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Egale not out of swamp yet

Challenges ahead for national lobby group

Egale Canada has survived one of its toughest years and is preparing for the Ottawa arrival of a new executive director.

Ottawa was chosen to host the Mar 31 annual general meeting of Egale because local members had been vocal in their opposition to policies and organizational politics in 2006, outgoing president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey told the meeting.

But with new board members, a new executive director and internal reviews that may change its focus from fighting court cases to lobbying and advocacy, the organization is trying to get back on its feet, the 14 people in attendance were told.

But they’re not out of the swamp yet, suggest documents handed out at the meeting. Despite a shedding of office staff and removal of past executive director Gilles Marchildon in 2006, Egale went from a nearly $30,000 surplus the previous year to a loss of $13,000 in 2006. Memberships and donations were down by some 10 percent, revenues raised by events fell by nearly half and income from the federal court challenges program (the program has since been eliminated by the Harper government) and other funding fell from approximately $210,000 in 2005 to $100,000 last year.

The year also saw internal board strife that led to the departure of at least three board members, and resulted in the Egale listserv buzzing with frustrated members calling, unsuccessfully, for a special general meeting.

Those at the AGM expressed frustration that amendments to the bylaws, recently passed in a membership vote, did not include a member-friendly mechanism to force a special general meeting in the event that the board loses support from members.

“We wanted a public airing of what was going on in the organization,” said Ottawa member and longtime activist Ron Chaplin.

Advocacy staffer Tarmara Kronis challenged those who have concerns to get involved and bring forward their own bylaw amendments.

Laurie Arron, former advocacy director, said the membership’s concerns with the board were “not a problem of bylaws.

“No discussion would have avoided that action. You need to trust that elected board members are doing their best. Some issues cannot be discussed publicly.”

Ottawa trans activist Jessica Freedman questioned Egale’s commitment to trans participation. Two new trans positions have been created on the board, yet activists who submitted applications for the positions have been overlooked while the board appointed their own choice, she said.

As well, the intersections committee, which advocates on behalf of queers who are also involved in other social issues or members of other minority groups, has been pushed to the margins by the board, said Freedman.

The board now has three regional vacancies in addition to the two trans spots, Kronis reported, including non-male representatives for the National Capital Region and the West Coast.

Toronto community activist Helen Kennedy has been hired as the new executive director. Kennedy is a former city councillor for East York, former NDP staffer at Queen’s Park, and former constituency assistant to NDP city councillor Olivia Chow. She ran to replace Chow in the 2006 election, losing to media personality Adam Vaughan. Kennedy expects to start in mid-April.

Acting executive director Kaj Hasselriis has returned to his hometown of Winnipeg.