The atmosphere was tense and emotional as members of Montreal’s Native community gathered at the city’s Native Friendship Centre to discuss the troubled facility.
The centre’s embattled new leadership set a strict agenda and tried to cut off any off-topic questions or complaints.
Outside, a shouting match erupted when one community member was told he couldn’t attend the meeting, allegedly due to security considerations.
The meeting was held Dec.’8 to give community members a chance to discuss how the centre has been run.
In the end, many community members left feeling just as bitter as before.
The meeting started off with a prayer, followed by discussion of the centre’s financial troubles. The centre’s new board, elected on Oct. 20, presented a gloomy picture, saying the facility was nearly bankrupt when they took over.
They presented documents that stated the centre was $186,000 in debt as of Oct. 31. The centre also reportedly didn’t have enough money to operate until the end of the fiscal year, next March 31.
But audience members immediately questioned the numbers. The figures did not come with explanatory notes or a letter signed by an accountant attesting to their reliability.
A financial advisor to the centre had difficulty explaining to the audience how some of the figures were arrived at. At one point, he was forced to admit there was a mistake in the dates on one page.
Centre officials either refused to answer our questions or didn’t call back.
Next up at the meeting was the centre’s proposed financial restructuring plan. It included staff layoffs that the centre says will save $104,000.
The centre says it will still finish the fiscal year with a deficit of $59,000, which will be added to the existing debt.
Many audience members were dubious about the new board’s portrayal of finances. “Some facts were stretched to the limit. To me, the financial statements (that were) presented were smoke and mirrors,” said Ida LaBillois-Montour, who was suspended from the centre on Oct. 31 after 14 years as executive director.
The new board members had some supporters in the audience, who praised the board for having “saved the centre.” Also on the agenda was the report of an outside investigator who had been called in after LaBillois-Montour and her assistant were suspended.
The investigator found sloppy bookkeeping and poor human-resources management at the centre. He said the centre had had trouble raising enough funds to cover the growing demand for services.
He also chastized the new board for how it acted with regard to LaBillois-Montour: “I do believe that they should have at least allowed the executive director to meet with them to discuss these issues prior to issuing a suspension.” LaBillois-Montour, who plans to sue the centre, and her assistant were eventually let go from their jobs.