Head of finance at ‘seriously troubled’ child welfare organization on leave: what next for Peel CAS?

By Isaac Callan – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter Mar 12, 2022 – Brampton, Mississauga Provincially-appointed

By Isaac Callan – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Mar 12, 2022
– Brampton, Mississauga

Provincially-appointed investigators were clear in their assessment of Peel’s child welfare organization. Their review, published in October 2021, described the organization as “seriously troubled” and pointed fingers at senior management and its board of directors.

Five months later, there are few signs of progress. The Peel Children’s Aid Society (CAS) director of finance is on leave alongside its CEO, but the organization is refusing to answer basic questions. Few levers remain for those seeking to bring change, with key powers resting inside Queen’s Park.

“Peel CAS has provided the ministry with a thorough workplan that is responsive to the concerns raised in the review,” a spokesperson for the Province told The Pointer. “The ministry continues to be in close communication with society leadership regarding the society’s implementation of their workplan.”

The October 2021 review of Peel CAS came on the heels of more than a year of turmoil. 

Alarm bells were first rung by the organization’s Black staff in the summer of 2020, taking part in a series of counselling sessions. A summary of the sessions facilitated by Breakthrough Counselling and Wellness was peppered with disturbing allegations and complaints from Black staff, not named in the document.

The report, released in Fall 2020 and obtained by The Pointer at the time, said that the human resources department “weaponizes its power” against Black staff, referencing a “culture of fear” that was later confirmed by provincial investigators. The summary said Black staff did not feel valued for their skills and were instead “used for photo ops, so the organization can appear to celebrate diversity.”

Four Black staffers spoke to The Pointer in 2020; they asked to remain anonymous due to the “culture of fear”. The work of Kike Ojo-Thompson, a highly respected business owner in the equity and inclusion sector who was the senior manager of diversity and anti-oppression at Peel CAS until 2014, was cited several times as a key turning point. The former Peel CAS senior staffer ran allyship sessions to support Black staff and a diversity monitoring committee for the Peel CAS board, along with other progressive initiatives aimed at pulling the organization, which serves one of the most diverse regions in the country, out from its previously backward culture. 

After she left, those projects, despite being widely revered by frontline staff and many managers, were disbanded.

 

The Peel CAS headquarters in Mississauga.

(Image from Isaac Callan/The Pointer)

 

In the only interview Peel CAS CEO Rav Bains (who is currently on administrative leave and under investigation after the provincial review revealed financial mismanagement on top of a toxic culture) conducted with The Pointer, he defended dissolving the Board Diversity Monitoring Committee and suspending the allyship programs. He promised to bring the latter back, though it is unclear if that ever happened. He said decisions to disband the two programs were “thoughtful” and “gentle”, designed to “integrate diversity and equity into everything we do”. 

This is not what staff told The Pointer. They voiced alarm over his refusal to support crucial work, and rush to dismantle the progress that had been made, particularly with Black staff.

Events at Peel CAS moved slowly after the review by Breakthrough Counselling and Wellness was completed. The union, which commissioned the initial counselling sessions, and senior leadership were unable to agree on a course of action. In February 2021, the provincial government decided it had seen enough and ordered an external review. 

“We don’t want to give you the impression of either being defensive or somehow we’ve got a perfect system or that we have everything buttoned-down,” Bains said during his interview with The Pointer. “I think that would be a mistake for us. There’s always work to be done.”

In a rare public statement, Juliet Jackson, the president of Peel CAS’ board of directors, welcomed the provincial review. Her volunteer board has ultimate authority over Bains and is tasked with guiding senior management to run a successful organization. The board does the final sign-off on the CEO’s performance, oversees various financial matters, approves raises and bonuses for the CEO and guides major strategic decisions for the organization. 

“We welcome the review and are confident that the results will lay the foundation for ongoing organizational improvement and development,” Jackson said in February of last year. 

Jackson will step down as president of the board at its next annual general meeting in June.

