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Pride Toronto repaying over $505K after federal grant controversy

Participants carry a pride flag as they walk in the Toronto Pride Parade, on Sunday June 25, 2023. Pride Toronto, the organization that runs the parade each year, is repaying funding to the federal government after an accounting firm found the organization could not prove that it completed several projects. (Chris Young/Canadian Press - image credit)

Pride Toronto is repaying just over $505,000 in grant funding after an accounting firm found the organization could not prove that it completed several projects despite receiving $1.85 million from the federal government.

In a statement sent to CBC News, Pride Toronto Executive Director Kojo Modeste said the organization is repaying $505,504 total to the federal department of Canadian heritage.

This comes after KPMG, which was hired by the organization in 2021 to review its compliance with agreements for three federal grants, found that documentation was lacking.

Pride "encountered challenges in locating supporting documents for certain expenditures spanning the years 2017 to 2021," Modeste said in the statement.

"It's important to note that since that time, we have implemented significant improvements in our financial practices since the KPMG report to ensure transparency and accountability," Modeste said.

In a statement, Canadian Heritage spokesperson David Larose said the government is "satisfied with Pride Toronto's response to the audit," adding that the organization still owes a balance of $424,780.63.

Modeste, meanwhile, said Pride had paid back slightly more than that, with $100,000 of the $505,504 already paid.

Pride Toronto Executive Director Sherwin Modeste says the organization has made 'significant improvements' in the organization's financial practices to ensure 'transparency and accountability.' (Submitted by Pride Toronto)

'We have learned,' executive director says

At Pride Toronto's annual meeting on Thursday night, Modeste said it was obvious that it wasn't going to be easy to take on the role of executive director more than three years ago.

"I knew that I was not going to be on a road that's paved and ready for smooth sailing. But I took on the responsibility. And I must say that, where we are today, I can see light at the end of the tunnel," Modeste said.

"I am happy to be working with a dedicated staff team, a board, but also a membership that have held my feet and the feet of other staff and board members really to the fire."

Modeste said systems have been put in place to ensure the financial situation in which the organization has found itself will not happen again.

"You know what? We have learned," Modeste said.

Pride Toronto received $600,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2019 to organize an exhibition of Indigenous two-spirit 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 should use the funding to deliver certain outputs and reporting to the funders," KMPG said in its review. "Pride Toronto could not provide some evidence to show that they had completed several of the proposed deliverables."

In January 2022, Pride Toronto cancelled its grant with Public Safety Canada and the organization received only $1.2 million in federal grants due to the cancellation, Modeste previously said.

'We are far from accountability here,' critic says

Tom Hooper, an assistant professor in the department of equity studies at York University, accused Pride Toronto of "misdirection" of funds in a 2022 investigative report that he said highlighted problems with organization's grant applications, as well as inconsistencies in how it reported progress to the federal government.

Historian Tom Hooper is pictured in Toronto’s gay village on June 4, 2021. Hooper’s study about policing the LGBTQ community and the 1981 bathhouse raids are oft cited.
Historian Tom Hooper is pictured in Toronto’s gay village on June 4, 2021. Hooper’s study about policing the LGBTQ community and the 1981 bathhouse raids are oft cited.

Tom Hooper, assistant professor in the department of equity studies at York University, says Pride Toronto still hasn't achieved full accountability. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The organization had also been accused of using Indigenous artist Kent Monkman's name to obtain grant funding.

"This is a huge financial penalty for Pride Toronto and it is unprecedented in 2SLGBTQ history," Hooper said in a statement. "And yet, it appears Pride's misuse of various organizations' letterhead and signatures still has not been investigated by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

"We are far from accountability here."

After the meeting, Hooper said he still has questions and there needs to be more transparency, but feels relieved the work that he has been doing has resulted in some answers.

"I am celebrating a small victory today in that we finally got some truth," Hooper said. "But it's clear, the way they've acted, the battle with Pride Toronto is long from over."