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Women’s shelters end year of turmoil

YWCA Agvvik – which runs the Qimaavik and Sivummut women's shelters in Iqaluit – is ready to move forward with a new and effective board in the aftermath of a financial scandal involving its now terminated executive director.

The organization was thrown into chaos after a Sept. 28, 2016 Lester Landau audit pointed out 25 "matters that may be of interest to management", according to chartered accountant Debbie Lyng's cover letter.

YWCA Agvvik president Heather Daley, acting executive director Dianne Rogers and shelter director Jeannie Bishop have completed clean-up of the logistical and financial mess left behind by former executive director Suny Jacob. The organization – which runs Qimaavik, a 26-bed shelter for women with children fleeing from domestic violence, and Sivummut, a 12-bed shelter for homeless women – is ready for a new board to take over in March. Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

These matters involved a variety of financial discrepancies, including that executive director Suny Jacob received $75,000 in shift replacement payments without evidence of review or the board's approval.

The auditor found that personal travel expenses were inappropriately reimbursed to staff and insurance premiums were paid for vehicles no longer in use.

The documents were widely leaked, including to the press, in May.

The new board will be elected at an annual general meeting in March.

Board member Nalini Vaddapalli and president Heather Daley will definitively not be running for re-election to the board.

"We're this close to total burn out," said Daley, who has been on the board for five years.

The YWCA has helped Agvvik throughout its year-long clean-up.

"They've been integral through this whole crisis in advising us, supporting us, even in helping guide us through a transition, which is what we're looking at now heading into the annual general meeting," said Daley.

The Department of Family Services is Agvvik's main funder. Yvonne Niego, the department's new deputy minister and former Agvvik board member, says that when Agvvik holds its annual general meeting in March, and an entirely new board is elected, there will be training money in place for board governance.

"I expect, with my arrival to the department, to be working with all of the shelters to strengthen governance, administration, budget management, increase oversight with the shelters and support in day-to-day operations," Niego said.

Criminal investigation commences

The board terminated Jacob's employment on the basis of conflict of interest in October when the initial forensic audit was completed.

"She had hired her daughters, and we had no idea. She had never disclosed that to us," said Daley.

The financial issues are now part of a criminal investigation.

"There were questionable practices that have yet to be proven in court," said Vaddapalli.

Family Services turned over its forensic audit to the RCMP after it was completed in late September. It has not been released to the public, as a criminal investigation is ongoing.

"The RCMP is conducting an investigation and a thorough review of the materials provided by the GN is underway. The investigator noted that as with any financial investigation, it will take a considerable amount of time to complete," confirmed Cst. Danielle Pollock.

Daley and Vaddapalli are burned out, after months of working on righting the organization.

Elisapee Sheutiapik was a board member, but resigned when she was elected to represent Iqaluit-Sinaa and was appointed Minister of Economic Development and Transportation. Niego resigned from the board when she was appointed deputy minister. Sheila Levy is leaving the territory. Two others have resigned and another is not running again.

They've also sought professional support to respond to some of the recommendations in the forensic audit, such as redrafting the human resources policy and establishing a procurement process policy.

What went wrong?

The two volunteer board members admit they completely trusted their executive director, who began working for Agvvik in 2010 and later became executive director, and that there was an oversight issue.

"With the women's shelters, there's always crisis. To ask an ED who isn't necessarily trained in that area to also be doing all of the financial stuff really is too much. But still, there were things that were done really inappropriately … and we didn't know. We should have known," said Daley. "We put in the time and the blood, sweat and tears because these shelters have to stay open. They have to stay open. It's critical."

Agvvik hired Dianne Rogers to step in as acting executive director, and she will be in place until August. She has reorganized the shelters, overseen the renovation of Sivummut, and ensured that the women are safe and secure.

"She's really turned things around at the shelters. She's doing some great work," said Daley.