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BernieBy BERNIE BELLAN What a turnabout with the Gwen Secter situation! I was in Boston when I heard that a deal had been reached that would see the Gwen Secter Centre sold to a wealthy individual from the U.S.

I immediately contacted Marilyn Regiec, executive director of the Gwen Secter Centre, to try and find out what had happened. It turns out that this most recent development had come about quite recently.

I’ve been writing about the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Gwen Secter for over three and a half years now, ever since the National Council of Jewish Women announced in 2012 that it was going to be selling the building once the centre’s current lease was set to expire in May 2014. The Jewish Federation stepped in back then to delay the sale of the building by loaning the NCJW $2,500 a month, which was to be repaid to the Federation if the building were to be sold. As a result, the NCJW agreed to postpone the sale of the building until May 2016.

Then, last spring a new deal emerged that would have seen the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority take over paying the NCJW that $2,500 a month, in return for the NCJW’s agreeing not to sell the building for at least another five years once the current agreement were to expire in May 2016. The NCJW was ready to accept that deal under the condition that the Jewish Federation also dropped its insistence that the amount it had loaned to the NCJW be repaid. Apparently the Federation was reluctant to agree to releasing the NCJW from its obligation to repay the loan, so things had more or less come to a standstill. (Whenever I would ask someone from the Federation whether there was any movement in the negotiations with the NCJW, I would be told “yes, there is movement”, but that’s as far as it ever went.)

Then, all of a sudden, an “angel” appears out of the blue with an offer to buy the building from the NCJW for $900,000. Apparently this individual is a relative of one of Gwen Secter’s members and had heard about the plight of the members in possibly losing their longtime Main Street home.

While this is all great news –for the members of Gwen Secter, the NCJW, the Jewish Federation, and the WRHA, there are still so many questions swirling about how events ever ended up in this situation.

For instance, I’ve been asking for years what was the state of the NCJW’s Winnipeg chapter financial situation. Through a study of financial information that is available to anyone on the Canada Revenue website that details information about charitable organizations, I was able to ascertain that the NCJW has been running deficits in Winnipeg for years. In August 2014 I wrote: “No doubt there is an accumulated deficit – and the deficit may be quite large, but since the NCJW is a private organization it is not required to disclose the true nature of its financial situation.”

All attempts to obtain answers as to why the NCJW was so desperate to sell the Gwen Secter Centre were met with obfuscation over the years. It was also pointed out that there had been many improvements made to the building over the years, none of which were paid for by the NCJW, but for which the NCJW would be able to benefit if the building were to be sold. (In fact, it was that particular aspect of the situation that so angered the then Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, Joy Smith and the Member of the Legislature for St. Johns, Gord Mackintosh, that they wrote in an e-mail to me: “The proposed sale is utterly unacceptable because of its impact on so many. We have met with the NCJW to understand their financials and rationale and to challenge their approach and we are now meeting with the Jewish Federation to determine its position, role and options.”)

It seem though, that neither Smith nor Mackintosh had any more luck in prying financial information out of the Winnipeg chapter of the NCJW than I did.

But, now that someone has stepped forward with an incredibly generous offer that will rescue the members of Gwen Secter Centre, does it really matter what has been underlying the NCJW’s consistent determination to sell a building that, while they had nominal title to that building, had not invested one cent in its maintenance or improvement for years?

After all, the NCJW is supposedly now going to be using its soon-to-be-found windfall toward the construction of some sort of Jewish addiction centre. That sounds like a worthwhile cause, doesn’t it? And if it’s the NCJW’s money, that organization can do what it wants with it, can’t it? Further, it’s nobody’s business how big the NCJW’s accumulate debt is except for the NCJW, isn’t it?

Still, even if not many others really care what actually led the NCJW to decide it had to sell the Gwen Secter building, and the sudden appearance of a very generous donor would seem to be providing a happy resolution for all concerned, I’ll always be wondering why the NCJW has been so secretive about its financial situation.

If that organization truly had nothing to hide, why has it refused to answer any questions about its finances – whether those questions were coming from me or from some very prominent politicians.

Maybe some day we’ll get some answers as to what’s truly been going on with the NCJW here. As I noted in one of my previous articles about the Gwen Secter situation, in 1989 the Toronto chapter of the NCJW was forced into bankruptcy when when its then-president, Patty Starr, had been found to have appropriating funds from the organization and making payments to provincial Liberal politicians. Hey, that’s nobody’s business but the members of NCJW – right?

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