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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The "takeover" at the London and Middlesex Humane Society

In today's London Free Press, Joe Belanger wrote about his concern about a takeover by activists at the London and Middlesex Humane Society.

I do wonder where this notion of a takeover came from? Who would be in the potential takeover group? The "activists" I am aware of (a half dozen or so) are mainly local animal rescuers who foster, spay and neuter and re-home abused, neglected and abandoned pets. Some of them are also advocates for the humane treatment of animals. Few, if any, would condone some of the radical tactics of PETA, although they may share that organization's concerns about the exploitation of animals in research, agri-business and entertainment. Not exactly "dangerous" people plotting a takeover.

Then there are the 1200 people who, like myself, pay their membership dues every year, make donations, volunteer their services, participate in fundraising activities and sometimes attend the annual general meeting where they can participate in selecting a Board of Directors, get an update on the past years activities, debate priorities for the coming year. Surely, not all of us are subversives, contemplating a takeover. Yet save two life members, we were all dropped from the membership list.

My cheque, sent at the end of December, was cashed as usual. I got a receipt. But then I saw an item on A-channel last week about 1200 people losing their memberships. So I called the Humane Society. When I enquired about the status of my membership this week, I was told that my usual end of the year donation no longer qualified me to re-new my membership. I was informed that I would have to download an application form from the web and re-apply. The reason for not re-newing my membership in the first place, I was told, was because not everyone wanted to be members so this was a new rule brought in by the board. Whether I would be accepted or rejected would depend on how I responded to a series of questions about other groups or activities I had been involved in and getting two acceptable references. In any case, I would not be eligible to meet the deadline for the privilege of attending the annual general meeting where a decision would be made on adopting a new by-law which would get rid of voting members entirely.

I checked with my next door neighbour, an eighty-year old woman, who has been a member for years. A retired nurse working with crippled children, she has never engaged in anything more activist or political than voting in elections and a few times having a sign on her front lawn. She has never attended a meeting of the society, gone to a rally or a protest, written a letter to the editor. Is this the profile of a subversive? Yet, she has been expunged from the membership list.

There is a siege mentality at the Humane Society. I don't know where it came from, I don't know how it will end. But I have serious concerns about the motives of those who would engage in such undemocratic tactics.

I recall a few years ago about how outraged Joe Belanger was that environmentalists were cut off from debate at a public participation meeting on drive throughs. He was right and I spoke out against it at the time. I will speak out against this as well.

Unfortunately, neither Joe nor I will know how this will be resolved. When the AGM is held on April 26, we will not be allowed to attend to witness the outcome. That decision will be made by the 112 new members recently recruited by those remaining board members whose membership applications have not been rejected by the executive director. Some of these new recruits live as far away as Richmond Hill, Orangeville and Belleville. They may not be able to attend the meeting but, no problem, there is a second "new rule" which allows proxy voting. How convenient. How undemocratic.

Joe Belanger writes that "one would hope that such an organization would be run in a manner that reflects the average Joe's expectation...." But how can it when the average Joe, people like my next door neighbour, no longer have a voice?

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