Two properties held by the Apehtaw Kosisan Metis Child and Family Support Society for 12 years -- one of which was turned partially into a daycare with the help of nearly $900,000 in federal funds -- ended up in the hands of a numbered company following a transaction that appears to violate B.C. Society Act rules, a Citizen investigation has uncovered.
According to B.C.'s corporate registry, the numbered company, 0799573 B.C. Ltd., is held by Ken and Murline Browning. Documents from B.C. Land Titles and the B.C. Assessment Authority show that the sale of 1224 and 1239 Houston Lane to the numbered company took place in mid-August 2008 for a combined price of $149,100. That's well below the listed sale price of $499,800 for the two properties this year, and the province's assessed value of the properties at $430,800 in 2008.
The property at 1224 Houston Lane, which has a price tag of $399,900, now has a "sold" tag posted on the for- sale sign.
The Society Act allows for the dispersal of society assets, but
only if fair market value is received, according to the B.C. Ministry of Finance.
The act also forbids the sale of assets to members of the society, and while it is not clear whether the Brownings were on the membership list of the Apehtaw Kosisan society in 2008, they were clearly involved in the society. Ken Browning was one of the signatories to the creation of the Apehtaw Kosisan society in 1992 -- and as such, a member of the society -- and was listed as president in 2005, according to the society constitution and annual reports filed with B.C.'s corporate registry. Browning also signed correspondence as president of the society in 2007 (which would also make him a society member), according to society documents.
Murline Browning held the position of executive director while the society was operating federally-funded child care services in the late 90s, according to news stories at the time, and was named as the society's bookkeeper in society documents from 2007. She declined to comment on how the Houston Lane properties ended up under her and Ken Browning's ownership. "You seem to know. So, you just keep digging," she said.
Messages were left over a two-week period at Ken Browning's home in Alberta, but he could not be reached for comment. (According to B.C. Housing, Browning resigned from his long-time senior management position at the Prince George Metis Housing Society last fall. There has been a wholesale board change at the housing society, and B.C. Housing has an internal review underway over complaints. Sources say the Brownings have split from each other).
Although the document trail clearly shows the Houston Lane properties ended up under the ownership of the Brownings, it is unclear how it happened.
The society's long-time secretary-treasurer, Mike Cunningham, reluctantly revealed in questioning last week he had signed the transfer of the property. But he said he believed he was putting the properties into the hands of the Waskahikan Management Society. That society manages rural housing units for B.C. Housing in north-central B.C. (Cunningham is also on the board of directors of Waskahikan and the P.G. Metis Housing Society. Ken Browning is also on the board of the Waskahikan society).
But on Tuesday, Cunningham said it wasn't Waskahikan he had signed the transfer to, but the Apehtaw Kosisan society. When asked how that was possible given Apehtaw was the society that owned the properties, he cut off the phone call.
When asked earlier how the properties were transferred to the Brownings, Cunningham said he didn't know. He said the decision was made at a board meeting, although he couldn't remember who was at the meeting. The society has four directors, according to the corporate registry. In addition to Cunningham, they are listed as Theresa Loyer (Ken Browning's second cousin who claims she is not a director), Brent Loyie (Murline Browning's son and Ken Browning's stepson) and Bev Tourand.
Cunningham said the idea to transfer the Houston Lane properties away from the Apehtaw Kosisan society was Ken Browning's. Cunningham acknowledged he didn't know anything about the province's rules governing societies. "They said it would be better to sign it over to Waskahikan. That's what I did, I thought," he said last week. "That's all I know. I really have nothing to say."
Cunningham said he had resigned from the Apehtaw Kosisan board, but he remained listed as a director before the end of 2009, according to B.C.'s corporate
Loyer, who believes she never sat on the Apehtaw board, told The Citizen she did not know anything about the transfer of the Houston Lane properties to the numbered company. She wasn't certain, however, of her membership on the Apehtaw board of directors. "I don't remember having meetings for it. But things were so criss-crossed there. We had P.G. Metis Housing meeting, Waskahikan meetings. Who knows, maybe I was (on Apehtaw Kosisan)," said Loyer.
