Montreal

'Extensive audit' of Lester B. Pearson's international department wasn't done, despite recommendation

The Lester B. Pearson School Board never commissioned an independent audit of its international department, even though its own audit committee recommended it nearly one a year ago, months before the board reached out to UPAC.

Committee called for independent audit months before board reached out to UPAC, ministry

Lester B. Pearson School Board head Suanne Stein Day says the external audit was never actually performed. She said the board was doing its own internal investigation into the international department at the time. (CBC)

The Lester B. Pearson School Board never commissioned an independent audit of its international department, even though its own audit committee recommended it nearly one a year ago, CBC News has learned through emails obtained through access to information.

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced last month that he was appointing auditor Michelle Lapointe to investigate both the LBPSB and the English Montreal School Board. UPAC is also investigating both boards.

​​But emails from November 2015 show that members of the board's audit committee were already struggling to get a clear picture of the department's financial situation ahead of a Dec. 7 meeting.

"I am eventually looking for a concise accounting of this program. Do you think this goal is possible?" wrote one committee member, whose name is redacted.

In another email, an unnamed committee member notes that "revenues for the international program are not completely separate from LBPSB accounting" and requests a separate accounting of the department.

The Lester B Pearson board said it reached out to UPAC about three months after it started investigating alleged "irregularities" in its international department, but did not commission an external audit. (Neil Herland/CBC)
The committee unanimously voted for an independent audit at a special meeting held two weeks later, on Dec. 21, and resolved that the results should be "communicated as soon as possible to the council of commissioners."

But this external audit was never actually performed, according to board chair Suanne Stein Day.

She said the board was doing its own internal investigations into "irregularities" in the international department at the time.

Three months later, the board reached out to UPAC and the ministry with its concerns about the department.

"Given the ongoing investigations, we didn't want to initiate another audit at that time without checking with the ministry," she said. "We're now at the time...when an audit will be performed."

Calls for audit follow ethics complaint

The decision to officially call for an audit of the international department came just three hours after school board commissioners met to discuss a scathing letter from the head of the department demanding Stein Day's resignation.

That letter, amongst others, sparked an ethics investigation that found Stein Day had violated the ethics code, though the chair said the ethics commissioner did not retain the most serious allegations against her.

The letter, dated Dec. 13, 2015 and written by Carol Mastantuono, then director of the international department, alleged Stein Day had made "slanderous accusations" including "criminal allegations in terms of misappropriation of funds and embezzlement" and allegations of a "fraud ring."

"These remarks have deeply offended me on a personal and professional level," Mastantuono wrote.

Notes from the commissioners' 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 21, 2015 show the board, after reviewing the letter of complaint, recommended both an ethics review of the letter and "a full and extensive audit" of the International department.

At about 10 p.m., the audit committee voted unanimously in favour of an external audit.

Mastantuono was subsequently dismissed in September 2016. She has filed a complaint with the Quebec Labour Relations Board for wrongful dismissal and is awaiting a date for an administrative tribunal hearing. In a prior interview with CBC, Mastantuono denied any wrongdoing.

The board maintains her dismissal was not in response to her letter of complaint, but in connection with an investigation into "irregularities" in the international department.

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