British Columbia

Former Delta Hospice directors ask court to stop vote on faith-based constitution which bans assisted death

Documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court allege a new board of directors has manipulated the members list and stacked the vote in favour of a proposed Christian-focused constitution.

Petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges the current board has stacked the membership in advance of vote

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

The battle over access to medically assisted death at the Delta Hospice Society is now in the courts after three former directors of the society filed a petition asking that a June 15 vote on a proposed faith-based constitution be cancelled or postponed.

In B.C. Supreme Court documents, former society president Christopher Pettypiece, Sharon Farrish and James Levin allege the current society board has stacked the members list by rejecting hundreds of membership applications from people in the community, while accepting only those who support Christian views.

"Once this manipulation was completed, the Society has now given the bare minimum notice of an extraordinary meeting," reads the court documents.

"It is intended to change what was always an open, secular community organization into a closed, religious organization."

The petition also claims the DHS is acting in ways that contravene the B.C. Societies Act and its existing bylaws.

The Delta Hospice Society has not filed a response.

The new constitution was distributed to members in late May and proposes to turn the society into "a Christian community that furthers biblical principles governed by the Triune God."

The proposed constitution also expressly prohibits MAiD, short for medical assistance in dying, which it calls euthanasia.

In earlier statements to CBC, DHS president Angelina Ireland said details about membership decisions were confidential.

A number of people have spoken out after having their membership applications denied without explanation, including former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington, former Delta mayor Beth Johnson and retired Delta police chief Jim Cessford. 

A rally for "community members who want to see our Hospice returned to the service of all Delta citizens" is planned for Saturday in Ladner.

In December of last year, a new board of directors led by Ireland set off a storm of controversy when it voted to stop allowing MAiD at the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice. 

MAiD was passed into federal law in 2016 and gives an individual the right to ask a doctor or nurse practitioner to administer a drug that causes death, within strict parameters.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the province was pulling $1.5 million in annual funding from the Delta Hospice Society and cancelling its contracts with Fraser Health, effective Feb. 25, 2021, in response to the hospice's stance on MAiD.

Last week Ireland issued an apology for comparing MAiD to the Holocaust in a speech she gave in the U.S.