Skip to main content

B.C. NDP MLA Jenny Kwan arrives for a November 2009 news conference in Vancouver.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

New Democrat MLA Jenny Kwan has repaid $34,922.57 in questionable spending on her family after the release of a scathing audit of the non-profit that runs the supervised-injection site and other social services in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Among the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lavish spending by the non-profit's executives, Thursday's audit detailed two trips taken by Ms. Kwan, her two children and husband Dan Small, formerly an executive at the Portland Hotel Society.

In an emotional apology, Ms. Kwan reiterated an earlier explanation that she had been told by Mr. Small that he had paid for the family's portion of trips to Europe and California's Disneyland out-of-pocket. The couple is currently in the midst of divorce filings. Unable to get an explanation from her former partner or auditors, the legislator chose to reimburse the non-profit, and delivered a cheque on Friday morning.

"I trusted that he was telling the truth," said a tearful Ms. Kwan, who also announced she would take an unpaid leave of absence as MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. "I'm very disturbed and upset."

According to the audit commissioned by Vancouver Coastal Health, the family spent $8,323.22 during a stay in the U.K. That visit included charges for an $887-per-night hotel room. The family then travelled to Bristol in southwest England where they spent $3,175.12, claiming a $780-per-night room for part of the stay.

In another leg of the same trip, Mr. Small claimed $10,636 for a stop in Vienna, Austria.

For a trip to Disneyland, the non-profit reimbursed $2,694.95 to the family. Part of the money was to cover an upgrade made to the family's room at the Disney resort in Anaheim because of an undisclosed health problem with Mr. Small.

Ms. Kwan has now paid back all those expenses, as well as $10,093.28 for travel and airfare from 2012.

"I am truly sorry that this has occurred," she said. "This money should go to support people in the community."

The PHS is a giant among the many groups serving the Downtown Eastside. Along with running Insite, Canada's only supervised-injection-site, the non-profit operates more than 1,000 housing units, a credit union, health clinic and dozens of local initiatives.

While the non-profit has received $28.5-million in the current year from public sources, the outgoing founder of the PHS said earlier this week that much of the questionable spending was sourced from private donations, and not taxpayers. According the group's founder and long-time public face, Mark Townsend, the travel and benefits were provided to workers in lieu of bonuses or other monetary remuneration.

On Friday, Ms. Kwan said she didn't know whether her trips had been benefits from the non-profit. She also didn't know why her former husband had told her he had paid for them. The couple had maintained separate bank accounts.

Because of the divorce proceedings, Ms. Kwan said it was "difficult" for the two to speak about the subject. She told Mr. Small of her plan to pay back the money via e-mail.

An opposition MLA without a supplementary position in the legislature currently earns about $102,324 annually.

The longest-serving NDP member in the legislature, Ms. Kwan was one of the most vocal critics of Carole James, leading to the party leader's ouster in late 2010. Ms. Kwan held a number of ministerial portfolios while the NDP was in government. As of Friday, she was the party's housing critic.

On Tuesday, Mr. Townsend resigned from the non-profit he had helped lead for more than two decades. The group's board of directors, along with a number of senior managers, resigned at the same time. A new interim board and executive, chosen by officials from the local health agency and the provincial housing authority, have been assigned to keep the group running – a must for the vulnerable population it serves.

"It's been a messy week, but PHS has done fabulous work and taken on things that aren't always popular and politically healthy, it has helped a lot of people," said Kate Gibson, the executive director of another Downtown Eastside group, WISH. "This week's events haven't taken away from all the good they've done."