The objectionable proposal in the draft legislation is s.99, which allows an ‘appropriate person’ to apply for a court order if they believe the society’s activities are ‘detrimental to the public interest’. As a great many – probably the majority – of British Columbia’s societies are run by volunteers, on very limited budgets, without experience with the law or the resources to hire lawyers, we believe that court actions filed under s. 99 have the potential to intimidate many societies, and to divert resources away from the valuable work being carried out by societies.
Even if improperly brought actions are unlikely to be successful, this kind of litigation still imposes costs on the court system and other litigants. Our courts are already overburdened, and the time and public resources needed to address frivolous or vexatious applications are considerable.
While transparency and accountability are desirable, over-regulation of societies—and particularly small and grassroots organizations—can be harmful, intimidating, and a waste of both public and private resources. We argue that the public interest is already protected through the laws which govern charities, and through contract terms when organizations receive public money.
British Columbians benefit from a diversity of societies, representing different points of views and offering a range of programs. Controversy will arise in decisions made by societies, as they do for other corporations, and in the vast majority of cases this is a normal part of the democratic process. We believe that this unprecedented proposal to invite litigation which is unnecessary and likely counterproductive should be removed from the draft Bill.