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4 min

‘Very, very charged’ VPS bylaw debate adjourned

Members squabble over procedures

WHERE'S THE PRIDE? 'The seemingly previous constructive interactions between members and board has now completely broken down,' says community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher

For two Saturdays in a row, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) debated proposed changes to its constitution and bylaws in an atmosphere dominated by emotional exchanges and allegations of impropriety on the part of some board members in the application of rules of order.

One of the more contentious proposals – that a 21-day waiting period be imposed on new or newly reinstated Pride Society members before they can exercise their vote – failed to achieve the required majority for passage at the Jan 19 meeting.

This is the second time members gave the thumbs down to the measure first voted on at an equally heated AGM Nov 17. That meeting was aborted after it entered its sixth hour with VPS president John Boychuk maintaining then that there was still “room for discussion” on the measure and the old bylaws continued to govern the society until any changes were put into effect.

Pride director Ray Lam, who drafted the measure, says it’s aimed at preventing people from purchasing memberships to influence the society or stacking elections. But some members, including Raigen D’Angelo, voiced their opposition to a waiting period.

“My concern is that it disenfranchises people who are new to the community,” she said. “If I come to the door and am told I can’t vote I’d say, ‘Fuck you and leave.’ There are so many organisations in the city. If you’re not allowing me here, I’ll go elsewhere.”

Newly elected board member Herman Nilsson, who voted in favour of a waiting period, believes the rule is in line with other democratic principles.

“When I moved to Vancouver, I had to wait six months before I was eligible to vote in the civic elections,” he says.

Even after the measure was defeated on Jan 19, there was more controversy, this time over the validity of the vote, with Nilsson challenging the eligibility of three members to participate in the vote because they arrived late.

At the start of the Jan 19 meeting, Boychuk counted 24 registered members and said any latecomers could be registered at the break at 2 pm. At approximately 1:40 pm however, Boychuk issued three latecomers voting cards.

Nilsson, who was manning the sign-in table, initially denied VPS vice-president Laura McDiarmid, Jamie Lee Hamilton and Tommy Dolanjski voting cards but Boychuk allowed them to vote after McDiarmid protested Nilsson’s decision.

Nilsson believes Boychuk broke precedent when he allowed latecomers to vote.

“In the past members have not been allowed to vote after arriving late, so members who knew they may not have been able to arrive on time may have elected to stay away because of what happened in the past,” says Nilsson.

He believes this rule is inconsistent with that of other organisations, including Parliament. “Once voting begins members are not permitted to enter or leave the House until voting is completed.

“If you did a 24 quorum and removed latecomers that [waiting period] motion would have passed,” Nilsson maintains.

Boychuk said he allowed the latecomers to vote as a point of courtesy and was not out of order.

“A few members came in [before 2 pm]. I chose to let them participate,” says Boychuk. “At the beginning of the meeting we announced a two o’ clock break.”

Regardless, community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton believes the vote on the waiting period measure should be upheld.

“The chair made a ruling that latecomers are entitled to vote and no challenge was made to the chair at the time,” she said. “If members want to have a reconsideration vote then the vote has to be brought forward by the winning side.”

Confusion also arose over the issue of abstentions.

Nilsson suggested that votes may not have been “properly applied” if the chair was calling for people to register an abstention: a vote that’s neither for nor against a measure. “Nor is it recorded,” Nilsson notes, arguing that quorum should be adjusted to reflect the number of people who voted.

For her part, Hamilton claims that calling for abstentions is a violation of Robert’s Rules of Order which the VPS has adopted as a procedural guide for its meetings.

“[Boychuk’s] not allowed to ask for abstentions, that’s self evident. The chair was asking members if they were voting,” she contends.

“We have asked for abstentions in the past,” says Boychuk. “Some people have asked that abstentions be noted. That was for clarification, or to see if anyone is paying attention. When it comes down to a vote, there are yeas or nays. That’s it.”

Another bone of contention was the legitimacy of the bylaw proposals presented. Hamilton expressed concern about what she deemed the “committee of one,” referring to the governance committee chaired by Lam currently the only member.

“There’s a potential for bias in a committee of one,” she says.

According to Boychuk, the committee started off with more than one member, but “whittled down” to one over time.

In denying the charge that he is a “committee of one,” Lam says written notices were sent to all community members through meetings, website updates and newsletters since summer 2007.

“Several members in the meeting today were invited to participate in the committee,” he notes, adding that “the last six drafts were released to the public. I sought feedback from specific individuals, community leaders, including Jamie Lee Hamilton.”

Not every proposal was subject to intense exchanges.

A motion to change the purpose of the society to reflect more inclusive language was approved unanimously. Also carried was a motion outlining the standards of involvement for a director. The new requirements are that directors must be members in good standing. If they miss three consecutive meetings with no reason given, or volunteer less than eight hours in 60 days, they cease to be directors.

The meeting was adjourned before any discussion of Lam’s senate committee proposal could take place, with Boychuk calling the meeting an unhealthy environment in which to continue.

“It was a very, very charged atmosphere, nothing was going to be accomplished that day,” said Nilsson who called for the adjournment.

“The Membership agrees that bylaw changes or changes to the constitution should be left until the next AGM or another SGM,” says Boychuk. “At the end of the day the business conducted at the last meeting [the Jan 19 meeting] stands. Everything is good.”

Hamilton disagrees with Boychuk’s assessment.

“Unfortunately over the last few meetings, especially the January 19, 2008 and January 26, 2008 ones, where members were being asked to vote on bylaw changes, the seemingly previous constructive interactions between members and board has now completely broken down,” Hamilton says in an email posting following the Jan 26 meeting.