Saskatchewan Court Brings Peace to Turbulent Waters

In Tkachuk (Litigation Guardian of) v. Bridge City Cosmo Aqualene Synchronized Swimming Club Inc. (decided 1998), Justice Rothery of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench upheld the decision of an aquatic swim club that refused to accept an annual membership renewal of a troublesome member.

1. Facts

Laura Tkachuk was a member of the Bridge City Cosmo Aqualene Synchronized Swimming Club Inc., a non-profit corporation formed under the Saskatchewan Non-profit Corporations Act, 1995. She had been a member for three years. However, her application for renewal of her membership for the 1997-1998 year was rejected by the swim club. She was 12 years old at the time.

There were several reasons why the board of the swim club refused her renewal, which included:

● She had to be disciplined for holding smaller swimmers under water and for verbally abusing her teammates.

● Her mother had engaged in numerous unpleasant encounters with other parents, members and staff, including incidents of verbal harassment, relentless telephone contact and innumerable complaints. She had been warned, but the disruptive behavior continued.

● Parents and coaches indicated that they would no longer associate themselves with the swim club if the Tkachuk membership was renewed.

● Enough people expressed their dissatisfaction with the mother's behavior that the board realized that if the Tkachuk membership was renewed for the current year, the club's future would be jeopardized.

Laura (through her father as litigation guardian) applied to court to set aside the board's decision.

2. Rulings

Justice Rothery drew a critical distinction between termination of a membership under the power to discipline members and non-renewal of an annual membership. Laura was not a member when the board declined to renew her membership and the board is not required to hold a hearing when a membership is for a fixed term and the term of the membership expires by effuxion of time.

Further, the by-laws of the club left it for the board, in its discretion, to determine who may be a member and whose membership could be renewed. There was, therefore, no basis upon which Laura could bring an application to require the board to provide her with a fair hearing.

3. Key Observations

The primary importance of Tkachuk is the critical distinction it makes between the termination of a membership under the power to discipline (which engages the requirement of a fair hearing) and the termination of a membership by the expiration of its term (where the decision to renew or not lies in the discretion of the board and does not require a hearing). By similar reasoning, the decision of whether to accept an initial application for membership is also an exercise of board discretion and does not call for a hearing.

That the board had compelling reasons for not accepting the renewal of Laura's membership (including the safety of the younger swimmers and the potential collapse of the club if enough parents and coaches went elsewhere) buttressed the board's decision.

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