The review was published around eight months later, with a damning assessment of governance at Peel CAS. Reviewers noted the board accountability statement does not mention its duty to the staff at Peel CAS, pointing out there are also no metrics to ensure the CEO is operating within the General Executive Limitations.

Reviewers were particularly critical of the work the board has done surrounding human resources. “The CCR findings that contradict these conclusions are compelling and a glaring testimony to the inadequacy of the metrics the Board uses here,” reviewers wrote.

Reviewers made seven recommendations to fix governance alone, with a further seven recommendations to mend the human resources file and six recommendations relating to finance. These are only a few of the total recommendations included in the report. 

A key theme highlighted by reviewers was a lax attitude to policies, particularly among senior staff. “Sample claims of Executive/Senior Management travel indicated a couple of instances where the total cost for meals exceeded the maximum allowance of $45 per day,” one line explained. “The Society needs to ensure proper approvals are documented,” another line added.

 

The review of Peel CAS included many damning observations.

(Image from Isaac Callan/The Pointer)

 

The review revealed one particularly alarming expense: CEO Rav Bains used another employee’s credit to book a flight to San Francisco in 2019. 

The use of another staffer’s credit card (the director of people and culture’s Visa) meant the Peel CAS board either was not alerted to the expense and did not sign off on it, or knew about it and did nothing. Bains did not reimburse Peel CAS for the cost of his travel until 2021, the same year reviewers started asking questions.

“The CEO should not use other employees’ Society credit cards,” the report says. “This results in the Board not signing off on CEO expenses per Delegation of Financial Authority (DOFA) and the CEO would be approving their own expenses.”

Not only did Bains’ trip get funded through a back-door mechanism that bypassed the board, but the travel itself was ineligible to claim as an expense. According to the report, “any out of country flights must be paid by employees” and are not eligible for expenses. 

The line prompted an investigation by The Pointer. 

A detailed analysis of Bains’ social media, questions to Peel CAS and conversations with sources at the organization revealed the CEO had expensed more than $6,000 to attend two events run by life coaches. One of the coaches Bains paid with public money was helping him prepare for a lucrative retirement including consultancy work, helped by the release of a book that featured a personal email address for clients to contact Bains as a paid consultant alongside his full-time government job.

 

Social media photos show Rav Bains with Raymond Aaron, who was paid public money to coach the CEO in 2019/

(Image from Facebook)

 

The Pointer was unable to get an explanation from Bains or the board as to how these self-help seminars paid for by taxpayers related to the CEO’s work in the child welfare space. Bains was placed on administrative leave following the investigation but the board now says the life coaching expenses were legitimate. Board president Jackson has provided no evidence yet to explain how this is the case.

“Rav is about to retire from a nice long career and wants to do something in his retirement that may even be better,” success coach Raymond Aaron said in a May 19, 2019 video that was recorded and shared on Facebook. “And so I am helping him with that.”

In August 2019, Bains paid $3,320 USD (just over $4,100 CAD) to attend an event by the Canfield Training Group called “Breakthrough to Success” in Scottsdale, Arizona. Three months later, in November, he paid a further $2,260 CAD to the Raymond Aaron Group, the coach who helped him publish a book and prepare for retirement, to attend an event in Toronto. Ontario taxpayers paid for these events.

The flight listed in the provincial review as San Francisco was in fact destined for Arizona, where Bains attended Breakthrough to Success. In a series of questions and answers, Shane Vieira, Peel CAS’ director of communications, changed his bosses’ story. 

The exchange is below: 

 


Shane Vieira, October 21:

Your questions raised the potential perception of a conflict of interest, which led Mr. Bains to ask the Peel CAS Board of Directors to review the details of these training expenditures in depth, to ensure accountability.

The Pointer, October 25:

Just one further clarification. The flight in question at the beginning of this thread was to San Fran and, you said, was for training with Jack Canfield on August 5 to 9. An archived version of Canfield’s website shows the training dates you have mentioned were held in Arizona. Scottsdale is an 11-hour drive (absolute minimum) from San Fran.

