Independent firm reviewing Pride Toronto's grant spending following allegations of mismanagement

An independent accounting firm is looking into Pride Toronto's use of federal grant money following allegations that the organization misrepresented how the funds would be used.

Accounting firm KPMG conducting grant compliance review as members gather for annual meeting

Pride Toronto has hired accounting firm KPMG to conduct a compliance review of three grants it received from the federal government in 2018 and 2019. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press)

An independent accounting firm is looking into Pride Toronto's use of federal grant money following allegations that the organization misrepresented how the funds would be used.

In a statement released last week, Pride Toronto said it hired KPMG in October 2021 to conduct a "grant compliance review." Executive director Sherwin Modeste told CBC News the review will cover three grants the organization received from the federal government in 2018 and 2019, totalling $1.85 million. 

KPMG is investigating and will provide recommendations to ensure the organization's internal processes meet high standards, the statement said.

Pride Toronto issued its statement after Toronto historian Tom Hooper released an investigative report into the grants that he claims highlights problems with the grant applications and inconsistencies in how the organization reported progress to the federal government.

"These allegations were brought to our attention. We realized that the scope of this work was beyond the scope that the board or myself ... would be able to undertake," said Modeste, who was not in charge of the organization at the time the grant applications were made.

"Hence, we brought in KPMG to do a review of the grants that were in question by Mr. Hooper."

Review expected within weeks

The review, which is expected to be completed within the next two weeks, will be released to the public, Pride Toronto said.

The review will cover two grants from the Department of Canadian Heritage and one from Public Safety Canada. Pride Toronto was planning to use some of the funds from those grants to work with renowned Cree artist Kent Monkman on a public art project for the 2019 Pride Festival.

Among the allegations laid out in his report, Hooper said Pride Toronto submitted unauthorized letters of support on its applications, used Monkman's name to raise grant funds even after he left the project, and promised benefits to Indigenous people that never materialized. 

"I think it demonstrates that Pride Toronto is more interested in pursuing its corporate bottom line. It's more interested in gaining assets on the backs of Indigenous artists than it is addressing the real problems that exist for Indigenous and two spirit people within our communities," Hooper said.

Tom Hooper, a faculty member in the Department of Equity Studies at York University, is pictured in Toronto’s gay village on June 4, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC News has not independently verified all of the allegations contained in Hooper's report, which was based in part on documents he obtained through access to information requests.

However, three organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations and The 519, confirmed to CBC News that they did not authorize letters of support that Pride Toronto apparently submitted on their behalf in support of its grant applications.

A spokesperson for Monkman also told CBC News that the statements in Hooper's report regarding the Kent Monkman Studio are accurate.

"On April 29, 2019 I ended a year of talks with Pride Toronto due to the continued lack of a contract, disagreements over creative control of various project elements, and lack of confidence in Pride Toronto's management of the project," Monkman said in a statement. "I was extremely disappointed to hear the allegations that funds earmarked for representation and celebration of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people and our histories have been mismanaged."

$250K grant to mark controversial milestone

CBC News reported on one of the grants last June — $250,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage meant to commemorate a contentious milestone in Canada's LGBTQ history with hopes of improving relations with police.

Pride Toronto applied for the grant and received partial funding for the police-inclusive project just weeks after making a controversial decision to invite uniformed officers back to the parade on Oct. 15, 2018.

But by January 2019, Pride Toronto's membership voted to continue to keep uniformed officers out of the parade, sending Pride and Canadian Heritage scrambling to reinvent the project.

As part of that reinvented project, Pride Toronto said it had contracted Monkman to create seven works "depicting the 2 Spirit community." The "brand new series of paintings" was advertised on a full page of the 2019 Pride Guide, which was published on May 1, 2019. 

Pride Toronto included this ad for a 'brand new series of paintings' from Kent Monkman in its 2019 Pride Guide despite the fact Monkman never signed a contract for the work. (Pride Toronto)

Seven days later in a project update sent to Canadian Heritage, the former head of Pride Toronto, Olivia Nuamah, wrote the organization had "fully executed the contract with Kent Monkman."

But a representative from the Cree artist's studio told CBC News that while Monkman had been discussing a project with Pride Toronto, those talks never reached a contract and they had ended more than a week before Nuamah's report to Canadian Heritage.

Pride Toronto previously told CBC News that after those plans fell through, the organization sought permission to use some of the grant funds on past programming and on a few new initiatives like a youth conference and operational adjustments in support of the Indigenous and two-spirit community.

Pride Toronto annual meeting Wednesday

Pride Toronto members will meet Wednesday evening for the organization's annual general meeting and while the KPMG review is not on the agenda, Hooper says he hopes to force the organization's board to confront the issue.

He is calling for compensation for the Indigenous artists, groups and communities who were supposed to benefit from the grants.

"That includes financial compensation, but other forms of compensation, as well as compensating the individuals and groups whose names were used on those grant support letters without authorization," Hooper said.

Modeste said the Pride Toronto board is waiting to learn the results of the review before taking any additional steps. He added that the organization has implemented a number of new policies to improve transparency and accountability in the past year and a half, including hiring a grant manager.

"That transparency and that accountability piece was a gap that I saw on day one of taking on the role of executive director," Modeste said.

"If there are recommendations or if any wrongdoings are found, as a board and myself, we will look into it and address it appropriately."

With files from Nicole Brockbank