Federal and provincial officials have launched reviews and audits into how millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by La Passerelle I.D.E., a francophone agency under fire for what appears to be a bogus program to rescue prostitutes and for misusing sports tickets donated by a charity.
Investigations are underway by the federal Department of Public Safety, the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services, the provincial Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Along with the City of Toronto, United Way and several small charities, these government agencies have provided roughly $ 5 million in the last three years to La Passerelle, an organization run by a Rosedale couple with the stated mission of helping new francophone immigrants find work.
Premier Doug Ford’s government took the opportunity Tuesday to chastise the predecessor Liberal government in a statement about La Passerelle. “Acting on our mandate to put an end to 15 years of Liberal government waste, abuse and disrespect toward taxpayers, our government is initiating a monitor of La Passerelle,” a government spokesperson told the Star.
The two provincial ministries that have funded the non-profit will “look into how provincial funds are being used by the organization,” said spokesperson Jesse Robichaud. Robichaud said the Conservative government is committed to the “settlement of new Canadians” but wants to ensure money is spent properly. La Passerelle was founded by Léonie Tchatat in the 1990s.
“We are reviewing the situation seriously to ensure taxpayer dollars are respected,” Robichaud said. The provincial review may include visits to the non-profit and a review of its data and “financial management and performance measures.” Public funding records reveal that at least $ 900,000 in provincial grants has gone to La Passerelle in the last three years.
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Federally, the public safety department says the “seriousness” of allegations contained in a Star report about an anti-prostitution program has caused it to launch a review of how hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent. To date, $ 400,000 of the $ 1.5-million grant has been sent to La Passerelle, run by executive director Tchatat and her husband and agency accountant, Guy Taffo.
“The federal government … will take measures, if necessary, to recover funds and/or terminate projects that are not fulfilling obligations under the funding agreement,” said public safety department spokesperson Tim Warmington.
The Star found that La Passerelle’s “Sans Visage” program, which was set up to help sex workers exit that lifestyle, had a group of 26 women in its program who were not prostitutes. Instead, the women whom Ottawa believed Sans Visage was saving were professionals in marketing, public relations and working for the Ontario government. They had been invited to a dinner in 2018 billed as an “empowerment event.” Unbeknownst to them, it was an opportunity for La Passerelle to gather their names and contact information.
“I was absolutely shocked and stunned,” one woman told the Star. A new group of 15 women recently attended a session, also billed as “empowerment” and were not told the true funding designation: helping sex workers exit their lifestyle. The women were given dinner, a meditation session and henna tattoos.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an Ontario agency that provides grants to various groups, has launched audits into how about $ 1.2 million has been spent, said an official who confirmed the audit but was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Other taxpayer and charity donor dollars, and additional funding from the federal government, have gone to La Passerelle in the last three years, but most of these agencies have not yet responded to questions from the Star about whether they are looking into the non-profit’s activities.
A spokesman for United Way told the Star it is monitoring La Passerelle and “the agency is delivering on our funded programs as promised.” The spokesperson said in the wake of the Star’s stories, “United Way is taking a deeper look at the management issues that have surfaced.”
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Tchatat, La Passerelle’s executive director, has previously said through a lawyer that her agency delivers valuable programs for new francophone immigrants to Toronto. In a news release this week she said she “denounces in the strongest possible terms the Toronto Star article.”
The Star’s investigation of La Passerelle’s finances has been hampered by lack of publicly available information. For example, the non-profit’s financial statements have few details to explain how such a small agency is spending so much money.
Of the $ 1.8 million in expenses La Passerelle recorded in 2018, a whopping $ 335,506 is listed as payments for office supplies and furniture. Insiders at the offices at Carlton and Yonge Sts. say they have not seen any new furniture there for years.
Salaries are recorded at $ 502,147, though it is a small office with most people paid through government programs or earning salaries in the $ 20,000 to $ 40,000 range. At any time, insiders say, there are only eight to 10 employees.
Tchatat has told the Star she is paid $ 85,000 a year; her husband is paid $ 72,500 a year. Consultants were paid $ 570,334 in 2018. One consultant has told the Star she was paid $ 1,000 a day to prepare reports for Tchatat, for a total of $ 57,000 over the past three years.
Tchatat and Taffo live in a home in Rosedale, lease a cottage in Muskoka for six months, have their children in private schools, drive a red Mini Cooper Countryman and a black Range Rover, and own property in Cameroon (which their lawyer told the Star is inherited).
Until a month ago, when her two-year term expired, Tchatat was also an Ontario Human Rights commissioner, earning roughly $ 10,000 a year for that position.
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or email@example.com