Forensic audit finds former B.C. Housing CEO directed funds to spouse's non-profit

Shayne Ramsay, left, former CEO of B.C. Housing is married to Atira non-profit housing CEO Janice Abbott, right. (Shayne Ramsay/Twitter, Atira - image credit)
Shayne Ramsay, left, former CEO of B.C. Housing is married to Atira non-profit housing CEO Janice Abbott, right. (Shayne Ramsay/Twitter, Atira - image credit)

A forensic audit into B.C. Housing found mismanagement related to a conflict of interest between its former CEO and his spouse, who is the CEO of B.C. Housing's largest housing operator.

Conflict of interest rules at the Crown corporation, which develops, manages and administers subsidized housing, were put in place specifically to remove CEO Shayne Ramsay from involvement in discussions or decisions about the Atira Women's Resource Society, which is run by Janice Abbott, after the two married in 2010.

Speaking in the legislature, B.C. Premier David Eby said a special team of investigators "found a structured and systematic breaching of the conflict of interest rules" at the most senior level of B.C. Housing, including altered meeting minutes, missing financial documents and millions of dollars spent without necessary approvals.

"Perhaps most troubling, they found the majority of text messages of the CFO and CEO had been deleted, which effectively obstructed the investigation," he said.

Eby said before asking for the forensic audit he was shown a printout of text messages allegedly from Ramsay directing a staff member to award funding to Atira without using his name.

B.C. Housing's funding to Atira has increased from $21.2 million in 2018 to $74.1 in 2022, according to the audit.

CBC has reached out to Abbott for an interview but has not heard back.

B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon said the audit is damning to B.C. Housing, Eby and the NDP government.

"The tragedy of all this gross mismanagement — direct awards, conflicts of interest, a huge exodus of staff that left under David Eby — is that the most vulnerable are the ones paying the biggest price because they are not getting the kind of housing they deserve and need," said Falcon.

Eby said while the audit does not excuse the "unacceptable behaviour" at B.C. Housing, there is no evidence money was stolen.

WATCH | B.C. Premier David Eby discusses the results of the forensic audit:

Atira alleges that report contained factual errors

Atira will now be subjected to restricted funding and suspension of renewal agreements until a review of its finances is completed, along with physical inspections of all its facilities.

In a statement sent Monday night, and attributed to Atira's board of directors, the housing provider said that the review found "no evidence of financial improprieties" within the non-profit.

"Atira's board of directors remains confident that its CEO and senior management will guide the organization through these challenges and make required improvements to Atira's operations and administration," read the statement.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Forensic auditors conducted interviews and seized laptops, phones and secure databases from B.C. Housing to complete the investigation.

However, Atira said in its statement that there were "many factual errors" in a draft version of the report viewed by the non-profit's staff, which were not corrected in the final report.

It said that it would post its submissions to the B.C. government, as well as correspondence with B.C. Housing, on its website on Tuesday.

Atira response 'disturbing,' Eby says

Eby said Tuesday morning that he and the housing minister are not satisfied with Aitra's response to the audit.

"Anyone who reads this report, anyone who looks at this and comes away writing a press release like Atira did, frankly, it's disturbing to me," he told on CBC's The Early Edition.

Eby said the investigators were not able to access key financial documents from Atira.

He said the organization has now agreed to let the government conduct a full review of its books.

The audit began last July at the request of Eby, who was then housing minister, after an initial Ernst & Young report found problems with B.C. Housing oversight and spending.

Eby said he asked the B.C. Housing's board of directors to fire or suspend Ramsay last year but they declined. Eby then fired the entire board in July. Ramsay announced his retirement in Aug. 2022. CFO Abbas Barodawalla was fired earlier this year, and Eby said efforts are being made to recoup the severance he was paid.

Eby said he knows the findings will likely cause anxiety among staff and people in buildings run by Atira, but he assured those residents their housing is secure.