A member of the Kelowna Yacht Club is suing the organization for “fostering a culture of fear” that negatively affected the value of his membership.
Marc Whittemore, a local lawyer and prominent member of the club, filed a notice of civil claim Feb. 1 against the club and Don McEachern, the commodore.
The lawsuit shows plenty of infighting behind the scenes about how the club is run, who it’s run for and how members may complain. More specifically, it lays out a specific conflict between Whittemore and McEachern that escalated to a point that Whittemore claims caused him “embarrassment, humiliation and distress.”
Whittemore’s claim indicates he had long been dissatisfied with the way the club had been running and went to a members-only Facebook Page named, ‘the Dirty Burgees… a club,’ to air his grievances.
In a long comment where he brought up everything from the governance model to the path captains take to the board table, Whittemore said the club falls far below the expectations of a social club, pandering too much to non-members.
“Most members seem to have accepted the idea that KYC is a marina—a small parochial boating club and an off-season minor catering business—a far cry from a true year-round club,” he wrote. “It could be so much more with a fabulous vibrant social/dining membership to sustain the house year round.”
The comments made their way to the club’s board, which felt it was worth addressing through formal channels.
McEachern printed and published “falsely and with malice” a reprimand, according to the claim.
In the “reprimand” Whittemore was accused of making slanderous comments about the club and its executive director, contrary to club policy. The letter went on to say the comments were harassing, abusive, demeaning and vexations.
“It is requested that you immediately stop speaking ill of the club, the board or staff via any written means, including social media, unless it is a direct communication to our executive director or the board and retract the comments from all social media platforms,” read a portion of the letter.
Whittemore was also asked to apologize.
In the suit, Whittemore’s lawyer pointed out he was not the only one to complain about the club online, and he was signaled out. In turn, his lawyer formally contacted the club and asked that the letter be withdrawn and that his client get an apology.
He also pointed out that freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps club rules about talking about the club.
A couple of months later, the club’s lawyer said it would remove the letter but no apology was forthcoming.
Whittemore’s suit was filed a few months after that.
It says Whittemore has “suffered embarrassment, humiliation, distress caused by the allegations contained in the reprimand, the prosecution thereof and threats of expulsion or suspension.”
“The plaintiff’s excellent reputation is tarnished by the issuance off the reprimand and allegations contained therein,” says the suit.
It adds: “As a result of the defendant’s high-handed treatment of members, including the plaintiff, who purport to criticize the club or the defendants, the defendant has thereby fostered a culture of fear which has negatively impacted the value of the plaintiffs membership and the plaintiffs use and enjoyment of the club.“