B.C. court dismisses hospice society's appeal in medically-assisted dying dispute

·2 min read

VANCOUVER — A hospice society in Delta, British Columbia, has lost another court attempt to reject membership based on their apparent views around medical assistance in dying. 

The B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed an attempt by the Delta Hospice Society board to reject membership applications from those who didn't agree with the society's position that Christian morals prevent the hospice from giving the end-of-life service that is legal in Canada.

The lower court ruled that the board had acted in bad faith to manipulate a vote and ordered the society to accept memberships from those who were turned away.

The board went back to court. But the Appeal Court panel of three judges unanimously upheld the lower court's decision that the society had acted contrary to its own bylaws.

Writing for the panel, Justice Mary Newbury said charter values of freedom of association and freedom of conscience do not support a right of the board to control the society’s membership lists. 

The board of the hospice society said in a statement that it is dismayed by the decision and is looking at taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The board said it has faced a "hostile takeover" from medically-assisted dying activists who want to force change on how it operates.

"We resist the destruction of palliative care in Delta, and in British Columbia as well as the rest of Canada," president Angelina Ireland said in a statement.

"Our actions are to defend and protect palliative care which is a national treasure and gift to humanity." 

Chris Pettypiece, one of three respondents in the case and a member of the group Take Back Delta Hospice, praised the court's decision in a statement. 

"This is a victory for our community, it is a victory for our human rights," said Pettypiece. "We will continue to take steps to ensure our community has a voice in the future of Delta Hospice Society and hold the board accountable for good governance."

The dispute stretches back to 2016 when the federal government introduced the law for medically assisted death.

Pettypiece said in an earlier interview that those opposed came to dominate the board and ousted anyone who didn't align with their ideals.

B.C.'s Health Ministry previously announced it was withdrawing $1.5 million in annual funding, covering about 94 per cent of the cost to run the facility, because the society wouldn't comply with provincial policies on medical assistance in dying.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press