Mission Friendship Centre executive director Grace Cunningham and Ron Rice of the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres listen to questions at a meeting for the centre’s funders Monday.

Mission Friendship Centre addresses complaints

BC organization rep says nepotism allegations are unfounded.

The Mission Friendship Centre (MFC) is making strides towards addressing concerns raised last year about the management of the facility, members of its parent organization told a group of stakeholders Monday.

Last year, the MFC was placed “in difficulty” by the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) after complaints of mismanagement and nepotism, and public protests outside the centre’s First Avenue building.

On Monday, BCAAFC staff told representatives from a variety of funding agencies that they have been satisfied with how the MFC and its governing board have responded to the complaints. They noted that several new committees were struck, including ones responsible for human resources and financial matters, to address the problems cited by complainants.

The BCAAFC’s Lisa Mercure also said the organization did not find wrongdoing with the friendship centre’s hiring practices, although she said a larger staff was needed both to provide more services and to lessen any perceptions that hiring processes are unfair.

Mercure said the BCAAFC will help support hiring new people and that outside organizations can also participate by pooling resources to address needs in the local aboriginal community.

Speaking to the News Tuesday, BCAAFC executive director Paul Lacerte also struck a positive tone.

“I think the process has worked well,” Lacerte said. “It’s not finished, but I think the signals are not of an organization in chaos.”

Lacerte said complaints triggered an audit by the provincial ministry of aboriginal relations of funding for program directors at all 25 B.C. friendship centres. That audit found no issues, Lacerte said.

He also defended a BCAAFC policy that sees the organization not respond to those who bring complaints.

“We just don’t have the capacity to engage directly with [citizens] and we don’t have the mandate to engage with them.” He said the organization’s time is better spent trying to fix the issues raised by complainants.

Lacerte said he was confident that the special agreement now in place between the BCAAFC and the MFC will run its course in the near future.

“We have to be sure we’ve got the centre to a place where we are comfortable that all of the questions have been answered,” he said, expressing hope that the centre had now reached a turning point where it can focus on addressing the needs of the community. “What we want them to do is put all their time and energy into building capacity to serve clients.”

None of that however, satisfies Kristopher Eriksen, a former volunteer who was banned from the centre and who has been behind many of the complaints against the MFC.

Eriksen maintained that the issues with the MFC will not be addressed until there is a change in leadership. He also denied that he had turned down an invitation to meet with BCAAFC and MFC staff, and said  the BCAAFC’s complaint process is flawed in not dealing with those who raise concerns about centres.

“I’m still willing to meet,” he said. “We have to sort through this.”