British Columbia

Delta Hospice Society battle pits locals against outsiders in fight for control

According to the organizer of community group Take Back Delta Hospice, an updated membership from the Delta Hospice Society shows the majority of members don't live in Delta.

A race to sign up new members has emerged in the ongoing war over religious control and assisted dying

The Irene Thomas Hospice is pictured in Delta, British Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The majority of Delta Hospice Society members don't even live in Delta, according to the organizer of the Take Back Delta Hospice group.

Chris Pettypiece said of the roughly 6,000 society members, only 2,400 are locals from the community. 

"There's 600 people in Ontario, 357 people in Alberta, 130 in Saskatchewan," he said, adding a handful live in the U.S. Italy and Panama.

"These people have no long-term interest in our organization in Delta. They share an ideology with the people who have invited them to participate."

Pettypiece is a former society board member who was made party to the membership list after bringing a successful court action against the current DHS board of directors earlier this year.

In the decision, the judge ruled the board had acted in bad faith by cherry picking members, ostensibly to stack the vote on a proposed amendment to turn the society into an exclusive Christian organization that opposes medical assistance in dying or MAiD. 

Last week, the B.C. Court of Appeal denied the society's request for a stay of proceedings and ordered it to accept every member applicant going back to Nov. 28, 2019. 

According to Pettypiece, the fight for control of the Delta Hospice Society is now essentially an arms race to see which side can recruit the most members in time for the next annual general meeting. He says his side needs hundreds of people to sign up if they're to get the two-thirds majority needed to oust the current board.

The Harold and Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care is pictured in Delta, B.C, Thursday, May 28, 2020. T (Canadian Press)

The society's bylaws place no geographical restrictions on members.

"That's the game now. We will lose to the majority of members who don't live in the community if we don't, in effect, fight fire with fire."

In contrast, the Delta Hospice Society board has already garnered outside support from similar minded organizations, like Campaign Life Coalition, a Toronto-based social conservative lobby group, which is recruiting new members from across its network.

"Changing [the DHS] charter to become an officially Christian organization is the only way for the British Columbia hospice to escape the provincial NDP government's plan to force it to commit euthanasia and suicide on its patients," wrote Campaign Life Coalition president Jeff Gunnarson in a letter to members. 

In response to questions sent by CBC, Jack Fonseca, the director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition said his group is involving itself in the Delta Hospice Society fight because "killing patients is not, and has never been, a part of hospice palliative care."

Earlier this year, the provincial government pulled $1.5 million in annual funding for the Delta Hospice Society.

In February 2021, operation of the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice will revert to regional authority Fraser Health, cutting out the DHS board of directors altogether. 

The Irene Thomas Hospice is pictured in Delta, British Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fonseca predicts there are more legal challenges coming before that happens. 

"The fact of the matter is that, under current BC government policy, Christian health-care facilities are exempt from being coerced to kill their patients. As a faith-based facility, The Irene Thomas Hospice will hopefully be able to carry on with that exemption," he said.

MAiD was passed into federal law in 2016, allowing Canadians who meet strict criteria to choose a medically assisted death.

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