North Shore Rescue sues Victoria-based organization over “misleading” calls to solicit funds

It’s something that has left Victoria’s Glen Redden shocked and dumbfounded.

It’s something that has left Victoria’s Glen Redden shocked and dumbfounded.

Last week, the North Shore Rescue Team Society (NSR), a volunteer-run organization based in Vancouver, launched a lawsuit against the Victoria-based Search and Rescue Society of British Columbia (SARBC), which Redden is the vice president of. The lawsuit claims SARBC misrepresented itself during its telephone fundraising campaign in order to solicit donations.

Greg Heywood, lawyer for NSR, said this year the rescue team has received several complaints from people in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the province who have received “aggressive” phone calls from someone claiming to be from the organization, demanding donations.

“Our concern is that this organization, which has existed for a number of years, has either created confusion or deliberately misrepresented who they are in order to raise funds it doesn’t say for example that 25 to 30 per cent of your donation goes to the people who are calling you,” said Heywood, adding NSR does not engage in telephone solicitations.

“Given the volume of complaints we received this year, we decided to do something about it.”

According to Heywood, who has spoken with roughly 30 people who have received “aggressive” calls, the caller asks for a donation and if there’s reluctance, they’ll say things such as “these people are risking their lives for you,” among other things. Some callers have even claimed they’re from North Shore Rescue, talking specifically about rescues at Grouse and Cypress mountains.

The lawsuit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court, also claims North Shore Rescue has lost its goodwill reputation amongst the public, as a result of the calls.

North Shore Rescue is a member of the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association, which represents 80 search and rescue teams in the province and provides access to funding for training, occupational health and safety support, public eduction and resources. The lawsuit claims SARBC is not a part of the association.

However, Redden, who has been with SARBC for the past 20 years, was “shocked” and “dumbfounded” by the allegations, which he said are completely false. He said most of SARBC’s work, which is 100 per cent run by volunteers, comes after other search and rescue teams have called off their search for a missing person.

“Once it looks like the search isn’t going to be successful in terms of finding a person alive, then in general the search is wound up. In that case, the families can reach out to us and because we’re non-government, we can go and search on behalf of the family,” Redden said, adding past search and rescue missions have been successful, but was unable to talk specifically about organizations that enlisted their services due to privacy issues.

“The likelihood of us coming out with a successful outcome are small, but it can help to find closure . . . we prefer to go in quietly and not upset the local team.”

Redden noted SARBC, which was founded in 1983, and its 25 active members are more than just searchers. The organization also offers multiple search and rescue programs, provides knowledge and resources such as thermal imaging and underwater search gear, and operates an urban search and rescue team in the case of a structural collapse or earthquake.

In addition, SARBC is the provincial coordinator and training agency for Project Lifesaver, a radio tracking device for at-risk wanderers, such as people with autism, down-syndrome, dementia and brain injury, which currently has 40 active people in the program in Victoria.

Geoff Sing, manager of the Cridge Brain Injury Services, said SARBC has provided a “valued” service in the community. There are three people at brain injury services who currently wear the radio tracking device. Over the past few years, Sing has called SARBC eight to 10 times to help find people who have wandered away from the facility in Saanich.

As to the “aggressive” calls, Redden said SARBC conducts two fundraising campaigns throughout the year, including a telephone campaign, which is contracted out to a third-party to solicit donations. The party is given a specific script to follow when making calls to people in Greater Victoria and Vancouver, which states they are from SARBC. Redden has since pulled the transcripts of the calls in question, adding the funds raised are used to purchase new equipment, and maintain its operations on Burnside Road West, which includes the upkeep of its five vehicles and two boats.

“The fact that we’re getting sued is disheartening. The whole purpose of search and rescue, I thought, was so that others may live.”

Heywood believes SARBC has bilked roughly $1 million from residents over the past five years donations he said have been diverted from other accredited search and rescue teams in the province.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Redden plans on filing a response to the lawsuit soon.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com