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Distinction Between Termination and Non-Renewal of a Membership

In Trumbley v. Sask. Amateur Hockey Assn. (decided 1986), the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that there is a distinction between the non-renewal of a membership and a termination or suspension of a current member.

1. Facts

Mr. Trumbley had been an assistant coach of a youth hockey team during the 1984-85 hockey season and a member of the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association, a non-profit corporation incorporated under the Saskatchewan Non-Profit Corporations Act (the "Act")

In July 1985, Trumbley acted as assistant coach of a midget hockey team organized to participate in a hockey tournament in Delta, B.C. Before the tournament, the association advised Trumbley that the tournament was unsanctioned and that anyone participating in the tournament would be subject to suspension by the association. Ignoring this warning, Trumbley chose to participate. He gambled that the association would not carry through with the sanction.

In September 1985, the association sent Trumbley a letter stating that he would not be accepted as a member if he applied for the 1985-86 hockey season.

Trumbley filed an appeal of his suspension to an internal appeals committee but then withdrew the appeal. Instead, he brought a legal action against the association, in which he asserted that the discipline provisions of the association's constitution violated the provisions of the Act. His application before the chambers judge succeeded.

However, on appeal by the association, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal found that Trumbley's membership had ceased by the effuxion of time before the association extended the invitation for the internal appeal.

2. Rulings

Justice Sherstobitoff of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal held that there was an important distinction between terminating or suspending an existing membership and not accepting a membership application. The first process is subject to the rules in the Act and in the by-laws of the association. However, these rules are not applicable to the second process, a non-acceptance of an application from a non-member or former member. That the association had made efforts to comply with the rules applicable to terminating or suspending existing members was merely gratuitous. Any failure to comply with these rules was inconsequential.

3. Key Observations

The importance of the Trumbley case is the critical distinction it makes between the termination or suspension of a membership under the power to discipline (which engages the requirement of a fair hearing) and the failure to accept a new or renewal application for membership after the existing membership has expired by the expiration of its term. The association's offer to extend its internal appeals process (otherwise applicable to terminations and suspensions) was gratuitous and did not mean that the association was bound to provide an appeals process.

The board may have had compelling reasons for not accepting the renewal of Trumbley's membership, but that did not enter into the court's analysis.

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