Toronto — One of Canada’s foremost Jewish advocacy organizations is being shaken by an internal rebellion of members who say that the organization lacks “responsible governance.”
A group calling itself Concerned Members of B’nai Brith Canada is challenging B’nai Brith Canada, a 132-year old service organization. The group of dissenters says that its members include four past presidents. The rebels have declined to reveal their identities, claiming they would face summary expulsion from B’nai Brith.
Former Toronto lodge president Henry Gimpel, a spokesman for the dissidents, said, “It’s not that they’re trying to” oust B’nai Brith Canada’s top officers, “they have to.”
“There’s no way you can reverse the situation with the existing [leaders],” Gimpel said. “There’s too much of [B’nai Brith Canada] being run by one person.”
Frank Dimant, who has been B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice president for the past 29 years, rejected the charge of one-man rule. “I would categorically deny that,” he told the Forward. “This organization is made up of many leaders, many of them well known in the community.”
B’nai Brith is one of the Canadian Jewish community’s leading names. It was founded in 1875 as a Jewish service organization and later morphed into a defender of the community against antisemitism. Like its American counterpart, B’nai Brith Canada is affiliated with B’nai B’rith International. Unlike its American counterpart, it plays a leading role in Canada’s Jewish political advocacy and has a high-media profile — standing as a right-of-center alternative to the more centrist Canadian Jewish Congress.
In recent years, B’nai Brith Canada’s political agenda has enabled it to build close ties with the ruling Conservative Party, giving it greater influence on the federal government than its limited base — 4,000 full dues-paying members — would suggest. The dissidents claim that B’nai Brith Canada’s membership has declined, and there’s no doubt that the organization has been struggling financially: Last January, it had to re-mortgage its head office building to raise $850,000.
Gimpel, who is an ex-member of B’nai Brith Canada’s national administrative board, warned that three lodges, accounting for one-quarter of the national organization’s dues-paying membership, are discussing breaking away. Sources inside B’nai Brith denied this. Lodge officials could not be reached for comment.
Since May, the dissenters have distributed an anonymous monthly newsletter called BBC News Without the Spin. In the June issue, they wrote, “We want to end the current dysfunctional corporate governance at BBC and restore it to its once prominent position.”
Some of the criticism has taken on the organization’s political nature, with dissidents claiming that B’nai Brith Canada has become too closely identified with the Conservative Party, to the point that it could endanger its status as a charitable institution. Sources close to the organization say that these complaints come from dissidents who are supporters of the Liberal Party.
Much of the criticism, however, takes on the organization’s financial governance. The rebels complain that there is “no financial accountability,” no annual general meeting involving participation by the lodges and no elections of officers. The dissidents have said that “senior officers” have failed for the past five years to provide members and donors with audited annual financial statements for the annual general meeting.
Prior to the 2006 meeting, the president of the organization, Gerry Weinstein, wrote a letter to dissidents in which he said that “the business heretofore conducted at the [annual general meeting] is now within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board of Governors and the Executive Committee.”
Members wishing to review B’nai Brith Canada’s audited financial statements can do so only at the organization’s offices and cannot make copies.
The dissidents filed a complaint with a federal agency, Corporations Canada, in December 2005, stating that the restricted financial disclosure violated the Canada Corporations Act. They asked for a probe of B’nai Brith Canada’s status as a registered not-for-profit. The agency told the group that it should take the matter to court.
The rebels lost at the B’nai Brith International Court of Appeals, an internal tribunal that ruled against them in July and stated, “No irregularity in the procedures followed by B’nai Brith Canada has been made out that would invoke the jurisdiction of this Court.”
Weinstein declined to be interviewed, but in a written statement he said, “These disgruntled individuals have chosen to attack B’nai Brith Canada and its leadership in a manner that we believe is without just cause and destructive to the organization and the Jewish community as a whole.”
Weinstein said that B’nai Brith Canada was acting similarly to other Jewish organizations, including B’nai B’rith International, that had changed their power structures “to protect themselves from both internal and external challenges.”
B’nai Brith sources said that the dissident past presidents are motivated by personal grievances against the organization or individuals in the organization, and that some have not been active members for decades.
The rebels, for their part, say that there have been vigorous efforts to stifle their dissent. When an officer of B’nai Brith Canada’s biggest lodge disputed the contents of the minutes at the 2006 annual meeting, security personnel attempted to forcibly remove him, according to the rebels. More recently, they say, five members received a letter from the organization’s lawyers warning them not to publish the critical newsletter.
The dissidents also are upset that B’nai Brith Canada refuses to reveal the names of its board of governors. A spokeswoman for the organization initially agreed to provide the Forward with “some names,” then later said that in order to protect the members’ privacy, the names would not be disclosed.