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Volunteers sort food after checking the best before date at Winnipeg Harvest food bank. (Robert Tinker)
Volunteers sort food after checking the best before date at Winnipeg Harvest food bank. (Robert Tinker)

Food bank, charity

The David and Goliath story that wasn't Add to ...

David Northcott thought he had a great story to tell and he told it, all day to anyone who would listen.

It was a tale of how the Canada Revenue Agency and its bureaucrats had made a horrible mistake that hurt the charity Mr. Northcott runs, called Winnipeg Harvest. It had all the makings of a classic David and Goliath story and Mr. Northcott spent much of Tuesday doing media interviews from far and wide criticizing the CRA’s incompetence.

There was just one problem. By the end of the day, it turned out the food bank had made the booboo, not some faceless bureaucrats in Ottawa. When confronted with the information by The Globe and Mail, a sheepish Mr. Northcott backtracked and apologized to the CRA.

“In all honesty it’s probably a mistake of Winnipeg Harvest now,” Mr. Northcott said, adding that the food bank plans to issue a press release to officially say it’s sorry. “I feel bad that the ownership of the issue goes to Winnipeg Harvest and that’s our apology for that, for sure. It looks like [CRA]were accurate and they were good and it was Winnipeg Harvest that made the mistake.

The saga started Friday when Mr. Northcott got a call from an irate donor.

The donor “said she was never going to help us any more,” Mr. Northcott recalled. “She said, ‘you are paying your people too much, I’m moving on to another charity, don’t send me any mail any more, we don’t want to talk to you.’ ”

Mr. Northcott did some digging and found out that the donor had read the charity’s latest annual financial filing with the CRA that is posted on the agency’s website. The filing, known as a T3010, is based on information provided by charities and it includes a section on compensation.

The T3010 on the website showed Winnipeg Harvest had nine employees earning between $120,000 and $159,900. In fact, the charity has nine employees earning between $40,000 and $60,000. Someone had checked off the wrong box.

Mr. Northcott blamed the CRA, saying the charity submitted correct information last June and CRA officials had incorrectly transposed it on to the T3010. The story hit the local media with Mr. Northcott expressing fears the information had been available for months and that other potential donors saw it and didn’t donate.

But when The Globe checked Winnipeg Harvest’s original filing sent to the CRA last summer, it showed the charity had checked off the wrong box. It seems Winnipeg Harvest’s treasurer sent a draft version to the CRA and gave a final version, with the correct compensation figures, to Mr. Northcott.

“It really does take a different meaning,” Mr. Northcott said after reviewing the filings. “Somebody at Harvest made a mistake and it’s my responsibility as executive director, obviously I’ve got to take that one.”

Philippe Brideau, a CRA spokesman, said the agency couldn’t comment on specific charities. The T3010 will be changed though.

The story did at least have a happy ending. Mr. Northcott contacted the angry donor and explained what happened. “She’s coming back,” he said.

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