4 min

Pride dodges bullet

Last-minute filing stops dissolution

Credit: Robin Perelle

It looks like the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has narrowly avoided disaster once again. With just days to spare, the VPS managed to stave off dissolution last week when it sent the provincial government several years’ worth of required back-filings Jan 30. Though the government registry had not yet received the filings as Xtra West went to press, staff say they won’t dissolve the VPS as long as the filings arrive soon.

“If they do get all their filings in and bring them up to date they will be in good standing. But that hasn’t happened yet,” says John Powell, who oversees BC’s registry of incorporated companies and societies.

VPS directors say the late filings aren’t their fault. They were just cleaning up the messes created by previous directors, says treasurer Barry Piersdorff.

The messes date back to 2000, the year the VPS stopped sending its financial report and list of directors to the provincial registry. The registry’s rules state that societies must file both documents every year. If a society misses two years in a row, they will be dissolved-and cease to exist legally.

It’s important to update that information every year, Powell explains, because people check the registry to find out how companies and societies are doing and who’s running them. If the information listed is out-of-date, “we’d have a registry here that doesn’t mean anything.”

Right now, the information in the VPS file dates back to 1999, when Michael Shea was still president and the VPS was not in debt. Shea has since been succeeded by Michael Cowan and Shawn Ewing, and last year the VPS announced a debt of $106,000 (which it then struggled to re-pay and finally managed to retire in December).

When registry staff realized that the file was so out-of-date, they sent the VPS a letter telling it to hurry up and file their current and missing information-or get dissolved. That was last February.

The VPS received the letter in March and promptly asked for an extension. Then it asked for another extension in June after the first one ran out.

By September, VPS directors had realized just how large and complicated a task it would be to compile the necessary information, says board member Steven Schelling. Though the current board had its own financial statements and list of directors for 2002 and 2003, the two previous years’ records were in shambles. And piecing them together was a daunting task.

“The records were in a deplorable state,” Piersdorff confirms. “There were no books. There were no accounting records, no minute books, and various and other records that were just not present.”

And the provincially required reports simply did not exist.

VPS president Shawn Ewing says she couldn’t even piece together a complete list of who sat on the board during those years. She had to rely on old office phone lists for clues-and tracking people down wasn’t easy.

“We were having a great deal of difficulty,” says Piersdorff. “Rummaging through files, gleaning any information that was available.”

So the board wrote to the registry again, this time not only asking for another extension-their third-but some guidance as well. Staff were obliging. They granted the extension and told the VPS to send everything they had and to add a signed affidavit explaining what they lacked and why.

In the end, the affidavit wasn’t necessary. “We sent what we believe to be the reports” for all four years, Piersdorff says, having pieced together the 2000 and 2001 financial records from bank statements and documents filed “here, there and elsewhere.

“We’ve done everything we can at this point to remedy the deficiencies,” he says. So presumably we are still a Society tonight.”

Despite all the stress and extra work the missing files created, Piersdorff is reluctant to judge the 2000-2001 directors.

“It’s not my place to sit in judgement,” he says. “I don’t know what pressures these people were operating under. I know there was a mess and I know I was on the clean-up team. That’s all I know.”

Ewing knows first-hand what pressures the 2001 board faced, since she sat on it for a year before becoming president in 2002. But she, too, is reluctant to criticize the previous, Cowan-led administration.

The 2001 board only had six “functioning board members,” she says. “I know that’s the kind of space they were at. And I can’t. I can’t stand in judgement and say I feel one way or another.

“[But] I will not leave the board that way,” she adds quietly.

And Ewing won’t walk away from the previous boards’ messes, either. “It’s a job that has to be done and we won’t leave it. I won’t.”

Piersdorff won’t abandon the mess, either. It’s Pride, he says, tears suddenly filling his eyes. “It’s bigger than the Pride Society. It’s Pride itself.”

It’s about “being able to walk in the community and be proud of who I am and what I do and who I do.”

Had the VPS missed its filing deadline and been dissolved, it would have ceased to exist legally-making it very difficult to sign any contracts and put on a party the size of Pride.

But that should be a hypothetical question now, says Piersdorff, provided all the documents are in order and the registry is satisfied.

Now Ewing is hoping the community won’t blame the current board for the past boards’ failings.

This board is committed to filing on time and has been working towards that goal for months, she says. And it is still committed to its earlier promises of transparency and accountability, too.

This problem with the registry should not reflect badly on the current directors. “The 14 people that sit around the table every two weeks [now]-they have done nothing except work together to resolve the late issues and move forward,” Ewing says.