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Long struggle back for Egale

Interim ED hired, fundraising remains weak spot

HOLDING DOWN THE FORT. Kaj Hasselriis is making sure there's someone in the Egale office daily.

The problems are far from over for Canada’s queer lobbying group, but at least there’s now someone sitting in the office and the spaces on the board of directors are filling.

Kaj Hasselriis, formerly of Canadians For Equal Marriage, is acting as interim executive director of Egale; the former Winnipeg mayoral candidate took up the position Dec 11.

He sees his role as making “good short-term decisions” and being a “strong caretaker who can build a bridge between the last executive director and the next executive director.”

Former executive director Gilles Marchildon left in October without giving a full explanation of his departure. Egale president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey said that the terms of his departure “were mutually agreed upon” but neither side would confirm or deny if lawyers were involved.

Nigel Flear, Egale’s former office manager, left Egale last summer. Laurie Arron, the former director of advocacy, bowed out of Egale in June. Marchildon was the last full-time staff member left at the organization, although Tamara Kronis has been working with Egale as a part-time advocacy consultant.

Hasselriis came out swinging against allegations made over the last six months that Egale is in trouble.

“I don’t get the sense that Egale’s work has been slowing down at all. There are a lot of volunteers hard a work at Egale,” he insists.

Hasselriis is a former contributor and editor of Swerve, former Winnipeg Pride planner, and campaign manager for Winnipeg lesbian school board chair Kristine Barr. Hasselriis’s appointment means Egale now has three bodies in the office (including Kronis and a bookkeeper), although they’re looking for a permanent executive director.

Meanwhile, following the explosive resignations of four board members in November — in addition to the resignation of a committee co-chair and two other board resignations in summer — the board has appointed a number of people to fill vacancies.

Flear, the former office manager, has been appointed to the board of directors as the men’s National Capital Region rep. As well, Karen Lusby, a longtime Egale board member, returned in November. With another appointment — Jamie Wyatt from Toronto — Egale’s board is the most complete its been in months.

But fundraising remains a weak spot for Egale.

“We’re a non-profit so we’re always struggling,” says Schlamp-Hickey. “Also, we’re a lobby group, so we don’t have charitable status.”

Schlamp-Hickey declined to release Egale’s financial data to Capital Xtra’s readers, meaning that donors will not know the full extent of Egale’s “struggles” until the spring annual general meeting.

But treasurer Benjie Nycum says, “you wouldn’t see much change” in Egale’s finances compared to previous years.

“It’s not that I’m trying to withhold numbers from you, it’s that we want to make sure that the numbers we provide are clear and accurate. There won’t be any undue delay in providing that information when we have it,” says Nycum.

He’s meeting with Flear and their bookkeeper “weekly” to get their books in order. There were some “gaps” created in the organization’s operations because of staffing disruptions, he admits.

Having a smaller payroll this fall hasn’t significantly changed the financial situation for Egale, he says.

“I don’t think that not having staff is a net savings. I think it’s a liability,” he says, because staff visibility helps generate donations.

A former board member told Xtra West, Capital Xtra’s Vancouver-based sister paper, that Egale has significant financial problems.

Bruce Hicks, who resigned from Egale’s board in November, points to a 2005 staff pay cut and the laying off of Egale’s only female employee of the time. That dismissal is now before the courts as a wrongful dismissal suit, he alleges.

Vice president Hilary Cook won’t confirm or deny Hicks’ lawsuit allegation, but says staff cuts were necessary for budgetary reasons. He’s “setting up a straw man and arguing against it,” she says.

Hicks told Xtra West that Egale has been experiencing financial difficulties since 2004, which “have resulted in equipment being repossessed and in bills being turned over to several collection agencies. Rules set by the bylaws, the board, auditors and good accounting practices were being circumvented,” he alleges.

Cook admits Egale has one bill and one piece of equipment that need to be dealt with, but won’t discuss the matter further.

“It was my hope that the fundraising vision for Egale would not only hold the organization in good stead for the future with tangible programs in long neglected areas of the community, but would solve the immediate financial and personnel problems that predate my having been elected to the board,” said Hicks, noting that Egale “seems to have no current capacity” for raising money.

Schlamp-Hickey says they’re working on that. “We’re going to be focussing on better ways to fundraise.”

She says that donors respond to timely campaigns. She cites the same-sex marriage fight as an example, and she’s looking forward to future projects generating donor interest.

“Campaigning on equal marriage was successful. We’ve already made headway with our safer-schools program. We have a lot of information available; a lot of credit goes to the education committee,” she says.

Adds Hasselriis: “I’ve only been there for a week, but there are donations coming in the mail slot every day. I don’t know how that compares to two months ago or two years ago, but there’s certainly an interest in the organization.”

With Egale’s future shifting from costly court battles to political lobbying and education, the costs of running the organization will decrease, predicts Hasselriis.

“I think that Egale has been very associated in the public with legal issues, and it will continue to be — and there have been good reasons for that association because of the victories we’ve had in this country and at the Supreme Court level and at Parliament Hill. But there are all sorts of other victories that won’t come in the courtroom, they’ll come in, let’s say, the classroom. It’s important for us to look at how we will make the next gains for [queer] equality in Canada,” he says