U of T’s campus radio station, CIUT-FM 89.5, has filed a lawsuit against former station manager Brian Burchell, seeking to retrieve more than $160,000 that were allegedly embezzled by Burchell in the lead up to his firing in October 2010.
The lawsuit accuses Burchell of professional malpractice, claiming his actions constituted a “breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion.” In the statement of claim filed against Burchell, University of Toronto Community Radio Inc. (UTCRI), the registered charity which operates CIUT-FM, is seeking damages of $162,193.68, in addition to standard damages resulting from legal fees and “other damages proven.”
Burchell was hired by the station in July 2007. Among Burchell’s privileges as a manager at UTCRI was access to the station’s bank account, granted with the provision that Burchell would use the money “in the best interests of the UTCRI.”
In May 2010, the UTCRI Board of Directors was forwarded a complaint from one of Burchell’s assistants that alleged that Burchell was misusing UTCRI funds. In response, the station conducted a forensic audit. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, university administrators had in the commissioning or execution of the audit. University of Toronto students pay $3.75 to the radio station each year as part of their compulsory ancillary fees.
According to the lawsuit, the audit found that Burchell had, over a number of years, used money from the UTCRI accounts for his own personal expenses, including “alcohol, groceries, restaurants, parking fines, and personal travel.” Burchell was suspended with pay and given until October 15, 2010 to respond to the audit, which he allegedly failed to do. He was fired four days later.
The lawsuit paperwork was signed by attorneys from high-powered Bay Street law firm Blake, Cassels, and Graydon LLP, and dated April 23, 2012, although copies of the filing have only recently begun to circulate.
The cause of Burchell’s firing was reported by The Varsity at the time as an “unspecified issue,” although Gage Averil, then-president of the station’s Board of Directors, said in an interview that the “issue” had been related to Burchell’s unnamed corporation, 17092700 Ontario Inc. “We had a process of review over the last few months and decided to terminate the contract with a company that Brian Burchell runs that had management contracts for CIUT,” said Averill at the time.
The Varsity was unable to contact Brian Burchell. Burchell is also the publisher of Gleaner Community Press.
In a phone interview with The Varsity, Ken Stowar, the current president of the Board of Directors at CIUT-FM, said that Burchell’s lawyers had filed a statement of defence within the 20 day period mandated in the statement of claim. Stowar, who took over Burchell’s duties as station manager after his dismissal, also added that the UTCRI had filed a response to his defence. The case is currently pending before the courts.