Court Had No Jurisdiction to Consider Hockey Players’ Claim
Jan 2022 Charity & NFP Law Update
Published on January 27 2022

By Esther S.J. Oh
   
 

A voluntary association of hockey players and their family members (the “Applicants”) had their claim dismissed after the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench applied the principles recently articulated in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada St Mary Cathedral v Aga (“Aga”). In Chinook Park-Kelvin Grove-Eagle Ridge Community Association v Minor Hockey Association of Calgary, decided July 14, 2021, the court was required to determine whether it had jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by the Applicants. In order to have jurisdiction, the Applicants needed to demonstrate that they had an underlying legal right upon which they could ground their claim. Ultimately, the Applicants’ claim was dismissed as the court found there was no legal right in question and that therefore the court did not have jurisdiction to grant any relief.

The dispute in the matter arose after the Minor Hockey Association of Calgary (“Hockey Calgary”) proposed to redraw the boundaries of certain of its members associations resulting in the relocation of certain families from one member association within Hockey Calgary to another. The Applicant, Chinook Park-Kelvin Grove-Eagle Ridge Community Association (“CKE”), was an association of families who opposed their relocation to a different hockey member association. CKE itself was not a member association of Hockey Calgary. Rather, many of the people in CKE were members of Glenlake Minor Hockey Association (a member association of Hockey Calgary), and they did not want to become members of Southwest Hockey Association (another member association of Hockey Calgary) as a result of the new boundaries being proposed.

However, in late April 2020, the board of Hockey Calgary approved the boundary changes and in June 2020 at the annual general meeting, the resolution to change the boundaries passed. The Applicant challenged this decision on several grounds including that the relocation was made in breach of Hockey Calgary’s contractual relationship with its members.

In considering the Applicant’s argument, the court engaged in a substantive analysis of Aga and considered how it applied to the facts of the matter. The court cited the legal test from para 31 of Aga that in determining whether a court has jurisdiction in cases involving a voluntary association “[t]he question to be answered in a given case is not whether the voluntary association exercises legal rights in general, but whether the particular relief sought by the plaintiff is the vindication of the legal right”. The court also noted that membership is not automatically contractual. Rather, voluntary associations must first demonstrate that there was an objective intention to create legal relations.

The court noted that the Court in Aga “…urged caution in assuming the existence of a contract based on a constitution, bylaws, and the existence of a governing body to apply rules”. The court also noted that “the fact that all of Hockey Calgary players agree to be bound by a common set of rules does not evidence in this instance an underlying objective intention to create legal relations”. While the court sympathized with the Applicants’ disappointment about the redrawn boundaries, it concluded that “disappointment, inconvenience and even modest disruption to some community residents does not create legal rights to be vindicated by a court”.

As the law regarding voluntary associations continues to develop in the wake of Aga, charities and not-for-profits would be prudent to determine whether circumstances in their governance and operations might give rise to legal relationships which could be legally enforced in court. The facts in this particular case affirm previous case law principles that something more than a common set of rules and modest disruption is needed in order for the courts to find that they have jurisdiction to intervene in a voluntary association’s affairs.

   
 

Read the January 2022 Charity & NFP Law Update