The embattled president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association has grudgingly quit, saying the controversy surrounding him for weeks has taken a toll on his family.
East Kelowna grower Kirpal Boparai submitted his resignation during an executive meeting on Monday and announced he will not run for re-election at the 125th annual convention on Jan. 19 in Penticton.
Under association bylaws, vice-president Jeet Dukhia of Vernon will take over as president, said BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas, adding the seven other members on the executive were "sad it came to this stage."
BCFGA directors decided to leave the vice-president position unfilled until members elect a new VP at the convention.
Boparai, who told The Daily Courier weeks ago to stop calling him, explained his decision in a news
"I came to make change. Sometimes, my aggressive approach was not popular but it needed to be done. This has taken a toll on me and more importantly, my family, as I became a target. The personal damage has been done," he said.
However, he saved some of his stronger comments for a CBC radio interview Tuesday in which he accused his critics of discrimination against Indo-Canadians.
Boparai told the public broadcaster that he had accomplished his goals and wanted to spend more time with his family, notably his two sons.
Meanwhile, Dukhia, who worked closely with Boparai, had an eye to the future. He vowed to
restore good communication and said he plans to run for president in January.
"I hope to stabilize the association after a period of turbulence and uncertainty in the industry. I will work closely with the executive of our association and the directors of the other organizations," he said in a news release.
Kelowna grower Fred Steele, who lost to Boparai at the 2012 convention and plans to run again for president, said he's relieved by the resignation.
"There's no happiness in this," he said. "We have a lot of work to do to come together and do good for the overall industry. I think we have to go with experience in the election, settle all this down and begin to heal. We get one shot now to prove ourselves."
Boparai's problems came to light after the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-op board met Sept. 27. The 10 members, all growers, voted unanimously to cancel all of Boparai's fruit contracts and his co-op membership "due to a breach of terms within the (apple) contract" - selling his fruit elsewhere.
After they banned him from co-op property, Boparai showed up at the Sexsmith Road packinghouse and staff asked him to leave. He went to the downtown packinghouse, was asked to leave and police were called. Boparai told a camera crew he was standing on the public sidewalk and was not trespassing, and left without incident.
The Daily Courier later learned of allegations dating back to 2010 that Boparai harassed and threatened co-op employees, managers and directors. RCMP investigated but to date, no charges have been laid and the allegations are unproven in court.
Boparai's response to two co-op letters warning about his behaviour: "I wiped my butt with it because I don't think they were worth keeping."
On Oct. 23, a majority of the 200-300 co-op and BCFGA members at the co-op AGM approved a resolution asking the co-op board to issue an unprecedented ultimatum to the BCFGA: fire your president
or the co-op would withhold funds collected for the association.
Two weeks later, the Consulate General of Mexico in Vancouver confirmed to The Daily Courier it
received a complaint from two Mexican farm
labourers who worked for Boparai for four months that they were not paid in full. The complaint was forwarded to the provincial Employment Standards branch for investigation and resolution.
Shortly after, Sterile Insect Release program officials said they tried to work with Boparai for the past two seasons on a serious codling moth infestation on Senger Road orchards he owns or leases but he wouldn't talk to them and wouldn't respond to emails.
Boparai showed up at the first of four BCFGA regional meetings on Nov. 14 but left before the Oliver meeting started. The president's report was presented by Dukhia.
Neither Bopari nor Dukhia attended the Penticton meeting on Nov. 15 so another BCFGA director presented the president's report.
Both attended the Kelowna meeting on Nov. 28 and Vernon meeting on Nov. 29, and Boparai presented his report. However, an Ellison grower stood up at the Kelowna meeting and said Boparai was "a total embarrassment" and suggested he resign.
Turning to other growers there, she added she was also disappointed they simply sat there and said nothing.