Pride Toronto apologizes after an accounting firm it hired found the organization couldn’t prove it completed multiple projects despite receiving $1.85 million in federal grants .
“I can’t apologize enough on behalf of the organization,” Sherwin Modeste, executive director of Pride Toronto, told CBC News on Monday.
KPMG, hired by Pride Toronto in 2021 to review its compliance with agreements for three federal grants, found documentation was lacking. The company reviewed how the organization spent grants awarded in 2018 and 2019, although KPMG says in the review it did not conduct an audit.
The non-profit organization, which organizes a celebration of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community each June, including one of the largest Pride parades in the world, also works “to ensure equal rights and representation of every person of diverse sexual and gender identities”. according to its website.
He received $600,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2019 to curate an exhibition of two-spirited Indigenous artwork and $1 million from Public Safety Canada in 2018 to develop community safety strategies for LGBTQ+ communities. The organization also received $250,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2018 to develop bilingual tools to tell the story of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.
“A key condition of the grants was that Pride Toronto use the funding to deliver certain results and be accountable to funders,” KMPG said. “Pride Toronto could not provide evidence to show that they had achieved many of the proposed deliverables,” the review states.
Pride Apologizes to Indigenous Artists and Communities
In its official response to the review, Pride Toronto apologized specifically to the Indigenous people and two-spirit communities it says it has harmed. Pride Toronto has been accused of using the name of Indigenous artist Kent Monkman to obtain a grant.
“We have asked for the opportunity to consult with them on what might constitute an appropriate and acceptable financial solution for the acts of colonization that our organization has inflicted on them. As we told them, words cannot express how sorry we are” , said Pride Toronto.
KPMG said Pride Toronto had not provided documentation to show that 10 of the 12 activities promised with its Two Spirit Tales grant had actually taken place.
The organization said it also apologizes to individuals and organizations who “wrongly, and without their permission or approval, have made false statements affirming their support for Pride Toronto’s grant applications.”
Modeste said that all staff, board members and volunteers involved in decision-making on the three grants are no longer part of the organization. CBC Toronto could not verify this claim.
He said the findings of the review were disappointing because the checks and balances were not in place, but noted that the financial issues happened before he was hired. He promised more accountability and transparency.
“Having been a community member, I was disappointed to know that Pride as an organization would allow this kind of practice to happen. I was disappointed, but at the same time, I was happy to knowing that now I have the evidence that was presented and the recommendations … coming from KPMG,” he said.
“I am ready and willing to work with the community, board and staff to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”
Modeste added that in January 2022, Pride Toronto canceled its grant with Public Safety Canada and the organization only received $1.2 million in federal grants due to the cancellation.
Pride Toronto said it has hired a grant and fund development manager to ensure the organization transparently distributes and reports on the grants it receives and complies with requirements.
The organization is also committed to providing “enhanced governance” by having its board review and approve all grant applications. When it receives grants, Pride Toronto said its board of directors and finance and audit committee will review financial cash flows, activity reports and timelines.
But Pride Toronto’s review and apology doesn’t go far enough, according to Tom Hooper, a part-time assistant professor in York University’s Department of Equity Studies.
In January, Hooper released an investigative report that he said highlights problems with grant applications and inconsistencies in how the organization reported progress to the federal government. He accused Pride Toronto of “embezzlement”.
“When we look at what was included in the review, it confirms that Pride Toronto has received several federal grants, and those grants have been significantly diverted from their intended purpose,” Hooper said.
The review, however, did not investigate allegations of fraud and forgery in Hooper’s report and it said it was concerning.
“Pride’s deep betrayal of our communities has not been openly and transparently addressed in this review,” Hooper said.
KPMG said it did not investigate the allegations because such matters are beyond what it was hired to do. Hooper said the current board and executive director have not disclosed the truth.
Its report says Pride Toronto submitted unauthorized letters of support on its applications and offered Monkman’s name to raise grant money, even after it withdrew its support for a project and promised benefits to Indigenous peoples who did not come forward. are never materialized.
Hooper said those involved in the grants and current staff at Pride Toronto who he says “covered up” the problem must be held to account.
“We still don’t have any answers,” he said. “What Pride Toronto is hoping to do is get through this so they can get back to their big Pride celebration party in June,” Hooper added.
“We have to stop and we have to deal with it and we have to deal with it now.”