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Second Capital Pride AGM approaches

Ottawa community still looking for answers in midst of budget concerns

As a second AGM approaches, Ottawa’s LGBT community still has many unanswered questions.  Credit: Ben Welland

After months of trying to sort through rumours, conflicting reports and official statements, people are still looking for answers from Capital Pride’s board of directors. 

With the November annual general meeting called to discuss a bankruptcy that was never filed, an interim board being appointed to investigate what went on and the next AGM coming up on Dec 17, the community waits for someone to step up with an explanation.

On Aug 29, after the most highly attended Pride parade in Ottawa history, Capital Pride released a statement announcing its intention to investigate “accounting irregularities.” By the following week, suppliers and a DJ said their cheques from Capital Pride had bounced.

“Mostly, I would just like to know what happened,” says Andrew Giguere, Capital Pride’s former French language coordinator.

Giguere says he was not surprised to hear about the trouble suppliers were having. “I stopped working with Pride as of July because of a discomfort that I had with regards to the governance and the management,” he says. “I would hear news coming down the pipeline that made me uncomfortable, and obviously the meeting in November cemented a lot of the discomfort that I had around working with them. But I feel like this was stuff that was sort of an open secret.”

A press conference to explain the discrepancies was scheduled for Sept 9 but was cancelled. The board released a statement saying that cheques had bounced because suppliers and providers had spent more than the agreed-upon amount. Later, in an interview with Xtra, Capital Pride chair Jodie McNamara said it was unclear whether a shortfall of “tens of thousands of dollars” in liquor sales at the festival resulted from a loss of revenue, inventory or a combination of the two.

For most of September and October, there was little concrete information for community members to discern what was actually happening with Capital Pride finances.

On Oct 20, Capital Pride announced via Facebook that it would be filing for bankruptcy. The statement said that the organization would be unable to recover from its financial situation but that an AGM would be held in November to discuss the future of Pride in Ottawa.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, and they were meant to hear two proposals for the future of Pride: one from Christopher Doyle, a representative of a committee McNamara had assembled, and one from François Zarraga, on behalf of a second group who wanted Pride to be more bilingual and include the Gatineau community.

Doyle, executive producer of Mr Leather Ottawa and co-owner of Dog and Pony Sound, said the group he was representing was trying to put together a unified vision for Capital Pride, taking various community ideas and creating a plan for the coming year.

Before either he or Zarraga had a chance to present, the board announced it had given paperwork to an accountant but that Capital Pride had not yet filed for bankruptcy. The board members were dismissed and an interim board replaced them. The now-dismissed board members wouldn’t answer many questions, saying that in light of a potential libel lawsuit, their lawyers had recommended they say very little in a public forum.

The community was once again left with pieces of information but few real answers.

Helvetica Bold, a representative from Capital Pride sponsor the Ottawa Burlesque Festival, chose not to go to the November AGM because she was under the impression that the board had filed for bankruptcy, dissolved the corporation and she would not have a vote. Watching the AGM as it was live-tweeted, she found it frustrating that board members were unable to speak because of the threat of the libel suit.

Doyle says that in the absence of answers there was a lot of finger pointing at the meeting but that since “no one is accusing the interim board of having made mistakes,” there should be less antagonism between the board and the membership at the next meeting. Giguere was happy to see community members rally to try to save the festival. He hopes they will improve their governance going forward, using available community resources.

Not everyone is optimistic about what options are available to the interim board, however. Bold says she hasn’t heard anything that suggests they will be able to rebound from the financial situation.

“I think that they are noble and have the best of intentions, but my opinion remains the same: [Capital Pride] should dissolve and a new group should take over for the 30th year,” she says.

Doyle points out that even if they can’t save Capital Pride, having an interim board made up of new people still brings something positive to the table.

“If bankruptcy is, in fact, the best or only option, then at least come Dec 17, it will be a decision made with the members and not a decision made behind closed doors,” he says.

The reputation of Capital Pride has also taken a hit; not simply in that it seems to have mismanaged its finances, but in failing to maintain transparency with its members. Three months after the board first announced there was something amiss in its finances, it’s still unclear what actually happened.

“I definitely think this is a black mark on our reputation,” Bold says. “I hope that whoever is actually at fault eventually is named so that the entire community and everyone involved in the Pride movement doesn’t continue to suffer.”

As the December AGM approaches, community members continue to speculate as they wait to see what the interim board will present. It remains to be seen whether Capital Pride will attempt to rally community members together to pay off the debts and keep the festival branding or whether a new group of people will create a new festival with stronger governance.

What the community needs most of all is an explanation. With so few questions having been answered thus far, members are curious to see whether the interim board will be able to explain what happened with the finances and what their recommendations will be based on those answers.