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by Eden Debebe

A York University professor and Pride Toronto member who has been outspoken in claims that the organization has misallocated funding, has released a new report outlining his research, just days before the organization’s annual general meeting.

Professor Tom Hooper, who is a member of Pride Toronto, released his report Misdirection of Funds and Settler Colonialism: Pride Toronto Grants from Canadian Heritage on Thursday January 20th, days ahead of the organization’s annual general meeting. It questions how Pride Toronto applied for and used government grants in 2018 and 2019, an issue Hooper says he has tried to bring before the board in the past.

“As someone who’s gone to Pride festivals since my early 20s and really loved that time and cherish those memories that I have, it’s truly heartbreaking and makes you question our community organizations and what actually goes on behind the scenes,” Hooper said.

 

 

Hooper was conducting research for his thesis on the 1969 decriminalization of homosexuality, an event many in the 2SLGBTQ+ community do not recognize because queer sex and gender nonconformity continued to be criminalized and persecuted well after the Criminal Law Amendment Act. As an outspoken advocate against celebrations of 1969 and active member of Pride Toronto, Hooper said he was surprised to see Pride Toronto’s name on a list of organizations who had received government funding to mark the event.

“I knew, as a member of Pride Toronto, that Pride had never put forward any project to celebrate 1969,” Hooper said.

“There was no travelling exhibit, there was no celebration.”

The discovery pushed Hooper to dig deeper into how Pride Toronto used all the grants it received from the federal government’s Department of Canadian Heritage between 2018 and 2019. Documents obtained through access to information requests and community interviews revealed overlapping project proposals that Hooper says were never actually created.

One of the proposed projects approved by Canadian Heritage included a travelling art exhibit depicting key moments in the 2SLGBTQ+ history of Turtle Island, like the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, to be led by Indigenous artist Kent Monkman. According to Hooper’s report, and confirmed to OMNI News by Monkman, the partnership between Pride Toronto and Monkman was rocky throughout negotiations, and eventually ended before the project began, when the organization required him to sign over the rights to his artwork.

“Pride was demanding ownership, which means they could license the art themselves and profit off of it without Monkman seeing any of that,” Hopper said.

“We have Pride trying to take legal rights from Indigenous artists. We are seeing the structure of settler colonialism here in the present.”

In a statement to OMNI News, Monkman said he ended a year of talks with Pride Toronto on April 29, 2019 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”. He also said that all statements in Hooper’s report regarding his involvement with Pride Toronto were accurate.

According to Hooper’s report, despite stepping down from the project, Monkman’s name was used on a Pride Toronto interim report on May 8, 2019 that claiming the completion of the ‘Commemorating 50 years of Decriminalization in Canada’ project. In a statement to Hooper, Heritage Canada said it was not made aware Monkman and Pride Toronto had parted ways until October 23, 2019.

 

Cree artist Kent Monkman poses for a photograph in Toronto on Wednesday, January 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

 

Dr. Laura Hall, an associate professor at the School of Indigenous Relations at Laurentian University, said she is shocked at the ‘absurd’ discrepancies detailed in Hooper’s report.

“Settler colonialism is the attempted eradication of Indigenous people and the flowing of resources away from Indigenous people toward non-Indigenous people,” Hall explained.

“And so that’s a clear example, where you have resources being literally taken away. The idea that Pride Toronto, a settler organization, would own the intellectual, cultural and artistic properties of Indigenous people. That’s absurd.”

According to Hall, the most concerning part of Hooper’s report was the allegation that Pride Toronto potentially manipulated grant support letters from numerous groups, including the 519 and the Assembly of First Nations, to get newer projects funded. OMNI News reached out to both organizations, but has not heard back.

Hall said the report sheds light on just how threadbare the Pride Toronto’s connection to Indigenous communities really is.

“It’s a simple problem where you have an organization that can get away very clearly with having no real relationships with Indigenous people, and that [issue] doesn’t really register on the radar of the government of the day or of government funders,” said Hall, who also noted the dangers of grant funding for Indigenous communities having to first go through third-party organizations like Pride Toronto.

Hooper said his biggest concern is the lack of overview around how Pride Toronto used the grants it received.

“It was just by chance that I happened to be digging in this. And when I came across things that I didn’t understand how they connected, I went after them,” Hooper said.

“[Pride Toronto] changed all of these parameters of the grant, and then you let them get away with not submitting the required audited report, so yeah, there is a lot that needs to be answered from Heritage on this.”

OMNI News has reached out to Canadian Heritage, but as of this writing, the department has not responded to our request for comment.

Olivia Nuamah served as executive director of Pride Toronto from February 2017 to January 2020. Pride did not say what led to Nuamah leaving the role. Sherwin Modeste stepped into the executive director role in November 2020.

“His information that has been presented, whether truth or not, it is troubling,” Modeste said.

“It is troubling enough that I went to the board and the board approved right away to say, let us look at having a third-party review.”

Under Modeste’s leadership, the auditing firm KPMG was hired by Pride Toronto in October 2021 to conduct a grant compliance review of federal grants, with the promise to share its findings publicly as soon as it was completed. When asked to comment on specific allegations within the report, Modeste said he couldn’t speak on anything that had not been fact-checked by KPMG.

“As I said earlier, if I find any issues in my own fact-finding I will address them, okay? However, I was hired to take the organization to the next level, to take the organization on the next leg of the journey. And that is my focus,” Modeste said.

In a public statement from the Board of Directors in response to Hooper’s report, Pride Toronto admitted “things did go wrong”.

“We will release KPMG’s review publicly. When we do so, we won’t sugarcoat what went wrong – and unfortunately, things did go wrong. We will be accountable to our members and funding partners and, most importantly, we will make this right, especially for the Indigenous and marginalized people and groups we work with.”

 

 

With Pride Toronto’s Annual General Meeting set for January 26, and a 2021 budget review on the docket, Hooper is urging members to vote against the budget until the KPMG report is released.

“If KPMG and Pride are not going to release that report publicly,how can we vote on any matters related to Pride Toronto finances? We don’t have the full picture. They’re not giving it to us. So I’m urging Pride Toronto members to vote against approving those financials. We have to bring this to a halt until we get the full story.”

Modeste admits the auditing process is taking longer than usual, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the holiday season, but says postponing Pride Toronto’s general meeting was notan option. Even without KPMG’s report, Modeste said he has already made sweeping changes since joining Pride Toronto, and will continue to strive for transparency between the organization and its members to rebuild trust.

“I am ready and willing to open all of our books so that folks can see the changes that have been made within the organization over the last year and a half to address some of the concerns that I have raised, that staff has raised, the community members have raised, that the board have raised,” Modeste said.

“And I truly believe that Pride Toronto is in a better place today than it was two and a half years ago.”

To truly move forward, Hall said Pride Toronto needs to return to its activist roots.

“Pride needs to respect and be accountable to Indigenous and Black leadership,” Hall said.

“Pride needs to be more substantively supportive of Indigenous Two-Spirit artists, writers, storytellers, traditional teachers, activists. Does that mean more board involvement? Very likely. Does that mean more involvement at the leadership level? Absolutely.”

Though he is glad he was able to release his report, Hooper said it should not have been his job to do so.

“There is no system in place, though, to do what I did as a matter of regular transparency, as a matter of regular accountability. In fact, the structure of Toronto Pride helps eliminate any of those measures of accountability.”