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Last week, Bill 58: Freedom to Care Act was introduced in the Alberta legislature and is currently at second reading.

The Act recognizes the vital role of volunteers and non-profits in the community. The government’s goal with the legislation is to remove regulatory barriers faced by organizations by allowing for “one-time exemptions from regulations, if an exemption does not already exist.”

It also aims to remove barriers faced by volunteers afraid of personal liability by enacting new liability protections for volunteers who act within the scope of their volunteer responsibilities.

Regulatory Barriers

The Act allows non-profits to make a request to the Minister for an exemption from a specific regulation, for a specific and limited time and for a specific charitable purpose. The Lieutenant Governor in Council may exempt a non-profit from any regulations made under any other Act (except those that apply only to non-profits).

The idea is that non-profits are often subject to regulations that are developed with for-profit businesses in mind. Because of this, regulations sometimes just don’t fit with how non-profits work and can inhibit good works from benefiting the community.

In debate, the Minister provided a real-life example of the situation this Bill is meant to address. During a cold snap, a congregation invited the homeless community into its church building, but because there was no exemption to allow for overnight stays of this sort, they had to create an all-night café so those in need could stay in the warmth of the church.

Volunteer Liability

The Act limits claims for damage based on an act or omission of a volunteer. It would protect volunteers from liability if the volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities and was properly licensed, certified or authorized for those activities.

The protection does not apply if the damage was caused:

  • by wilful, reckless or criminal misconduct or gross negligence
  • while the volunteer was driving a vehicle
  • by an act or omission that is an offence
  • while the volunteer was unlawfully using or impaired by alcohol or drugs

The protection is for the volunteer only – it does not impact the organization’s liability. In the event that damages are awarded against or paid by an organization because of a volunteer, and the volunteer is protected under this act, the organization cannot recover those damages from the volunteer.

Implementation

To support the Act, the government plans to create a centralized website that lists all of the existing regulatory exemptions. There are many, but they are often difficult to find. The idea here is to increase awareness of existing exemptions. The website would also have a form to apply for the one-time exemptions allowed in the Act. These exemption applications will be reviewed to determine if any should be added as a permanent exemption.

The Bill does not provide a specific time-frame on how long approvals might take, or whether a charity could apply for the same exemption at a later time.

If passed, Bill 58 would take effect on September 1, 2021. The government encourages non-profits to call 310-0000 for general inquiries about existing exemptions.

Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.

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