Youth for Christ is under no formal obligation to justify the way it runs programs at its Centre for Youth Excellence in Winnipeg's North End, despite calls for accountability by community advocates.

More than $6 million in federal and municipal money went into the project.

Neither level of government has put in a formal mechanism to ensure the promises made in YFC's business plan for the youth centre, located at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street, were fulfilled.

North End advocate Diane Roussin, who opposed the project in 2010, says part of her concern was how YFC would be held accountable for its promises to serve aboriginal and at-risk youth.

"When a lot of groups came forward and raised these concerns back then, there were a lot of assurances made," she said in an interview, adding that accountability is crucial when public money is involved.

"You have to assume when there are funding structures in place, they would have those accountabilities in place," she said. "Every organization I am aware of has to report on their funding and undergo evaluation, and it is stringent."

Diane Roussin

North End advocate Diane Roussin, who opposed the Youth for Christ project in 2010, says part of her concern was how YFC would be held accountable for its promises to serve aboriginal and at-risk youth. (CBC)

"I have not seen any specific written reports, " Mayor Sam Katz said in an interview Wednesday morning, adding, "I myself have have dropped by on a few occasions and seen it had been very active."

He said more stringent accountability is something he agrees with and when he heard that YFC is offering six hours of free drop in recreation a week, with no programs on the weekend, he vowed to look into the centre’s operations.

“Weekends are a key time. Evening are key times and, based on that being accurate, that may be something that I might want to ask myself and find out,” Katz said.

At a heated city council meeting on Feb. 24, 2010, CentreVenture president Ross McGowan said, "As a condition of our approval, we have requested and been assured … that its doors and programs will continue to be open to all youth."

He added, "We are further assured that the aboriginal community will be consulted and embraced during the detailed planning phase to ensure that appropriate recreation service programs are provided in a manner that reflects, respects aboriginal culture and teachings."

But numerous aboriginal advocates told the CBC News I-Team that Youth for Christ has not lived up to these promises.

On Tuesday, McGowan explained how the downtown development agency is ensuring that Youth for Christ fulfils what it said it would do at the centre.

"It's an informal process. We have discussions with the Youth for Christ executive director every four or five months," McGowan said.

"Our funding is directed toward providing a physical facility and we never get involved in the day-to-day operation."

YFC head rejects call for formal reporting

Youth for Christ’s executive director, John Courtney, rejects the need for formal reporting on its activities to government.

“They didn't buy the controlling shares of the organization when they gave the money," he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

John Courtney, Youth for Christ

Youth for Christ’s executive director, John Courtney, says he rejects the need for formal reporting on the youth centre's activities to government. (CBC)

"We raised way more money than the government put into this project and we provide all the ongoing funding, not the government."

Courtney said his door is open to CentreVenture and anyone else who has questions about the centre.

"They've been to our facility, and they've viewed our work and inspected it, and I think they are thrilled with what we've done," he said.

McGowan said he has been assured that Youth For Christ has consulted with aboriginal groups.

"There was discussion with the aboriginal community  with the Aboriginal Centre, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and others," he said.

"I was asking John [Courtney] earlier on if he has a record of that and he says he's got some indication of that."

'I've had no dealings with them,' says AMC grand chief

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was involved at the beginning of the project. Ron Evans, who was the grand chief at the time, attended the facility's ribbon-cutting ceremony in late 2011.

But shortly after the ceremony, when current Grand Chief Derek Nepinak took over, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' contact with Youth for Christ ended.

Ross McGowan, CentreVenture

CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan says the downtown development agency is ensuring that Youth for Christ fulfils what it said it would do at the centre. (CBC)

"I've had no dealings with them," Nepinak said.

"There are many items that were advanced or endorsed by the former leadership at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that were not brought forward to my tenure."

Other aboriginal groups contacted by the I-Team, including Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, said they have not been consulted.

“Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata has never been called to be consulted or has been a part of any process in regards to that building and that organization since it's been built,” said Annetta Armstrong, a board member and the director of operations with Building Urban Industry through Local Development (BUILD).

When asked what aboriginal groups, apart from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Youth for Christ has contacted, Courtney would not identify them.

“I’m not going to give you names. I can tell you I did consultation, absolutely, for sure," he said.

"I would think that collaboration is a two-way street. I'm not going to own the responsibility to say YFC has the sole responsibility to do collaboration."

Participation goal too optimistic, YFC admits

Youth for Christ's business plan says it would increase the number of participants to 10,000 youth annually by 2015.
 
“I don't see any reason why they will not hit 10,000 by 2015,” said McGowan.

But Courtney admits that the goal of 10,000 participants was too optimistic and YFC will probably not hit it.

“We had a very aggressive goal," he said. "My guess is that it’s going to take us a bit longer than we anticipated."

YFC says 6,200 teenagers took part in activities at the centre last year.

Roussin said she wants to see Youth for Christ make good on the promises it has made.

"People need to follow through on their assurances," she said. "It is the right thing to do and it is unacceptable if they don't."