In an exclusive interview with Xtra, members of the Capital Pride board sat down to address the allegations of accounting irregularities in the wake of the festival.
Suppliers, including production company House of SAS and Guillaume Tasse, who provided infrastructure for the festival, went to the media when their cheques from Capital Pride bounced. Sebastien Provost, president of House of SAS, produced Pride’s main festival plaza pro bono as part of a sponsorship agreement. After putting up just under $24,000 of his own money to pay for the festival’s liquor, the cheque from Capital Pride that was supposed to reimburse him bounced, Provost alleges. Tasse says his $10,000 deposit cheque also bounced.
After cancelling a press conference and communicating with media through emailed press releases, the board contacted Xtra on Sept 11 to say they were ready to address the bounced cheques and other unanswered questions.
“The cheques were returned NSF because right after the festival we found a preliminary, apparent shortfall [of bar revenue] that added up to tens of thousands of dollars,” says Jodie McNamara, chair of Capital Pride.
In addition, the festival had received invoices that had not been approved, she says. “We put a stop to all financial activity, everything, and immediately launched an investigation.”
Provost, who previously has given interviews to Xtra, declined to be interviewed on Sept 11.
“As much as I would like to, my lawyers have advised me to not at this time as we’ve started legal action,” Provost wrote in an email.
In a previous interview with Xtra, Provost said that when Capital Pride cancelled post-festival meetings with him, he went to the Bank of Montreal to discuss Capital Pride’s bounced cheque and was told there was no money in the account.
McNamara says that’s true. “We had two accounts. We had an account that was receiving all of our income from the festival at a different bank, and the BMO account was where we wrote our cheques,” she says. “When I say we put a stop to all financial activity, that included any transfers of any kind. Instead of transferring all that money and sort of opening the floodgates, we just stopped and started an internal investigation, which is why those cheques bounced.”
McNamara says she understands why suppliers want to get paid and why they, and the community at large, have been frustrated by a lack of answers. Fellow board members Hannah Watt, Giselle Gardipy and Stephanie Lavergne were at her side during the interview and say the board is united as they try to resolve the situation.
“Our community deserves answers,” McNamara says. “Our stakeholders deserve answers. People are out there asking questions that we haven’t been answering, and we absolutely understand their frustration. They deserve to have as much information as we’re able to provide.”
Immediately following the festival, McNamara says, the board’s preliminary numbers showed a shortfall in the “tens of thousands of dollars” from liquor proceeds, either from less revenue than expected or less inventory left over, or a combination of both situations. After more investigating, they are still not sure what the shortfall is, she says.
“We can’t comment on what the [shortfall] is for sure yet, because we don’t know,” McNamara says. “We’re still investigating . . . We’re still waiting for more information to come in from Sebastien.”
Both Provost and Tasse, who alleges the festival owes him $42,000, say they went to police to launch complaints after their cheques bounced. An Ottawa Police Service spokesperson says they can’t comment on whether Capital Pride is under investigation. McNamara says that so far neither she nor the other board members have heard from police.
“We’re not guilty of any wrongdoing, and we’d be happy to answer any questions [police] may have if they did call,” she says.
While McNamara doesn’t dispute that Provost paid just under $24,000 for the festival’s liquor, she says all suppliers will be contacted directly to discuss and arrange payments. However, there are other invoices coming in that Capital Pride didn’t approve, she says.
“Suppliers have come forward saying they have agreements with Capital Pride when those agreements were never reviewed by Capital Pride,” she says. “We have received invoices for at least $23,000 over the budget we approved to House of SAS for the entertainment on site.”
Provost, through the House of SAS, had a budget to provide entertainment and was not authorized to exceed that budget, McNamara says. When contacted by Capital Pride, some of the suppliers and contractors who submitted unexpected, unapproved invoices said they had a verbal agreement with House of SAS to provide services at the festival, she says. She declines to name the suppliers who submitted unexpected invoices.
“We don’t want to say who any of these people are,” McNamara says. “We want to make sure we’re moving forward in good faith with everybody, so we’re speaking with everyone directly.”
McNamara says she can’t provide a timeline for when suppliers can expect to be paid. She says Capital Pride’s investigation isn’t completed — and they are proceeding with caution — but says they will speak to each supplier individually to negotiate or arrange payment “as soon as possible.”
When asked if Capital Pride is financially able to pay all its suppliers, she says, “We have funds. We’re not at a place where we’re giving specifics like that.”
Although McNamara stresses the board is unified, she acknowledges this has been a difficult time for everyone.
“We all got into this for the same reason and that’s because we love our community and we love Pride,” she says. “We want to be a uniting force, a bridge-building force in the community, and this blindsided everybody. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re worried sick.”
As the board works to resolve the situation, they continue to look to the future, McNamara says. “We want to be able to pull through this and have a festival next year.”