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John Howard Society's Iqaluit office to close

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Monday, June 25, 2007

IQALUIT - Faced with mounting debt and no steady source of income, the John Howard Society of Nunavut will close its Iqaluit headquarters this week, according to executive director Jay Wisintainer.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Jay Wisintainer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Nunavut, sits in the television bingo studio that previously funded his organization's activities. - Karen Mackenzie/NNSL photo

"We're selling the house. We have too many bills," he said, adding that he has already had one offer on the property.

The society's support for the country food program for inmates, the Joamie School cultural program and the Apex breakfast program has already been halted.

The drop-in centre and computer room in its Iqaluit house are now closed, and the sign-in supervision program for offenders - run in co-operation with probation officers - is also ended, he said.

John Howard Societies across Canada primarily provide support and advocacy services to people who have been in jail and their families.

The Iqaluit organization has struggled since a television bingo licence, held by its fundraising body the Nunavut Crime Prevention Fundraising Foundation (NCPFF), expired March 31.

It has not been approved for a new one by the Nunavut department of Community and Government Services (CGS).

"I don't think they liked us handling a million bucks," Wisintainer said of CGS. "I'm tired of fighting to try to help people. We feel like we're just fighting for this licence and we're sick of it."

"We're treating them the same as any other organization, and we are trying to ensure they fulfil all the requirements of the Lotteries Act," said Leah Aupaluktuq, a senior consumer affairs officer for CGS.

Since losing its charitable status last fall when it failed to provide paperwork to Revenue Canada in a timely fashion, Iqaluit's John Howard Society has not received any funding from its national body, and was almost completely dependent on bingo for its funding, according to Wisintainer.

It is the only John Howard Society in the country without charitable status, according to Graham Stewart, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.

According to a legislative specialist for CGS, Iqaluit's branch of the society failed to meet a number of requirements under the lotteries act, and a compliance audit conducted on its fundraising body, the NCPFF, in mid-May revealed a number of accounting problems.

One of the key issues, she said, is that her department has not received a complete audit statement for the period between October 2006 and March 2007.

With proceeds from the sale of the house, Wisintainer said they hope to reopen a smaller office to focus on inmate needs, "but it's not written in stone."

"I'm sorry these issues have defeated them," Stewart said.

"There is very substantial proportion of people from the area incarcerated outside of the territory. Crime prevention, assistance of people who have been in jail, is desperately needed."