Landmark ruling should protect families of ill kids from unscrupulous fundraisers
Helen Sykes and Steve Cumberland, of Alliston, are shown outside the Barrie courthouse, Thursday. Their daughter, Jaida, pictured above, died of a rare illness at Sick Kids hospital last year. The couple is applauding a judge’s landmark ruling that says charities must now inform the public if fundraisers are keeping commissions. Children’s Charity fundraiser Adam Gour, of North Bay, was found guilty of defrauding the public of Ontario after he raised more than $400,000 for sick and dying children across the province, including Jaida, but did not disclose that more than 95% was going to line the pockets of Gour and his fundraising team. (Tracy McLaughlin Photo)
Parents of sick and dying children throughout Ontario warily applauded a judge’s landmark ruling on Thursday that the public must now be informed how much of their donated dollar is being scooped up and pocketed by fundraisers.
In his ruling, Superior Court Justice John McIsaac said it’s a crime for fundraisers to keep the percentage of commissions they take a secret.
The judge found professional fundraiser Adam Gour, of North Bay, guilty of defrauding the public after he collected almost $500,000 on behalf of sick kids across Ontario — because he never told the donators that almost 99% of the cash went to secret commissions, bonuses and Gour’s own bank account.
“I am satisfied that this silence or failure to disclose is misleading … and amounts to a fraud,” said the judge.
However, McIsaac also made it clear that it’s not a crime to keep the money, “even if it’s 95%, so long as you give the contributor a choice.”
The ruling came after a two-week trial where the court heard Gour skulked around the Internet, hunting for families of sick and dying children.
He would then take their photographs from local newspapers to create posters and set them up at big-box stores to fundraise for the child, often without the families even knowing about it.
Gour’s team of fundraisers, who operated under the name of Kare for Kids, or Northern Children’s Foundation, were told to lie and claim they are volunteers, even though they were hauling in up to $650 each in cash per weekend, plus hotel and food expenses.
Gour and his team, including a blind man from North Bay who manned the cash boxes with his guide dog, were arrested after they set up camp in Alliston in November 2009.
An outraged family of a dying little girl were shocked when they saw her posters by cashboxes in local grocery stores in Bradford and Alliston.
“It was a disgusting thing to do. It was creepy,” Alliston mom Helen Sykes said outside of court after the ruling.
Sykes and her husband had just got off the plane after taking their dying daughter to Disney Land with the Children’s Wish Foundation when they saw the posters of their daughter. Their daughter, Jaida, 7, died at Sick Kids last year after a lifelong struggle with a rare illness.
“She was a beautiful little girl and Adam Gour to used her as a pawn to tug at the heartstrings of the public, then keep all of the money,” Sykes said.
“That should be a crime.”
However, she and her husband applauded the judge for ruling that the public must at least be informed.
“It’s a great day for the people of Ontario,” Sykes said. “No more secrets. People only have so many dollars they can afford to donate, and they have the right to know where it’s going.”
In the Sudbury area, Gour’s team moved into town to raise money for another little girl who has since died. Once again, the family never knew what Gour was up to. That family has asked to remain unnamed.
In the North Bay area, the crew targetted a sick 10-year-old boy, Ethan Wood, who was suffering from bleeding brain tumours. In that case, Ethan’s parents were presented with a book of coupons and a cheque for $1,000, although court heard tens of thousands were raised for him.
Ethan’s mom, Julliet Wood, who is fighting breast cancer and whose son is still struggling although his tumours have subsided, was upset that the judge did not rule that it was a crime when Gour kept the money North Bay residents thought was going to her son.
“I don’t get that. How can that not be a crime?” Wood said after hearing the verdict shortly after her chemotherapy treatment on Thursday. “However, at least he was convicted of something and at least the public is now going
to know about these scams.
“We hope this ruling will be enforced.”
From the beginning, Gour’s lawyer, Sam Goldstein, insisted that while it may be wrong, it is not a crime to keep secret commissions from the donating public. In fact, Goldstein argued that dropping money into a cash box makes people “feel good,” and that is enough reward and it is not necessary for anyone to know where the money is going. He pointed out even the Canada Revenue Act has no strict laws for fundraisers, only guidelines.
“Once a member of the public puts a penny — or a million dollars — into that cash box, that money is no longer theirs. They give the money and they walk away with a good feeling, and that’s it,” Goldstein said during the trial.
“It may be wrong, it may stink, but it’s not a crime.”
But the judge did not agree.
“I reject Mr. Goldstein’s submission that this is just an unfortunate fact of life in Canadian society,” McIsaac said. “The donator must be fully informed.”
He noted that if the donating public had been aware that
huge sums of money were not being used for the sick children, “the contributions would have dried up.”
Gour will be back in court for sentencing in December.