Can you clarify why Mr. Bains expensed a flight to San Fran for a training session in Arizona?

Shane Vieira, October 25:

Following your question we have looked into it further.  You are correct that the training took place in Arizona.  Mr. Bain’s flight there was direct from Toronto to Arizona, with no layover.  On the way back from Arizona, there was a 2 hour 15 min layover in San Francisco before continuing back to Toronto.  San Francisco was mistakenly listed as the place for the training in the comprehensive review, but it was in fact in Arizona.

The Pointer, October 25: 

Are you able to clarify how that mistake made it into the comprehensive review? I know it was based on documents and interviews. Did Mr. Bains misremember the location when he spoke to investigators?

Shane Vieira, October 26:

For any information related to the findings in the comprehensive review, please contact the ministry directly. The agency has no further information to provide at this time.

The Pointer, October 26:

That’s okay, as noted, my questions aren’t for the agency, they are for Mr. Bains. 

Will he be making himself available for interview at any point today? Or confirming a time that is (sic) works for him? 

Shane Vieira, October 26:

Mr. Bains respectfully declines the request for an interview.


 

The financial issues did not end with one flight. 

Public sector salary disclosures show Bains and his senior management team enjoyed significant salary increases, even as the Ontario government passed legislation freezing compensation for public sector employees. 

The public disclosure list shows the total amount of compensation paid to a public servant in a calendar year. It measures exactly how much taxpayer money each government employee earns. Data from the portal shows Bains and his senior team were lavished with annual increases that far outstripped the rate of inflation, and were either at or well beyond the high end of allowed public sector raises. 

From 2018 to 2019, Bains’ remuneration increased 8 percent, rising a further 8.6 percent from 2019 to 2020. Bains received $272,824 including more than $8,500 in taxable benefits (possibly for a car allowance) in 2020.

These increases were noted by provincially-backed reviewers. “The CEOs salary has increased by 29.7% (4.95 % per year) since 2015 which is the 2nd highest % change against comparators,” they noted. Another line explained: “Some Director positions were reclassified which resulted in increases greater than 4%. These classifications were approved by the CEO.”

The provincial review found Bains was earning an alarming $60,000 more, on average, than the CEOs of comparable CAS organizations in Ontario.

When The Pointer approached Jackson, the board president, with questions in November 2021 about how the unsustainable increases were allowed, on her watch, she initially admitted she did not know. 

“I hear you and understand the confusion,” she said after a back-and-forth. “As stated, the Board will be reviewing agency financial data and the findings in the comprehensive review to make sense of any discrepancies in this matter. This will require some time due to past system changes, but we will provide you with information on the findings, which should take approximately two weeks.”

The board is responsible for the CEO’s salary and has ultimate oversight. It is unclear why its president did not know why her organization’s most senior staffer was being rewarded so handsomely for leading an organization blasted by provincially-backed reviewers as “seriously troubled”.

Almost three weeks later, the board sent a note summarizing the increases to Bains’ salary. It showed he received the maximum increase every year for half a decade, bar one. It also showed a bonus payment that pushed his total compensation even higher.

Bains was placed on administrative leave less than two weeks later pending an investigation that is still ongoing. 

 

The information on Rav Bains’ salary from Juliet Jackson.

(Screenshot)


 

The turmoil at the top of Peel’s child welfare organization then took another turn. Three months after its CEO was placed on administrative leave, the director of finance was also sidelined. 

Marino Cader, the director of finance, property and information technology, is currently on leave. Cader joined the organization in 2016 and was promoted to his current position at the beginning of 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Pointer he is on leave; it is unclear what kind of leave Cader is on. Jackson refused to confirm the reports.

An automatic reply for Cader’s Peel CAS email account on February 28 stated: “I (am) currently away from the office”. A source with access to the internal email system confirmed the automatic reply was still in place on March 8. On March 9, his office confirmed he was on leave. 

