Supreme court dismisses Delta Hospice Society appeal over membership dispute

·3 min read
The Harold and Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care is pictured in Delta, B.C. The Delta Hospice Society, which used to operate the facility, was evicted from the building and the Irene Thomas Hospice in March, 2021.  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Harold and Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care is pictured in Delta, B.C. The Delta Hospice Society, which used to operate the facility, was evicted from the building and the Irene Thomas Hospice in March, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal by the Delta Hospice Society (DHS) in a fight over medically assisted death, society memberships and attempts by a new board of directors to bring in an expressly Christian constitution.

DHS launched the appeal after the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a B.C. Supreme Court decision in favour of community advocates, backed by the group Take Back Delta Hospice.

Community advocate Chris Pettypiece, who speaks on behalf of Take Back Delta Hospice, said it was gratifying to see the DHS board held accountable for "improper conduct."

"What an ordeal it has been to have to fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada so that local residents who wish to become members of the [Delta Hospice] Society are treated fairly," said Pettypiece.

In a statement, the Delta Hospice Society said: "The court does not give reasons for refusing leave to appeal so we'll let others speculate if they want to play that game. No one will ever know if the speculation is correct or wildly wrong."

It goes on to say, "Anyone who criticizes our exercise of legal due process does a disservice to Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to the foundations of the rule of law on which this country was created. They know who they are."

Allegations of vote-stacking

Pettypiece, Sharron Farrish and Jim Levin brought the original petition alleging that the DHS board had contravened the B.C. Societies Act and stacked the voter list by denying applications of community members who were seen as not supporting its new agenda.

The Delta Hospice Society argued that as a private society, it had the right to choose who could join and who couldn't.

In the decision, the B.C. Supreme Court sided with the petitioners, cancelling an extraordinary general meeting and ordering the board accept over 300 would-be members who had been rejected.

How it all started

The legal wrangling began soon after the new board came to power in December 2019 and banned medical assistance in dying (MAiD) at the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner.

The board then proposed a number of amendments to the society's constitution to turn it into a faith-based organization. It then called an extraordinary general meeting to vote on the changes.

In B.C., faith-based palliative care hospices are exempt from a requirement to offer MAiD. MAiD has been legal in Canada since 2016.

The conflict intensified when Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the province was withdrawing $1.5 million in annual public funding to the society effective Feb. 25, 2021 because of its refusal to offer MAiD.

Last month the Delta Hospice Society was evicted from the Irene Thomas Hospice and the Harold and Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care, but only after a number of dying residents of the hospice were forced to move and many long-time staff terminated.

Fraser Health has taken over the facilities and said they will re-open April 15.