Action by the Diocese Church of Toronto to suspend sales of AGBU community center
Open letter to His Grace Bishop Abgar Hovakimian:
My understanding is that the Holy Trinity Church’s option to buy the Center (AGBU Cultural Centre on 930 Progress Ave), who deed is owned by AGBU Armen Ontario will expire on Jan. 29, 2019. The church’s challenge is to match the price which has been advertised as CAD$8.5Miilion.
Firstly I like to thank you for certain level of transparency that the church has demonstrated, there are some serious reservations that I would like to share with you on the record.
Below is my understanding of some of the relevant and material facts. I have collected them either from your announcements, website or the two meetings that were made public to the community in Toronto. First one in the church Nov 11, 18; and second in the hall below Dec. 16, 18. I had publicly announced in the church that through my smartphone, I will record the conversations; and as such considerable sections of the meetings were actually recorded. In the meantime, your committee seems did not take any minutes of meeting.
- There doesn’t seem to appear any investor from Toronto, Ontario to buy the Centre by Jan. 29,19; that was the message that Fr. Zareh conveyed to the attendants in the 2nd meeting, as well as you confirmed to me Last Tuesday. Although you mentioned that you are making efforts that the Armenia Church will bring in a foreign investor to buy the Centre. I presume again that the deadline is Jan 29, 2019.
- The 140 or so parking spots that belong to the Centre (and used to be shared by the church) will be sold to the Centennial college. The church will have access to those spots. However once the sales is consumed, the church goers will compete with thousands of the Centennial students that will use the same.
The committee also told us that Centennial’s intention is to convert the Centre into Students Recreational center; that may imply that students may attend the centre on Sundays also. This may seriously demotivate church goers, especially in the winter knowing that parking spots may be harder to find.
Currently the church is facing financial challenges, and is finding difficulty to break even. All the above will further impact its financials. Revenues from renting out the hall on Saturday nights will be less attractive.
- The committee informed us that the Centennial delegation visited the church, to discuss potential purchase. The estimated offer would have been less than 3 million when size of he property is compared with the centre. Mr. Boyajian estimated that replacement cost of the church would be CAD$15M. In other words, while AGBU was selling for $8.5Million, it was crippling the 15M dollars worth church into 3-4Million. A loss of for the church and community of over CAD$10M.
- In response to one of the questions by attendants in the 2nd meeting, Mr. Stepanian confided that he believed that AGBU had run deficits in as far as he was aware. The rest of the members of the committee did not disagree with him. Attached you will find three schedules taken from CRA website that shows year endings from 2015 to 2017, both AGBU and Armen Ontario had surplus. Furthermore when our community was facing challenges due to Armenian refugees pouring from Syria, AGBU and AGBU Armen Ontario were transferring funds to AGBU New York estimated at $160,000 in 2016. Attached you will find some calculations, I advise that your members do their own calculations.
I presume it is the church or the Parish who preselected the four members of the committee who are all qualified bankers, or principals of commercial real estate properties. The exception could be Mrs. Imasdounian who is a real estate agent. When they agreed to join the committee they had a “duty” to do their best effort to seek the best interest of the church. Also one of their key mandates was to find a solution or investors which meant that they had to do “due diligence”. During the 2nd meeting it became obvious that neither the committee nor some of the financial analyst (at least one of them whom I confronted during the meeting) had the basic information or data. Since the Center on 930 Progress had two tenants whose rent would not expire until another year, the committee members should have at least enquired on the amounts of those contracts whether the “Stanford International college”, or the” Catering company” who revenues had become a controversy.
While Mr. Boyajian argued that investors were interested in the future potential of the property, however he forgot that the current tenants were staying at the Centre, and their revenues from their contracts were relevant.
- A certain Mr. Jirair acknowledged by the committee ( I just have his name from the recordings), mentioned that about $4Million was raised from the community about 35-40 years ago, and that Mr. Alex Manoogian contributed only by $1M. His testimony together with a lots like him, may be crucial in the next action plan that I will suggest. The church is in unique position to access these testimonials, since hundreds if not 2,000 members all donated smaller amounts for the acquisition of the properties both Center as well as the church.
- I consider myself admirer of the former Bishop Bagrat whom I feel was “unfairly and undersuspicious circumstances” was ousted to Armenia. My phone call with you a month ago, instilled me confidence of your integrity and courage. The announcement that the church put out in the wake of the AGBU sales is one evidence. While you owe your allegiance to His Holiness Karekin II, however, your fiduciary duties as member of Board of Directors of the Canadian Armenian Diocese Church is to the best interest of the Charitable Not for Profit organization. With all due respect, the Catholicosse is Honorary member of AGBU which constitutes in this case, conflict of interest. His Holiness may engage in horse trading negotiations with Mr. Berge Setrakian (President of AGBU Central Board of Directors,) for the alleged best interest of Armenians worldwide, however all the parishonersand diocese members own their allegiance to the Toronto Armenian community.
I think it will be helpful to the media both in Armenia, and Canada that church directors did pursue the best interest of the community.
I suggest that the committeee contact church’s lawyers with Denton Law Firm ( Mr. Boyajian identified them in the 2nd meeting), and explore expeditiously with the judge an injuction on the sales of the 930 Progress Ave. It is Section 10 of the Charitable Accounting Act. Any two persons can start it. I am willing to contribute $15,000 of the legal fees, provided it is applied to this section. Also Section 6 of the same Act. I expect that some of the financially well off people in the committee contribute also.
The primary premise is breach of trust, and questioning the legitimacy of the decision of the sales by the current Directors of Armen Ontario who have been appointed by the Central Board of Directors. AGBU AO has not disclosed Governance documents nor has AGBU responded to two members who have asked to see the bylaws. So far they have not received.
Since the church’s first meeting, I had planned to lead this legal process through a Not for Profit that I created named “Armenian Diaspora Watch”. The strategy was to distribute letters to the community to tap Public Guardian, while at the same time asking the Superior Court Judge an injunction; However the law firm that I hired as of Nov 8, who are leaders in Charitable category, ran down the clock to abandon me on Jan 9. 19.I have started process to complain to the Law Society.Two more downtown law firms acted similarly suspicious. Furthermore, I received a letter from AGBU Armen Ontario “To cease and desist” otherwise they will go after me for damages. I will not be deterred by the “letter”, but I want to weigh my options after obtaining legal counsel. It is shameful that a Charitable organization is bullying members who exercise their constitutional right as a Canadian citizen. May God help Armenia, and its population.
If the church adopts these legal measures, they should not face the same obstacles that I did. For one thing, they have moral resources that individuals don’t, and they are more directly affected (after all in 1978, both the church was moved from Yonge St.; and AGBU real estate was on Hwy 7 & Bathhurst with the intention to share parking spots and feed off each other). As I may run out of options, I put this email together at a relatively late stage. But it is never too late, that is the idea of the “inunction”. I haven’t given up yet. I had asked the Der Zareh, on New Year to contact me, so far I haven’t heard from him. I will be available for sharing information or any support you need. You may call me at 416 731 2633.
Please contact me if you are interested to follow up with the legal opinion from one of the larger law firms specialized in Charitable organizations. It must be dealt with discretion.
Armenian Diaspora Watch
Cc: Mrs. Rose Imasdounian
Mr. Ara Boyajian
Mr. Jack Stepanian
Mr. Ohan Ohanessian.