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‘Increasingly centralized approach’ leads Haida Gwaii SPCA council members to resign

Former BC SPCA members say proposals currently under consultation do not favour small communities
Kittens surrendered to the Gwaii Animal Helpline are pictured in this submitted photo. (Leila Riddall/Submitted photo)

Residents are staying tuned to find out more about the future of animal well-being on the island following the recent decision made by former Haida Gwaii SPCA Community Council members to resign.

On June 6, Anna Maria Husband announced on social media that she and four other former volunteers had made the “very difficult, but necessary decision” to resign from the community council and as members of the BC SPCA.

“Our joint decision is based on experiencing the BC SPCA’s increasingly centralized management approach. This approach does not favour small communities such as those on Haida Gwaii,” Husband wrote.

“It is important that donations intended to help Haida Gwaii animals stay on Haida Gwaii. Thus, we encourage everyone who wants to help local animals in need to support the Animal Helpline and the Haida Gwaii Animal Hospital Emergency Fund.”

On June 9 the Gwaii Animal Helpline, formerly the Masset Animal Helpline, also took to social media to say north and south island animal well-being workers had met the previous day, and to “stay tuned for new developments.”

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Husband, who started volunteering on the local community council around 2012, told the Observer the joint resignation was prompted by a BC SPCA governance review that is still underway.

According to BC SPCA executive director Craig Daniell, the review started in June 2019 and focuses on two main proposals currently under consultation.

Daniell said one of the proposals made by a governance expert is to “slightly decrease” the size of the BC SPCA board of directors, which at present has up to 16 volunteer members elected by community councils across the province.

The other is to allow all members of the BC SPCA to vote and elect a regional representative to the board of directors, rather than only allowing community councils to vote members onto the board.

“We actually want to broaden our governance. Right now a very small number of people actually vote for our board,” Daniell said. “We think it’s far more democratic if every person who is a member of the organization be given an opportunity to actually vote for the board.”

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But Husband believes the proposals would not work in favour of less-populated areas, including the relatively small and remote local branch.

“We’ve always struggled to get support for our branch and it was quite clear … that we were going to get less and less support,” she said, citing seldom visits from SPCA special provincial constables to the island. “We want to ensure that funds that people hope to be directed toward helping animals stay on Haida Gwaii.”

Daniell said he respects the opinion of the former community council members, but there are other councils across the province that seem to be in favour of the proposals.

“Members of the Haida Gwaii Community Council appear to be opposed to those changes and that’s their right, but at the same time there are others that have a different opinion than theirs,” he said, adding that the two main proposals under consultation will only be approved if the BC SPCA has the support of the majority of its membership. “At the end of the day the current members of the community councils right across the province and the board together will decide whether these changes get made or not.”

Daniell said the “one member, one vote” consultation will be ongoing for a number of months, with completion expected in October at the earliest.

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Husband told the Observer the former community council members did not wait for the BC SPCA vote because they “saw the writing on the wall,” and reiterated that they will be reallocating their time and effort to the Gwaii Animal Helpline and Haida Gwaii Animal Hospital Emergency Fund.

Their highest priority moving forward will be animal well-being emergencies, such as when there are residents who cannot afford to take care of their animals, or when animals are injured or sick.

Overall, she said they will be working with representatives from local government to improve animal well-being on the island.

With $20,000 in funding from the Vancouver Foundation, for example, former community council member Jen Rutt is coordinating a project with the goal of creating one island-wide set of animal well-being bylaws, hiring someone to implement those bylaws, and having a facility that could house animals that have been surrendered or rescued.

The Village of Masset is the keeper of the funds, which were awarded to pay for project facilitation. Local communities would still need to vote to support the project financially for it to go forward.

There are currently no bylaw officers responsible for animal control on the island. While the Criminal Code gives the RCMP the authority to investigate reports of animal cruelty, Husband said “the RCMP have a lot of other priorities” and it would be beneficial to hire someone to implement animal well-being bylaws locally.

“It’s often a struggle and in the meantime those animals that are in distress remain in distress,” she said, adding there is also a need for a facility to house rescued animals or animals up for adoption on the island.

The BC SPCA does not have a physical location on Haida Gwaii.

Rutt told the Observer she last held a meeting in January 2019 with representatives from local government, but the project has since stalled due to COVID-19.

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Gwaii Animal Helpline volunteer Lorrie Joron told the Observer the organization started in the 70s, does a lot of work around feral cats and other animal well-being issues, and was recently rebranded as an island-wide organization after “hearing the rumblings of the south end.”

“Right now what we’re trying to do is clarify everybody’s roles and determine the needs of the island,” Joron said. “People sense there’s a need, but there’s no real numbers.”

Volunteers have talked about creating an online journal to record animal well-being complaints they receive.

Joron said they hope to release more information soon.

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