10/06/2015 05:24 EDT | Updated 10/05/2016 05:12 EDT

Manitoba club goes to court after dispute over allowing women to join

A private society is heading to court hoping to settle an internal dispute over its decision to allow women to join its ranks.

The board for the St. Andrew's Society (SAS) of Winnipeg — the oldest continuously active Scottish society in Western Canada — approved four applications from women in early September. Up until then, the 145-year-old society of about 300 members had been only men of Scottish descent.

The decision to let women in was made at the society's annual general meeting in November 2014 — a decision not everyone was on board with.

"The minority dissident group has, since that time and continuing to the present, in maintaining their opposition to that decision, attempted to subvert the objectives and derail the activities of the society," the SAS said in a statement Monday.

James Christie, who sits on the society's board, said the rift has been in part allowed to persist based on differing interpretations of an old bylaw.

"[It] suggests that past presidents of the organization have a right of veto — not only over decisions made by the board of managers in the period between AGMs, but have the ultimate right of approval or refusal of decisions made even by the full membership of the society," said Christie.

'Self-perceived wisdom'

Christie maintains that it is a small group of past presidents and a few others who consistently raise the issue for debate at meetings.

"Past presidents, by dint of their experience and at least self-perceived wisdom, have the authority to overturn decisions made by the society and simply put that's not acceptable to us."

Christie said they have repeatedly attempted to work through the disagreement "in good faith," to no avail.

"Frankly the contention continues and has begun to disrupt the capacity of the society to work towards its principle objectives, which is the preservation and promotion of Scottish culture and heritage in Manitoba," he said.

"We are convinced that this very, very small group of dissident members simply does not wish to move into the 21st century and ensure that 'persons' means 'women,' as well as men of Scottish descent and Scottish sympathy."

Not all, but most of the dissident members are "very advanced in years," Christie said, adding "the view that they hold of women in Canadian society is dead and should be dead."

Men's only dinner

The society is scheduled to hold its 145h Annual St. Andrew's Day Dinner in the near future, which is it's "chief fundraising event." It will be open to everyone interested in the preservation of Scottish culture. But even it has become vulnerable to in-group fighting.

The society's rebels have planned a separate, men's only event  to compete with the fundraiser. 

Christie said it has become clear the issue isn't going to be resolved internally. That understanding is what prompted the move to take things to court.

The bylaws as they're written could lead to future disputes of a similar sort, so out of fear that the group's objectives "continue to be hijacked," Christie and others felt the need to seek a legal ruling.

Four more women are expected to be inducted next week.

CBC News tried contacting two past presidents of the society in David M. Kilgour and Don Comack. Kilgour refused to comment on the current inner turmoil, but said he voted in favour of allowing women in to the club in November 2014.

Comack was not reachable, but Kilgour told CBC that he spoke with him and that he's declining to comment on the matter. 

​Society facts:

- Founding president was Donald A. Smith, later the Rt. Hon. the Lord Strathcona, and the second president was Andrew G.B. Bannatyne, one of Winnipeg's most prominent citizens.

- The society's primary purposes are the promotion and preservation of Scottish culture and tradition for the people of Manitoba and the promotion of public understanding of the Scots' role in the origins and development of the province.

- The society and its members and supporters regularly support other Scottish heritage and cultural organizations and were primarily responsible for the installation of The Scots Monument on Waterfront Drive in Fort Douglas Park, and the Settlers' Statue on Waterfront Drive at the foot of Bannatyne Avenue.