La Passerelle I.D.E. is a non-profit agency that’s been operating in Toronto for about two decades, but they’re hitting the headlines now for all the wrong reasons.
The non-profit owned by Leonie Tchatat and Guy Taffo, both originally from Cameroon, has been receiving government funding to the tune of about $2 million per year to help francophone immigrants in their job searches in Toronto. They have also, like many other agencies in the city, been receiving free tickets to sporting and entertainment events from a charity called Kids Up Front. Those tickets are supposed to be distributed to low-income kids so that they can attend events that their families couldn’t afford. Instead, according to a Toronto Star investigation, the agency has been giving tickets to family members, friends — even visitors from France.
The donations include 782 tickets valued at about $54,000 over the last two years alone, and Kids Up Front says tickets were donated to La Passerelle I.D.E. as far back as 2014. Questioned by Star reporters, staff at La Passerelle called the situation a “free for all,” where staff, managers and their families, and others with personal connections to the couple used tickets at will. One incident involved a group of entrepreneurs visiting from France, who received a block of 20 concert tickets. The organization received another block of 40 tickets for a recent Justin Timberlake concert.
The Star investigation revealed details of La Passerelle’s founders, Leonie Tchatat and Guy Taffo, a wealthy couple who live in Rosedale, drive a Range Rover among other vehicles, own property in Cameroon, and a six-month timeshare on a cottage in Muskoka. When asked if he thought it was appropriate for people living in Rosedale to use the tickets, Taffo told a reporter, “People who live in Rosedale, we are the ones who are giving.”
After the story broke, the couple’s lawyer, Peter Downard, issued a statement saying that the couple and staff only used tickets when they couldn’t find a suitable child to give them to. He acknowledged that Taffo took two of his sons separately to a Raptors game, and one also to a classical music concert. A statement posted on Passerelle’s Facebook page claims that their 2014 agreement with Kids Up Front “specifically contemplated the use of tickets by volunteers and staff who may be chaperones or who are part of the community La Passerelle I.D.E. serves. That provision was not included in a 2016 revision of the agreement, which may have contributed to a misunderstanding.” The statement also claims that, “the Star has sought to harm” the organization by publishing the story. Ticket availability was posted on the organization’s Facebook page, according to the statement.
Tchatat, who is Director of the organization, posted optimistically on social media on Monday after the story was published, saying that La Passerelle was “confident that any misunderstandings will be resolved and put behind us.”
Taffo told a Star reporter that, if tickets were not used for an event, Kids Up Front would not give them any for future events. However, the rules set up by Kids Up Front stipulate that, if suitable children can’t be found, the tickets should be given back to the organization.
Kids Up Front has taken the matter seriously, and launched their own investigation after they were first contacted by the Star. Executive director Lindsay Oughtred confirmed that the charity, “has terminated the agency agreement and its relationship with La Passerelle I.D.E. effective today.” Kids Up Front rules also say that an organization should only be requesting tickets if they already know who will be using them.
Along with $2 million in funding from governments at the federal, provincial, and municipal level, La Passerelle receives donations from individuals and organizations like The United Way.