TORONTO - The release of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale (APS) between Villa Charities, the Catholic School Board and The Catholic Diocese had the effect of shining a light into the dark and exposing the opaque shadows operating there.
Still, people have to move on. Some of the “players” have to leave and the institutions/organizations involved need to embrace the concept of transparency as they restructure.
The Reimagine/Redevelopment joint-venture project was never about anything except making the most money possible from a physical asset, the Villa Charities lands and buildings on the Southwest quadrant of Dufferin and Lawrence.
Fine; but, the lands had been granted to Villa Charities’ founding entity (Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation) by an Order-in- Council of the Province to the Community for the explicit purpose of providing service to the community.
Until recently, the donation had been put to good use and achieved some laudable milestones, witness the public furor that coalesced against their destruction of the Columbus Centre.
It had been a “community hub” for several decades even if, more recently, the “heirs” of the Founders showed an unacceptable level of administrative [in]competence or willingness to keep the vision alive.
Their attachment to the Community waned. The Community doesn’t exist anymore, they said … and hoped.
The allure of Condominium development and its dollar potential is much more dazzling than the concept of public service and creativity. It is certainly more tangible and immediate.
Pal Di Iulio, former CEO of Villa Charities Inc, negotiated and signed the APS that required the demolition of the Columbus Centre buildings before transferring title to the Catholic School Board. He has left. The members of his Board of Governors have not.
He and they authorized the spending of millions on feasibility studies (conducted by firms related to former, then current, Board members), hundreds of thousands in “consultations”, public relations and advertising campaigns to advance the merits of an oversized high school while they worked on the “real deal” – condominium-nization of the campus lands.
A charitable, not for profit organization that uses funds in this manner invites itself up to scrutiny and investigation by the Public Trustee and the Canada Revenue Agency, not infrequently with regrettable consequent financial penalties and potential loss of status.
Yet, the Chair, Aldo Cundari and his Governors stay on.
Villa Charities Inc has seen this movie before. In 2014, Toronto City Child Services department and the Ministry of Education conducted a combined investigation of VCI’s Child Care operations. A forensic audit suggested fraud and threatened fines, jail and revoking of licenses.
Pal Di Iulio, then CEO, claimed it was all the outcome of an “administrative misallocation”. VCI was “allowed off the hook”, after paying back a sum in excess of a million dollars. Karen Manarin, then Chair of Columbus Centre, and Nina Perfetto, then Chair of VCI, did not resign.
Her law firm handled the negotiations.
The TCDSB is also familiar with Ministry investigations. It had been placed under Ministry supervision because, among other things, its Trustees were perceived to be making financial decisions not directly related to the education of the children under their care.
Trustee Rizzo, one of those, has yet to master the science of recognizing truth or of distinguishing between fact and [her own] fiction.
Despite the fact that the APS stipulates the demolition of the Columbus Centre, she has wailed incessantly that she and the TCDSB wanted to purchase the facilities to save them. People still return her phone calls.
The TCDSB has also spent at least two million dollars in the pursuit of this vanity project. Meanwhile Math and Reading scores on provincial test indices show that academic skills sets among their students are below the average.
What will the next Ministerial investigation find?
Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris did everyone a favour when she put a halt to the transfer of taxpayers’ money ($32.8 million) for the Reimagine boondoggle.
If any of the people mentioned in this column have a shred of decency, they will step aside, resign and allow a different generation of committed community-oriented citizens to re-establish trust and direction.