Haris Syed is covering Cader’s duties while he is away.

“As you have stated and seem to understand, we are unable to comment on confidential personnel matters,” Jackson told The Pointer. She was responding to basic questions about Cader’s administrative leave, his short-term replacement and broad reasons for the move. 

Cader has received generous compensation increases over the past two years. His pay packet increased 9.5 percent in 2020, rising 7.9 percent the year before, according to the public sector salary disclosure. Cader’s salary as the director of finance and corporate resources in 2017 was $131,789, and by 2020, under the same job title, it was $176,755. He earned the third-highest salary at Peel CAS in 2020. 

Provincial investigators found several examples of poor financial management within the organization. The organization’s training expenses are double those of other comparable children’s aid societies in Ontario. Investigators say they found a number of instances where training costs had been claimed and recorded with “no record of what the actual costs related to”. Peel CAS spends three times as much on publicity as its sister organizations. 

“The ministry expects that agencies that receive government money spend it for the purpose it was intended, in the best interest of taxpayers and consistent with the current fiscal environment,” a provincial spokesperson previously told The Pointer. 

On March 1, The Pointer wrote an email to Vieira, justifying why information about Cader’s employment was in the public interest after he and Jackson both declined to share details. Two days later, an unsigned letter from the Peel CAS board of directors informed The Pointer’s leadership that the board would no longer be responding to questions from The Pointer. A similar communication was sent internally, telling staff that neither Peel CAS nor its union would communicate with The Pointer. 

The Pointer received copies of the internal communication from multiple sources. Soon after, the union’s president sent an internal memo clarifying that Peel CAS staff were free to speak to The Pointer.

Jackson and Vieira have never made a correction request regarding The Pointer’s reporting. Staff who began the effort to reform the troubled organization have continued to cooperate, in the hope evidenced-based reporting will put pressure on senior leadership while informing the public about the reality behind the scenes inside a crucial institution that serves some of the most vulnerable Peel residents.

 

Peel CAS is no longer responding to questions from The Pointer.

(Image from Isaac Callan/The Pointer)

 

A work plan recently approved by the Peel CAS board and the provincial government includes measures to bring stricter financial reporting. 

By March, Peel CAS must “review the cost allocation for expenses incurred utilizing corporate credit card [and] update policies and procedures as required to clearly articulate costing assumptions and allocations.” The work plan also commits to “review the expenditures coded to miscellaneous to ensure they align with (provincial) guidelines”. 

The board of directors is supposed to provide scrutiny and supervision to Peel CAS’ senior leadership. With the process potentially stalling, and questions about the board’s own track record on governance, strict provincial oversight might be the only solution.

A similar situation arose inside the Peel District School Board two years ago, when senior administrators refused to address systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism, while the elected board of trustees not only supported obstinate staff, but promoted polices that caused irreparable harm to Black and other visible minority students.

In 2020, Queen’s Park had seen enough, sent in a provincial supervisor to take over governance from the board of trustees, and fired the director of education, the equivalent of a CEO. 

“One of the most serious obligations our Provincial government has is to the children who have been removed from their families by a CAS for their own protection and who expect support and care,” Teresa Armstrong, NDP critic for Children and Youth Services, and Irwin Elman, former Ontario Child Advocate and current Ontario NDP Candidate for Don Valley West, told The Pointer in a joint statement. 

“Our Children’s Aid Societies must be laser focussed on the well being of the children they serve. Anything that detracts from that focus should be of concern to the Premier and his government. We expect the Premier to put the Peel CAS in order immediately. Children depend on that.”

Queen’s Park says it is too soon to comment on any potential action.

“It would be inappropriate and speculative for the ministry to comment on possible future courses of action with respect to Peel CAS while the society is taking steps towards implementing its workplan,” the Province said.

 

 


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isaaccallan

Tel: 647 561-4879


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