TORONTO — B’nai Brith Canada (BBC) will hold disciplinary hearings on the
proposed expulsions of more than a dozen members – including one who
has been part of the organization for 68 years – for conduct it says is
“unbecoming a member of BBC and contrary to the best interests of our
”Notices were mailed to the members in late November 2007 indicating that an executive committee had determined their membership in the fraternal organization will end, but leaving open an appeal to a disciplinary committee that will convene at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 at BBC’s Toronto office at 15 Hove St.
Some of the members, including Harvey Crestohl, a past BBC president, and Henry Gimpel, past chair of the Toronto regional co-ordinating committee – as well as Lloyd Lindsay and 93-year-old Lou Ronson, the organization’s longest living member – have retained lawyer Rochelle Cantor to represent them.
In the past, they have raised concerns over corporate governance at BBC, which they claim suffered from a lack of transparency and centralized control of decision-making, as well as a failure to make available audited financial statements at several annual general meetings (AGMs) and the purported passage of a new constitution that they contend was defeated by the members at the 2005 AGM.
Most of the members contacted by The CJN indicated they would contest the removal, but one of them, former national president Morley Wolfe, has resigned over BBC’s treatment of Ronson, its longest serving member.
Wolfe said he was disgusted that BBC would move to strip Ronson of his membership, given that he was instrumental in developing its League for Human Rights and was named one of B’nai Brith’s most outstanding 150 volunteers in its history.
In a letter to BBC, Wolfe called the proposed expulsion of Ronson “shameful and intolerable.”
“To commit this distinguished gentleman to the ordeal of expulsion in his 93rd year, while he is still mourning the recent death of his wife, is not only mean-spirited but continues to reflect the lack of respect and concern BBC has for its longest-serving members,” Wolfe wrote.
Crestohl, a lawyer, was scathing in his denunciation of the expulsion attempt, saying it was little more than a bid by BBC’s head office to stifle legitimate concerns. “They want to go after us so they can intimidate the rest into keeping quiet,” he said.
Identical letters sent to Lindsay and Gimpel, signed by Rochelle Wilner, chair of BBC’s disciplinary committee, state the reason for expulsion. She indicated that the committee “has received a complaint regarding your conduct as part of a group calling itself ‘Concerned Members of BBC (CMOBBC).’
“The complaint charges that your conduct is unbecoming a member of BBC and contrary to the best interests of our organization. The remedy sought is an order of expulsion.”
Attached to the letters was a copy of a resolution passed by BBC’s executive committee. The resolution alleges that the CMOBBC circulated documents at the June 11, 2006, annual general meeting (AGM) regarding matters that were before a B’nai Brith International (BBI) court of appeal, which was hearing a case alleging that BBC had improperly adopted the new constitution. The documents, the allegation states, “contained serious and unsubstantiated allegations against the organization and leadership.”
The executive committee further alleges that before and after a ruling was rendered by the appeal court, CMOBBC circulated e-mails that included “defamatory allegations of wrongdoing, both financial and otherwise.”
The executive committee noted that the BBI appeal court issued a gag order “requiring that the parties not discuss this appeal outside this forum.” It also said the conduct of those subject to expulsion has been “harmful to the organization’s best interests and contrary to its mission and the standard of behaviour required of its members.”
Frank Dimant, BBC’s national executive vice-president, said members’ concerns over corporate governance were addressed (on July 20, 2007) by BBI’s court of appeal – a forum chosen by the dissidents. “We do comply with all the necessary items for a corporation, and, quite frankly, I find it strange that members who went through the process of asking BBI court to rule on it” are unhappy with the decision. “It’s the highest court on it. That’s the end of the matter.
“You have literally a handful of people who don’t want to abide by BBI’s court ruling. I don’t know why this is a story. To exploit this story may cause harm to the Jewish community and BBC,” he said.Dimant said BBI’s court specifically issued a gag order and the members subject to discipline appear to have violated it. Although the letters to the members state they are subject to expulsion, Dimant suggested the remedy might fall short of that, though he would not say what other sanctions are available.
Crestohl, a former BBC president, said the executive committee and the disciplinary committee cited in Wilner’s letter were created under a proposed constitution that was defeated by members at the 2005 AGM. As a result, neither of those bodies have any validity, he said.
However, Dimant said BBI’s appeal court disposed of that concern.
The court’s one-paragraph judgement is cited in the executive committee’s decision to expel its members. Part of the decision states: “The amended constitution of BBC was duly passed at a legally constituted meeting of the organization within its governing body’s full jurisdiction. No irregularity in the procedures followed by BBC has been made out that would invoke the jurisdiction of this court.”
In an e-mail response to CJN queries on the controversy within BBC, Dennis Glick, chair of BBI’s executive regarding member issues, said, “This is an internal matter. Due process was followed, and the case is closed.”
Crestohl maintains that “the court apparently decided it was more important to maintain the status quo than render a proper… decision,” while Wolfe, who has practised law for 49 years, said he had never seen a court render a “judgement so sparse” on an issue so important.
The court, Wolfe continued, ignored evidence from those who attended the AGM that the constitution did not pass. It also did not address a motion asking that one member of the court recuse himself because of a perceived conflict of interest.
Ronson, a member of The CJN’s editorial advisory board, said he was in the front row at the 2005 AGM when the new constitution was proposed “and defeated by a wide margin. Two-thirds voted against the proposed constitution.
“What is required is for the lay leadership to get back control of the organization,” he said.
When he received the expulsion notice, Ronson said, “I just laughed. They’re being ridiculous. I’m 93 years old. How much longer am I going to be a member?
“I have a long history with BBC and the Jewish community. No one can damage my reputation. It’s too established,” he added.
Lindsay, a chartered accountant for 43 years, said he has been a vocal critic of constitutional procedures undertaken by BBC, particularly the officers’ failure to provide audited financial statements at AGMs after 2001, contrary to Canadian corporate law and the organization’s own by-laws.
He was also critical of procedures at the 2004 AGM, during which members were asked to approve audited financial statements without the statements being presented to the members. They were never approved.
“You want to talk about dysfunctional corporate governance,” he said.
Gimpel said “there’s a lot of talk among the lodges about what’s going on.”
Gimpel and Crestohl said they were prepared to fight the expulsions in the civil court system.
“I’m not going to take it lying down,” Gimpel said. “I’ve already prepared to send letters to [BBC] donors I know of and explain exactly what is going on.”