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Capital Pride chair convenes committee to address future

Jodie McNamara says open call to community would have opened up process to abuse

The Capital Pride annual general meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov 3, 2014. Credit: Ben Welland

The chair of the beleaguered Capital Pride board says she has assembled a committee of community leaders, past festival sponsors and LGBT organizations to address the future of the Pride movement in Ottawa, despite acknowledging that she is in a direct conflict of interest.

Jodie McNamara says she convened the committee because she felt it was important for the broader community to have a say in how the Pride movement continues in Ottawa and what the festival will look like. She says she also has concerns about other groups potentially vying for leadership of Pride at the upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) on Wednesday, Nov 5.

“This shouldn’t be me that’s doing this. It’s not appropriate — it’s a conflict of interest,” she says. “But if somebody is coming to the AGM with a plan to take over the festival, it struck me that it was important that there be a democratic infrastructure in place . . . It also struck me as important that the community have a choice.”

In a public Facebook post on Sunday, Nov 2, McNamara wrote that she wanted to address “rumours about a secret committee.”

“The committee isn’t secret, it just hasn’t been the subject of a press release,” she wrote.

“This committee has nothing to do with Capital Pride or the current Board of Directors,” McNamara continued. “I have assembled the committee as a community member, not as the chair of Capital Pride. As a representative of Capital Pride I have provided infrastructure and the hands-on support necessary for the collaboration, but neither I nor Capital Pride have been in anyway [sic] involved in their conversation.”

The board of directors of Capital Pride issued a statement on Oct 20, saying that it intended to declare bankruptcy. That statement came after the board earlier alleged that financial irregularities were discovered following the 2014 festival and after a number of vendors came forward claiming that their payment cheques had bounced. The board has still not publicly released any financial statements or any further information about the alleged financial irregularities.

S├ębastien Provost, who programmed the main stage at Capital Pride through his event company, House of SAS, claimed he was owed $23,700 for liquor he purchased for the festival, while contractor Guillaume Tasse, who provided site infrastructure and subcontracted the stage and lighting setup, said he was owed $42,000. While Provost confirmed to Xtra that he has since been paid, as of the Oct 20 bankruptcy announcement Tasse had not.

Provost told an Xtra reporter that he believes problems with the festival’s bar and alcohol sales on the day may have contributed to the financial situation, while representatives for Capital Pride alleged in a statement that Provost had exceeded the agreed-upon budget for stage production.

In her Facebook statement, McNamara said the new committee involves nearly 20 people, representing 14 organizations, sponsors and community members who have collaborated on a list of recommendations to take the Pride festival into its 30th year. In a Nov 3 interview with Xtra, McNamara says she approached one member each of the major LGBT organizations throughout the city as well as community leaders-at-large and former sponsors. She says she chose not to put out an open call to the community because she felt it would open up the process to abuse.

“The politics in the city are such that every organization sort of has a vested interest in Pride going in one direction or another. It’s been an ongoing problem in the community,” McNamara says. “It’s not democratic where somebody just takes it upon themselves to pick a bunch of people to give direction to an organization going forward . . . The purpose of this is to avoid that.”

McNamara says that by assembling a committee in this way, no one organization or group will be overrepresented. “To be clear, this committee . . . is just for the purpose of generating a list of recommendations . . . This committee is a launch committee only. They are not a new board for a new organization; they are a committee charged with responsibility for establishing a new organization.”

McNamara says that a “significant offer” for financial backing is on the table, which could allow for a parade on Bank Street as well as a community fair. She will not confirm where this financial backing originated but says the details will be included as attachments provided along with the AGM’s agenda. She also will not confirm who the committee members are but says that a list of those involved will be distributed prior to the AGM.

The AGM agenda was sent to Xtra Nov 3 in an email stating that further supporting documentation would be released Nov 4. According to the agenda, the board of directors will not answer questions from the floor about the bankruptcy because of “the legal implications”; however, a detailed report on the bankruptcy and Capital Pride’s financials will be the first order of business at the AGM, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Christopher Doyle, the executive producer of Mr Leather Ottawa and a co-owner of Dog & Pony Sound, confirms to Xtra that he is a member of the committee assembled by McNamara. According to the agenda, Doyle will be presenting the committee’s proposal at the meeting, with additional remarks by Christine Leadman and Kevin Martin of the Bank Street Business Improvement Association. Local drag queen Zelda Marshall also confirms that she was asked to join an email group but says she does not plan to attend the AGM because of a scheduling conflict. Dean Lake, director of sales with Capital Pride tourism partner ARC the Hotel, also confirmed he had been approached but chose not to participate. Lake said that the hotel was paid in full by Capital Pride, and that he did not have the time to contribute to the committee.

Doyle says that when he learned of Capital Pride’s bankruptcy, he began considering the creation of a new organization. When he heard that McNamara was convening a committee, he got on board. “I’m absolutely prepared to roll what I was going to do into what she’s hoping to accomplish,” he says.

“The existing Pride committee is looking at recommendations of what the community wants and what they believe from their experience is going to work moving forward,” Doyle says. He says he expects the recommendations to include making the festival more of a grassroots, local affair and keeping the parade on Bank Street. In his opinion, the three things that must continue in order to make Pride viable are a public party, the parade and the human rights vigil. He also feels that any new organization should not have anything to do with those involved in the current bankruptcy dispute other than the transfer of knowledge. “We can’t be involved with anybody who is currently in litigation or [on] either side of this dilemma.”

Doyle believes a simplification of the festival, with more independent involvement from community businesses and a scaling down in size is needed to make Pride viable again. He points to the successes the leather community has had in running sustainable events. “These things are all working because they’re all scaled appropriate to the community they’re trying to reach.”

McNamara says that while she convened the committee and invited individuals and organizations to participate, she has had no further influence over the group or its decisions. While she won’t say what recommendations the committee will make, she says that all members have the right of veto and that any recommendations made must be unanimous. The committee had until the end of the day on Nov 3 to make their recommendations final, she says.

According to the AGM agenda, a second group will also present a proposal for the festival’s future at the AGM, with remarks delivered by Francois Zarraga.

McNamara says the community will be given the opportunity to vote on the legitimacy of the new committee at the AGM, as well as whether to accept its proposal or the proposal of the second group. In her statement she said there will also be the option not to accept any proposal. Voting will take place in the latter half of the meeting.

While McNamara refused to respond to Xtra’s questions about the board’s financial troubles, she says that any Pride members who have questions can contact the Capital Pride board directly. “If anybody is a member of the organization and has questions, call us and ask. We’re happy to answer them,” she says. “We do not have any secrets.”