Save Your Scout Camp

What to do before Scouts Canada tries to sell your local Scout Camp

By Scouter Ted Claxton, August 3, 2004

Scouts Canada has started a process to sell many of the Scout camps in Ontario, a legacy that has taken over 95 years to accumulate. In the middle of the summer holiday they have announced that approximately 40% of Scouting’s Real property assets are on the block. A short appeal period has been foisted on the unsuspecting. A national firm has been retained and will receive a handsome commission to flog this property. If there is an actual need to sell there are local firms available and a significant number with Scouting members who would take a special interest in obtaining the best price and charging the lowest commissions.

Scouts Canada's management opines that we cannot afford this property and that it is just a few emotional Scouters who can't grasp the new reality. Contrary to the Scouts Canada party line, the fact is that these Scouting properties are an important cornerstone of the Scouting program. They permit Scouters to take youth to areas where they can do Scouting without the constraints imposed by private, provincial and national parks. These camps form a network that Scouts can use year round. If we cannot afford to upgrade water systems then Scouts can bring their own water to camp. If buildings are too costly to repair then shut them down or rent them out to other users. The real problem is that Scouts Canada management lacks imagination. They cannot seem to grasp the concept that camps could actually be a source of revenue to support program. They have one solution: sell, sell, sell. The proposition that we cannot afford this property is complete nonsense. No analysis has been presented nor has any study has been put forward setting out other alternatives to sale. Scouts Canada has failed miserably to develop policies that would actually allow Scouting properties to be used for the long term financial benefit of Scouting.

By what authority are they forcing the sale of property? Scouts Canada is pretending that if owns outright all of the property held in its name. The fact of the matter is that Scouts Canada, in its own right, owns only the National Headquarters and perhaps some few other pieces of property. In the 1980s Scouts Canada directed Scouting organizations to transfer the legal title of property to the various provincial corporations. Those corporations are essentially holding companies that have no purpose other than holding the legal title to Scouting property. In many, if not most, cases, Scouts Canada's Provincial Corporations hold the real estate as a Bare Trustee for the benefit of a named local group or council.

All real estate has two forms of ownership, Legal Ownership and Beneficial Ownership. Where property is held in Trust it is held in the Legal Name of one party for the Benefit of another party. A Bare Trustee is a party that holds property only as a legal entity without any right to control or manage the property. The only duty of such trustee is to protect the interest of the beneficial owner. This is the case for a substantial amount of the property technically held in the name of Scouts Canada.

With some exceptions, property cannot legally be sold by a Bare Trustee without the agreement of the Beneficial Owner. Scouts Canada may try to do so without this agreement. Scouters must be ready with the knowledge and legal resources if they wish to fight back to keep the property.

Local groups and interested Scouters must take a stand to halt any clear breach of the trust or fiduciary obligations imposed on Scouts Canada by the legal documents that govern the actual ownership and control of these properties.

What to do

Since, Scouts Canada may not have the legal authority to sell the property without consent you must Be Prepared if you want to challenge the sale. This article will help you be prepared to do so.

Step Number One: Get a copy of the deed. To do this you should approach a local title searching firm at the Land Registry or Land Titles Office in the municipality where the property is located. If you know the legal description this will help the title searcher find the deed to the Scouting property. You can usually obtain the legal description from the office of the municipality (city, town, or township) in which the property is located. The fee that a title searcher will charge for conducting a search will vary from between $25 to $100 plus the GST. In addition there will be government fees for making the documents available, usually a nominal charge of between $2 and $5.

Step Number Two: Read the Deed. Once you have the deed you will have to find out how the ownership is described in the title to the property. If it says "Scouts Canada (Provincial Corporation) in trust for" or "Scouts Canada for the benefit of" then it is a Trust Deed. Scouts Canada ordinarily cannot sell trust property without the consent of the Beneficiary. If they try to sell the property without the consent of the persons or organizations who are the Beneficial Owners a complaint can be made to the Public Trustee. If the Public Trustee office is not willing to assist it will likely be necessary to retain a lawyer to bring an application for injunction to stop the sale of the property. This may be an expensive proposition so you will have to get organized and have the appropriate resources on hand.

The Beneficial Owners of many Scouting properties were the local District Councils. Scouts Canada seems to believe that, by having abolished those District Councils, they have become the Beneficial Owner as well as the Legal Owner and therefore have full control over the Scouting Property. In some cases this may be true but in many cases the deeds have a power of appointment that provides for the District Council's representatives to direct that a new deed be made to name as the new Beneficial Owner such as a Group in that Council or may name another Council. Abolishing the District Councils did not automatically turn the property over to the next higher Council nor to the Provincial Corporation nor to the National Council. The cy-pres doctrine will likely apply. This means that the property would belong to the nearest equivalent of the District, namely the Area in which that former District existed. Water does not flow up hill and neither does the ownership of property. The Groups that remain in a now defunct District are, either collectively or by power of appointment of a specified group, likely to be entitled to become the Beneficial Owner of the property and therefore have effective control of any dealing with that property. Also keep in mind that the BP&P of Scouts Canada provides that vested interests and obligations are not affected by any change in the By-Laws. The passing of By-Law No. 2 does not affect any ownership interest that was previously in existence.

In order to do anything it will be necessary for you to get together with other local Scouters and to take action. You must obtain the facts, obtain copies of the deeds, and prepare a history of who has managed and paid for the local property. Be sure to have legal advice on hand so that, if absolutely necessary, you can challenge the disposition in the courts. In the meantime protest to your Area and Council Commissioner, organize your local Scouting community and your local community at large to oppose any disposition of local assets without local concurrence. Complain to the Public Trustee's office if your local Scouting property is threatened, particularly if your local property is held in Trust. Scouts Canada, as an organization with charitable status may also be able to be held accountable under the Charities Accounting Act in Ontario or similar statutes in other Provinces.

We must stand together now to prevent a folly that will rob future Scouting generations of the opportunity for real outdoor experiences. These properties are all local nature reserves. Our Scouts Canada management is talking out of both sides of their mouths when they speak of the environmental emphasis in Scouting and then propose to dispose of our environmental resources.

Follow the Scout Motto! Be Prepared.

Join SCOUT eh!

SCOUT eh! is a group of Scouts Canada members dedicated to turning Scouts Canada into a democratic organization and to local stewardship of Scouting's properties and resources. Joining SCOUT eh! is free and adds your voice to the call for change.

(Update of February 1, 2004 version.)