The park board is declining comment on a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon by six of the city’s community centre associations.
In the 45-page document outlining the suit, the associations accuse the park board of breaching numerous sections of the current joint operating agreement while also limiting their ability to raise money now and in the future. The six associations involved in the lawsuit are Hillcrest, Killarney, Hastings, Kerrisdale, Sunset and Kensington.
Jesse Johl, president of the Hillcrest Community Centre Association, said the recent introduction of the “universal” OneCard “broke the camel’s back.”
The system-wide membership card, introduced by the park board in June, was immediately accepted at seven community centres as well as the city’s rinks, pools and gyms. The plan was that if the proposed joint-operating agreement between all of the associations and the park board was ratified by September, the OneCard would be universally accepted at 22 community centres. The six community centres are concerned that the OneCard eliminates the need for community centre association memberships. According to the provincial Society’s Act, the associations must have a membership list to qualify as a non-profit society. The associations say non-profit status is vital to their ability in obtaining government funding or grants.
With that September deadline looming and no sign of ratification in sight, the six community centre associations have continued to charge membership fees over and above the cost of a OneCard, which replaces the park board’s Flexipass.
But the park board made it clear in an Aug. 20 letter to Johl that ratification or not, the OneCard will be accepted at all community centres starting in September.
In the letter Thomas Soulliere, director of recreation for the park board, wrote in part that forcing people to purchase a separate membership, “does not align with the principle of ‘universal access,’ which the park board has consistently affirmed as a key priority for the operation of community centres.”
Soulliere continued, “It is the park board’s clear intention to remove these mandatory membership fees in order to improve access for all residents, regardless of income, to programs offered in public recreation facilities… Those CCA’s who have not aligned with the interim agreement and continue to charge a membership fee for access to programs will be the subject of further discussion at the park board.”
Ainslie Kwan, president of the Killarney Community Centre Association, said the letter is proof the park board’s intention all along was to dissolve the associations.
“Basically we were told that if we don’t get on board there will be discussions about our future,” said Kwon. “We are concerned we’ll be removed. I’m deeply saddened that these volunteer groups have had to go so far as to launch a lawsuit against the park board.”
Kwan added while the OneCard was the final action from the park board that forced their hand, there are other issues at stake.
“The OneCard is part of the lawsuit, but it’s just one piece of the problem,” said Kwan.
On Wednesday morning, a park ranger was called to Hillcrest Community Centre to assist staff concerned about dealing with an irate public upset about being charged a membership fee on top of the cost to purchase a OneCard.
“Now the park board is bringing in park rangers to protect us from ourselves,” said Johl. “It’s the park board that’s created this dangerous situation.”
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