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Pride Toronto seeks charitable status

AGM marred by contention over notification process

Pride Toronto, the nonprofit organization that manages much of Toronto’s annual Pride festivities, voted to apply for charitable status at its contentious annual general meeting (AGM) on Sep 17.

Despite repeated accusations of arrogance levelled at the board of directors by the membership, the board pushed through most of its agenda at the meeting.

Several members accused the board of failing to give sufficient notice of its intention to pursue charitable status before the meeting, making it difficult for members to cast an informed vote on the issue.

In an open letter to the board former Pride Toronto event logistics manager Lisa Duke asked why the board gave less than 48 hours notice to members about the proposal. Pride Toronto cochair Mark Singh responded in a subsequent message that Pride is simply not required to do so.

At the AGM Pride fundraising director Ryan Lester explained that charitable status would allow Pride Toronto to build an endowment fund that would help it to weather any future financial crises. Lester also noted that charitable status would exempt Pride from up to $25,000 in annual property taxes on office space it is planning to purchase.

“There are a lot of potential synergies in launching an endowment fund in our 30th year,” Lester said.

Revenue Canada regulations prevent charitable organizations from spending more than 10 percent of their resources on advocacy work but the board dismissed concerns that this would hinder Pride’s identity as a political organization.

“I don’t ever foresee that our human rights campaigns will take more than 10 percent of the organization’s budget,” Singh said, noting that the 2009 Pride human rights conference accounted for only about one percent of the budget.

Pride executive director Tracey Sandilands noted that Pride’s human rights activities likely wouldn’t count as partisan advocacy as defined by Revenue Canada.

While the board did answer questions from members, the decision appeared to be a fait accompli.

“This isn’t a ‘what if,’” said Lester. “It has been analyzed by professionals and approved by the board.”

“I think it’s arrogant,” said Pride member Mark Smith. “You’re asking 70 people here to vote on something just because you say it’s good.”

Ultimately the membership voted overwhelmingly to pursue charitable status, but the controversy did not end there.

Performer Ryan G Hinds asked why the lion’s share of Pride Toronto’s arts and entertainment budget and promotional push went to benefit straight headliners rather than to local queer talent.

Sandilands said Pride needed to have high-profile artists “to get tourism funding.”

Questions about how Pride Toronto spent a $400,000 grant from the federal government’s Marquis Tourism Event Program went unanswered. The board said detailed financial reports are not yet available. Pride Toronto previously stated that the grant, which constituted approximately 15 percent of its budget for 2009, would be used to improve accessibility at Pride events.

Pride’s provisional financial documents show an $80,000 deficit for the 2009 event.

Also at the AGM board member Jim Cullen was elected to replace Singh as male cochair. Daniel Knox and Francisco Alvarez were elected to the board. One board seat remains vacant and Singh says the board could appoint someone to it any time.