The public face of PHS is all about the services provided to the community, but as with any large organization, there is much that happens behind the scenes to make it run smoothly. PHS is in the process of making a couple of small but important changes to improving our governance.

Recently, we’ve made a minor amendment to the terms of Board membership and we are updating our bylaws to be more plain language.

As the point of the exercise is transparency, it makes sense to outline it here – and take the opportunity to shine a light on the 14 hardworking volunteer Board members who give anywhere between three and 20 hours of their time each month.

Boards of Directors exist very much behind the scenes, working through committees, regular meetings and annual general meetings. Most of us give little thought to the work of the Board outside of AGM season, but the Board is an essential component of how PHS Community Services Society serves the community.

Public companies and nonprofits in Canada are legally required to have a Board, which have mandated responsibilities for ensuring the accountability of the organization.

Vital but overlooked

And although governance Boards are not involved in operations, they play a vital but often overlooked role in setting and maintaining the vision and values of the organizations they oversee.

Any strong organization has a committed and unified board providing strategic direction and big picture thinking.

“As board members, we are here because we have decided that we want to serve the community. We volunteer our time, yet take responsibility for assuring that the organization runs smoothly, and meets expectations. It is a huge job, and it may surprise people to know that it is done by volunteers,” said Governance Committee Chair Dr. Jan Christilaw.

“We all want to give back to our community. We all believe in the mandate of PHS, and that every member of the community is extremely important. And we all believe that harm reduction is central to assuring best results.


“PHS has always had a certain mystique about it. It has a depth to it, a philosophy of daring and of caring, and  it does things that no-one else in the community thinks is possible – things like Insite, which at the time it was founded, the mainstream was against.”

Describing herself as a semi-retired physician, Dr. Jan Christilaw served as President of BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre from 2008 to 2017. She left that role to continue clinical work, and continues as a Clinical Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC and serves internationally as Director of Women’s Health Programming for the Canadian Network for International Surgery. Meanwhile, Dr. Christilaw is working shifts at COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Working as a physician, Dr. Christilaw saw first-hand the improvements in patients’ health after they moved into PHS-managed housing.

Changes to the terms of Board membership were voted through at a recent Special General Meeting. Board members will continue to serve six-year terms as before, but in two sets of three-year terms instead of three two-year blocks.

Smooth running

The reality of two-year terms was that half the board could change in any one year.

“It’s about running things as smoothly as possible, maintaining continuity rather than having disruptive things like losing expertise,” she said.

Updating the bylaws is an ongoing process.

Dr. Christilaw said: “When you think about being on the Board of an exciting, cutting-edge organization like PHS, you tend not to think about re-writing complex bylaws.

“It’s not exciting work, but it’s essential that someone does it, and that the bylaws reflect the modern world. They exist so people can do their jobs without issues, and things run smoothly.

Plain English

“The bylaws are written in legalistic language. We’re writing them in plain English so everyone can understand them, adding modern human rights language, and bringing them up to date.”

Dr. Christilaw is one of two holders of the Order of Canada currently serving the PHS Board; the other being Libby Davies.

PHS has a comparatively large Board. Members of the Board are always keen to talk to people who are interested in the Board, and typically suggest the people begin by volunteering to work on a committee to learn about processes. For information, reach out to