Error: 200
@TheVarsity

The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

U of T radio station to sue former general manager

Lawsuit details alleged long-term embezzlement at CIUT 89.5

By Dan Smeenk
Published: 2:28 am, 26 November 2012
Vol CXXXIII, No. 10 under

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.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

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.

  • BroncoBomba

    You state in your CIUT article that Mr. “…Burchell was hired by the station in July 2007…”. He was actually hired in 2000.

    Reference for this is maintained in a CRTC archive located here: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2001/DB2001-37.htm

    …and quoting from that archive:

    “…On 12 November 1999, the licensee (CIUT) applied to the Commission for a
    temporary management authorization under which Mr. Brian Burchell would
    serve as station manager. The Commission approved the authorization on
    28 January 2000….”
    It is perhaps important to note that Mr. Burchell was hired originally at the behest of the upper echelon of the University of Toronto administration which at the time included President Robert Prichard.

    • Dan Smeenk

      Thank you for your input.

      I got the 2007 date from this quote from the statement of claim. “The
      defendant Brian Burchell was the Station Manager and Executive Director of CIUT from July 19, 2007 to October 19, 2010.”

      I think what you linked seemed to suggest that Burchell was only hired as a station manager only on a temporary basis in 2000.

      • Clarifier

        in the fall of 1999, UofT administration (yes, under Pritchard) working with a right-wing president of SAC (UTSU’s predecessor) took over CIUT. Burchell, a member of UofT’s Governing Council, was parachuted in as “interim” station manager — interim for about eight years.

        Ken Stowar was around and could tell you about it. Poke around in the CRTC archives (paper and online) and you’ll learn more. And minutes of the station’s post-coup board of directors may be public by now.

  • BroncoBomba

    I cannot speak for Brian Burchell being “Executive Director of CIUT” at all times since 2000, but he definitely served as the permanent station manager of CIUT all the way from at least 2000 to the time he was fired. If you don’t believe me, get in touch with CIUT’s current station manager Ken Stowar who would certainly be able to tell you. After all, Mr. Stowar reported to Burchell as CIUT’s program director at least from 2004 until he assumed Burchell’s job upon his firing in 2010.

    In fact, The Varsity’s own archives reported that Burchell was station manager in 2005.
    http://thevarsity.ca/2005/09/01/cbcs-trash-is-ciuts-treasure/

    And here is another article which declares how long Burchell served as CIUT station manager:

    http://shanefamealexander.blogspot.ca/2009_08_01_archive.html

    “…We knew one day we’d be asked to move,” says Brian Burchell, CIUT’s station manager for a decade…”

    So, if Burchell’s appointment was intended to be “temporary”, it lasted uninterrupted for a decade.

    Glad I could clear that up for you, your readers, and CIUT’s lawyers perhaps.

    • Dan Smeenk

      Thank you for this comment. You’ve just helped make the reader more informed.

  • JustAStudent

    Why didn’t CIUT share these facts with us, the students? The lawsuit was filed in April according to this news report so why are we just finding out about it now? CIUT is not transparent and it really has very little to do with the student body except for taking our money. Most of the people there haven’t been students for 20 or 30 years, if they were ever at U of T at all. Why are we paying for this, especially given their shoddy financial history. According to what I can find on the internet Burchell the guy who was sent in to clean up CIUT in the first place when the station was in a crisis a decade ago! It’s time to put CIUT’s student fee to a student referendum

  • Toldyaso

    The ghosts of Bill Green and Bruce Cattle have been having a good laugh with this baby – karma rocks!

    • Cole

      What do you mean by this?

      • Toldyaso

        That there’s history here. Burchell was installed in a temporary capacity in 2000 after a faction seized control and turfed out members who had tried to stop a previous round of financial mismanagement. And so it goes. The only answer at a campus-community station like CIUT is to have a system that is fully open, democratic, transparent and accountable. Let’s hope things turn around and a new attitude takes hold at CIUT.

        • BroncoBomba

          A “fully open, democratic, transparent and accountable” campus community radio station will never occur in Toronto. There are too many vested elements in the student unions (particularly CFS), the “social justice” and “equity” movements with their close affinity with loons, anarchists, small-time hoods and business opportunists. Even if CIUT wanted to be more open, the real threat from these aforementioned groups appears to be an excellent excuse to keep the CIUT board “safe” by more or less appointing themselves. That’s certainly the model Sheldon Levy wanted at “New Ryerson Radio”. Media exists to be controlled at all costs, no matter how fringe it is.

  • Varsity readers

    Can you publish an update on the outcome of CIUT’s license renewal hearing? I heard that their license was renewed for a shorter period because of their compliance issues. Is this true?

  • Toldyaso

    Actually, BroncoBomba, it was left-wing members at the station who uncovered the evidence of financial mismanagement (back around 2000) and tried to sound the alarm and made a call for accountability and transparency. But the station was under control of a faction that was more apolitical in nature. This more apolitical element collaborated with right-wing members of student council and also UoT admin and pulled off a coup, and managed to get the group calling for accountability turfed from the station and a new management and board entrenched.