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Canada Full Court Judgment Against Ross Gurdwara Committee Released


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Ross Street executive’s refusal to work with Sikh Youth Vancouver led to otherwise avoidable litigation: “I am satisfied that if the requests made of the executive had been followed, this litigation could have been avoided,” Justice Paul Walker writes.

VANCOUVER – In a strongly-worded, written judgment issued this week by Justice Paul Walker in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the current administration responsible for overseeing the membership and election process at Ross Street Gurdwara were unceremoniously stripped of their right to run the affairs of Khalsa Diwan Society beyond, “…the ordinary course of business…” and further condemned for “… the very recent and blatant activity of certain members of the executive in accepting clearly non-compliant membership forms…”

“I believe that no right-thinking member of the Society would have any confidence in the validity of the membership documents. I can say that I do not,” Justice Walker stated emphatically.

This week’s written judgment follows Justice Walker’s August 30th oral decision rendered in favor of modernist Sikh Youth Vancouver Petitioners seeking a fair a transparent election process. Sikh Youth Vancouver has been working to modernize Khalsa Diwan Society in a bid to attract youth involvement at the Ross Street Gurdwara; the current traditionalist executive has been resistant to such efforts, including opposition to developing stronger online outreach to attract 21st century youth to the oldest Sikh society in North America.

Justice Walker expressed that litigation could have been avoided altogether, and in his written decision, excerpted Sikh Youth Vancouver’s correspondence to the Ross Street executive, seeking mutual resolution to the membership issue on no fewer than three occasions. In his decision, the following excerpt from Sikh Youth Vancouver’s April 7, 2010 letter clearly explained the group’s repeated efforts to find a fair solution without engaging the courts:

“We are writing this letter to formally request your kind assistance with finding definitive, mutual resolution to the ongoing lack of access to membership forms for new applicants seeking membership to the Society.

As you know, this is our third such request to the Executive, the most recent voiced at our meeting with you on March 1, 2010. During this meeting, you will recall that the Society’s attorney … demanded that we present legal arguments in support of our request to provide all Sangat-applicants with free and fair access to membership forms. We are writing to you, not to present legal arguments, but rather, in the spirit of engaging in open dialogue to mutually resolve an issue which is causing undue hardship to Sangat members seeking membership to the Society.”

In reading the judgment, it is further evident that Sikh Youth Vancouver Petitioners sought legal recourse as a consequence of the current executive’s insistence on demanding the presentation of legal arguments. In one instance, the Judge categorizes the Society’s Senior Vice President, Kesar Bhatti’s reply to questions as, “perfunctory”, and notably, the judgment is preceded with reference to the Society’s history of dragging election matters to the courts.

Justice Walker explains: “This is the third time since 2000 that members of the Society have been before the Court to deal with election and membership form issues. In light of that history, given the executive’s outright rejection of the petitioners’ request for a transparent process, and due to the very recent and blatant activity of certain members of the executive in accepting clearly non-compliant membership forms, I believe that no right-thinking member of the Society would have any confidence in the validity of the membership documents. I can say that I do not.”

“Moreover, I am satisfied that if the requests made of the executive had been followed, this litigation would have been avoided.”

In his decision, rendering clear judgment in favor of Sikh Youth Vancouver Petitioners, Justice Walker expressed concern that the current executive at the Ross Street Gurdwara engaged in practices to accept “non-compliant” forms for membership, and blatantly continued this practice even until only days before the court hearing. Equally remarkable, despite the administration’s assertions that all membership applications had been disclosed to Sikh Youth Vancouver, an additional 1,200 forms were produced by the Society’s attorneys at the very last moment, on the opening day of the court hearing.

Justice Walker explained in his judgment: “During the course of the first day of the hearing of the petition, counsel for the respondents advised the petitioner and the Court that there existed some 1,200 membership forms beyond those that the petitioners were aware of at the start of the hearing, bringing the total number of membership forms available for examination to some 6,800. The petitioners then reviewed as many of those 1,200 forms as they could, overnight before the hearing resumed on the second day. When the hearing resumed on the second day, I was shown additional membership forms that were non-compliant in respects beyond those the petitioners were aware of at the start of the hearing.

It is troubling that some of the non-compliant membership forms were accepted by certain members of the executive in the spring of this year after the dispute between the parties was fully engaged and after the litigation had commenced.

It is particularly disturbing to see, following disclosure of the 1,200 additional membership forms on the first day of the hearing, that some are, on their face, clearly non-compliant because they do not contain the signature of the applicant. Those forms have been accepted and signed by certain members of the executive even though the bylaws require the signature of the proposed member. That activity was engaged in by certain members of the executive as recently as last week, shortly before the hearing of the petition was to commence.

Recent revelations of additional and substantial numbers of membership forms show that the Society’s executive continues to be actively involved in taking membership forms that are clearly non-compliant. In my opinion, non-compliance is so pervasive that the integrity of the entire membership application process is called into question.”

SYV said it is committed to electing a youth slate in the upcoming Ross Street Gurdwara election in order to help modernize our precious institution and more effectively re-engage Sikh youth in spirituality.

“We believe that grassroots renewal and progressive change are essential to unifying our community and engaging today’s new generation of forward-thinking Sikhs.

“We believe in promoting British Columbia’s rich Sikh history by chronicling and highlighting our Province’s early Sikh pioneers and their contributions to Canada and the Sikh community.

“We are a community service group working to progressively advance and integrate Sikhs into the Canadian mosaic through participation in public service (“seva”) initiatives.”

Important seva projects by SYV members have touched thousands in-need, and include:

• A currently operational in-patient alcohol and drug rehabilitation center;

• Active, ongoing campaigns to feed and clothe Vancouver’s homeless and underprivileged;

• Support services to help women victimized by domestic abuse; and

• The first-of-its-kind program assisting otherwise helpless young women who have fallen prey to fraudulent marriages — a growing social epidemic.

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