Loyer was still listed as an Apehtaw board member in 2009, according to the corporate registry.
Rumours of the transfer of the Houston Lane properties to the Brownings had reached the Metis community last year.
Charlie Ghostkeeper, a former P.G. Metis Housing Society employee, was one of the witnesses to the signatories of the incorporation of the Apehtaw Kosisan society in 1992. He says the Apehtaw Kosisan society was a creation of the Prince George Metis Housing Society, and that it should have never been turned over to the Brownings. When the Apehtaw Kosisan society purchased the 1224 Houston Lane property in 1996, it was owned by the P.G. Metis Housing Society. "It had the same board of directors all down the line," said Ghostkeeper, arguing Apehtaw was not a stand-alone society. "How did (Ken Browning) transfer that 1224 (Houston Lane) over to his name?"
Most of the directors on the board of Apehtaw were also on the boards of the P.G. Metis Housing Society and the Waskahikan Management Society. In addition to Cunningham, Loyer, Loyie and Tourand sat on Waskahikan's board. Loyer and Tourand were also on the Metis Housing board.
Treasa Ragan, also a former P.G. Metis Housing Society employee, wants to know how the manager of a society can become his own landlord. The P.G. Metis Housing Society is leasing space at 1224 Houston Lane, a building that Ken Browning now owned, and where he was still the senior executive of the society in 2008, she noted. The realtor selling 1224 Houston Lane had noted that the three-year lease was $2,732.17 per month.
She says she passed this information -- including the existence of the numbered company -- to B.C. Housing, which provides funding for the P.G. Metis Housing Societies subsidized housing units.
She says the province needs to stop the sale of the properties.
When the society was first created in 1992, the newly-minted constitution had a wide-ranging set of aims directed at the Metis. They included improving social services, improving quality of life by developing community-based services, developing community-support homes and strengthening families. The society also laid out it would acquire lands and buildings for social and community purposes.
The Apehtaw Society began operating the Awasisak day care at 1224 Houston Lane in the late 90s with money provided by the federal government's aboriginal head start program. However, the federal government cut off funding in June 2000 and launched a lawsuit to recover its funding and the 1224 Houston Lane property.
In a statement of claim filed in a B.C. Supreme Court in 2001, the federal government outlined that $893,500 had been used to purchase and renovate the house, as well as purchase a van, bus and equipment.
The lawsuit was dropped by the federal government in 2004, and the 1224 Houston Lane property remained in the ownership of the Apehtaw Kosisan society.
After the day care program shut down, the Apehtaw Kosisan society does not appear to have provided any more services.
- The triplex at 1224 Houston Lane was sold for $149,100 on Aug. 15, 2008 while 1239 Houston Lane was involved in a non-sale (a value of less than $1) on the same date, according to B.C. Assessment Authority documents.
- B.C. Land Title documents show the properties were transferred on Aug. 15 to 0799573 B.C. Ltd. with an address at 2667 Peterson Rd.
- The province's corporate registry lists Ken and Murline Browning of 2667 Peterson Rd. as the numbered company's sole directors.
- According to B.C. Land Titles documents, a $165,000 mortgage taken out in 1997 on both Houston Lane properties was discharged on Aug. 22, 2008. That mortgage was held by the Apehtaw Kosisan Society, and signed for in 1997 by Ken Browning as the authorized signatory for the society.
- A $210,000 mortgage was taken on the 1224 Houston Lane property by 0799573 B.C. Ltd. on Aug. 15, 2008, whose signatories were listed as Ken and Murline Browning, Land Titles' documents show.
- The B.C Assessment Authority listed the combined value of the properties in 2008 at $430,800 -- $125,000 for the undeveloped property (with a 840-square-foot, boarded-up building) at 1239 Houston Lane, and $305,800 for a 3,750-square-foot triplex at 1224 Houston Lane.