Fallout from a lawsuit settlement, questions about gender inclusion and uncertainty over the future of the Nelson and District Women’s Centre lingered over an extraordinary annual general meeting last week.
Whereas most local AGMs begin with an already elected board sitting in front of perhaps 10 to 20 people, the West Kootenay Women’s Association’s AGM started Dec. 4 with a row of empty chairs where directors would have sat and a standing-room only crowd that packed a room at the Adventure Hotel.
The evening’s agenda was dictated by the terms of a court order filed in Nelson Supreme Court in November after a lawsuit in August brought by members Donna Macdonald and Lisa McGeady, who alleged they had been ousted from the centre following a contentious 2018 AGM.
Macdonald and McGeady’s lawsuit said the former board was contravening the Societies Act and not acting according to the association’s constitution.
The ensuing settlement required Macdonald and McGeady to be reinstated as members and allowed to attend the centre; an interim board to be elected prior to the AGM; consideration for two bylaw amendments and four member proposals; and for the meeting to be run by Robert’s Rules of Order and feature typical aspects of an AGM including presentation of financial statements and the election of a new board.
That led to a very unusual AGM.
Before the proceedings began, a long lineup of people were waiting to sign up as members. Groups could be seen discussing how they would vote, and a pamphlet was handed out promoting the names of nine people for election “who care about the inclusion of our marginalized community members — including Indigenous women and people of all marginalized genders.”
When the meeting began it was run by Alison Sayers, who was designated chair for the evening by the court order, as well as volunteer and program co-ordinator Axel McGown.
Despite the clear tension in the room, the three-hour meeting was mostly civil. Sayers set the tone early by noting the importance of completing the meeting’s agenda in order to secure necessary funding for the centre.
Only twice was there any vocal opposition from the crowd.
One member protested when an employee of Wharfhouse Green Financial Solutions presented the financial statements and pointed out a $7,500 drop in funding from the B.C. Gaming Commission, which she attributed to lack of management from the previous board.
That board, she added, failed to register its charity information with the Canada Revenue Agency prior to the March deadline, which put the society’s charitable tax status at risk. Still, the centre ended the year in the black with $9,260 excess revenue over expenses.
Boos also erupted during candidate speeches when Nancy Rosenblum expressed her support for women-born women. That term is considered offensive by transgender advocates, and Rosenblum’s use of it touched on one of the underlying tensions of the meeting over who should have access to the centre.
Rosenblum, however, was among the candidates later elected to the board.
Seventeen candidates ran for the board. Elected directors include: Amanda Phoenix, Avery Alder, Devon Brown, Mary Whitlock, Sarah Albertson, Yvette Janzen, founding member Vita Luthmers, Shamim Pourfarshomi, Shonna Hayes, Sawah Danniels and Rosenblum.
The three-hour meeting ended with a final motion that the new board investigate the causes of the since-rescinded member bans and privately relay them to the people involved. That motion passed.
The 46-year-old women’s centre had 1,483 visits from people in need of its services last year, 207 of whom were children. The centre received and redistributed 4,650 pounds of food as well as 6,767 pounds of clothes.
— With files from Bill Metcalfe