Pride London emptied the cupboards in 2010, according to financial statements presented at a meeting of its members Jan 25. Organizers finished 2009 with more than $19,000 in the bank. As of Sept 30, 2010, that number had been reduced to $818.
When you factor in the organization’s outstanding debts, the London, Ontario festival is about $6,400 in the red, according to the treasurer’s report in the minutes of the meeting.
What happened in the intervening year remains unclear. In January, financial information was turned over to the London Police Service, in relation to $14,000 the organization can’t account for, board president Deb Al-Hamza told the meeting. Some suspect that number could be even higher.
“We need to do things right. We have all the receipts for grants and donations. We have some really good people with us now. I don’t want to lose any people who may potentially help us out in the future. I’m not trying to hide anything. I have your phone number and name,” says Al-Hamza. “There is a police investigation going on. Everything is with the police. We can’t point fingers.”
Last year, Pride London did not have a formal treasurer. Some cheques were written by signing officers of the corporation to themselves, Al-Hamza alleged at the meeting.
A complete financial picture was not available at Pride London’s AGM in the fall. The board called the January general meeting to explain the year’s final numbers to its members.
London Police Service’s Diane Willis is investigating the possibility of an internal theft, based on a complaint filed two weeks ago. She says there has been no media release and there is no information to report at this point, but a release may be forthcoming.
Al-Hamza declined to send copies of the meeting’s minutes or financial statements to Xtra, but members of the London community forwarded Xtra the 28-year-old festival’s general meeting minutes anyway.
When Xtra asked for more information on Pride London’s Facebook page, administrators blocked the reporter and removed the request. They also changed the group from an open group to a closed one.
Al-Hamza responded with a post.
“A post was recently removed from this wall from a reporter that had inaccurate information about Pride London Festival finances,” she wrote. “Once this investigation is completed, this board will be transparent with the outcome to the Pride London Festival members and the general public.”
When contacted to clarify information in the financial statements, Al-Hamza threatened to sue Xtra.
One Pride member who wishes to remain anonymous says “no one can give a straight answer” whether there is missing money or not.
“There was no financial officer last year, and everyone had access to the money that went missing – bar sales, ticket sales, etc. So to point blame on one person, in my eyes, is ridiculous. No one seems to want to be held accountable. I hope that this year’s board and membership continue to hold people accountable for their actions. People need to own up to their mistakes. We all make them, but hiding hurts the community at large,” he says.
Joan Brennan, who runs Literary Night, says it is not the first time in Pride’s history that money went unaccounted for and “likely it won’t be the last time.”
“Small organizations have a hard time when rip-off artists become involved. And, of course, the rip-off artist has likely thought this out really well, or did it before,” says Brennan.