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Sudan referendum a last act for York Weston centre

Kitchener woman Roda William Gany, 30, celebrates after casting her vote for the Southern Sudan referendum. Voters flock to a polling station in North York, Jan. 9, 2010 to cast their ballots for a referendum in Southern Sudan on whether or not the region should remain a part of Sudan.

Sarah Dea for The Globe and Mail/sarah dea The Globe and Mail

While the Southern Sudan Referendum heralds a new beginning in Africa, it also signals the end of the road for the organization hosting the voting centre in Toronto, the York Weston Community Centre.

The imminent closing of the settlement and community services organization stems from a recent decision by the federal government to cut Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funding for settlement agencies found in regions that are attracting fewer newcomers, especially in Ontario. In making its decision, CIC evaluated all agencies for cost effectiveness, client outcomes, organizational capacity, and other performance criteria.

As far back as 2008, CIC had identified critical weaknesses in York Weston's governance structure. It claimed the centre had failed to meet benchmarks in service delivery as well as its obligations under the terms and conditions of its contribution agreement with CIC.

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In 2009, a new, reform-minded board of directors was elected and began to work on addressing CIC's concerns. It submitted its first progress report to CIC that December. The board also fired its executive director last summer and replaced him with John Doughty, a specialist in crisis management and turnaround in non-profits.

Mr. Doughty said the centre turned a corner by putting together an outreach plan and implementing stronger budget management practices. It even began to exceed some CIC targets for ESL training by up to 60 per cent.

But according to Mr. Doughty, CIC never responded to the centre's progress reports. Shortly thereafter, the centre received notification from CIC that it would lose its funding "without cause." Because CIC provided for almost 99 per cent of the centre's $700,000 annual budget, the decision effectively terminated its operations.

"We were shocked," said Mr. Doughty. "[CIC]never shared their evaluation with us and never responded to the reports we gave them."

CIC spokeswoman Tracie LeBlanc said that CIC reviewed all materials and worked closely with the centre since 2008 to address critical issues. These included financial instability and management practices, a lack of administrative experience, and an inability to meet the objectives of the contribution agreements.

Ms. LeBlanc added that CIC amended its contribution agreements with the centre on numerous occasions to give it an opportunity to improve its performance.

The centre employed 13 staff and offered services to newcomers representing a cross-section of cultures.

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It offered services in several East African languages that Mr. Doughty said are not available through any other agency of its kind in Toronto.

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