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MLA repays $35,000 for trips cited in audit

MLA repays $35,000 for trips cited in auditB.C. MLA Jenny Kwan is pictured in Vancouver, November 27, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - British Columbia New Democrat Jenny Kwan says she has reimbursed $35,000 after government audits revealed her family's trips to Disneyland and Europe were paid for by a non-profit society.

The Vancouver member of the legislature made tearful apologies at a news conference Friday, saying her husband assured her he'd paid for the family portion of the trips to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and a trip to Europe that included stays in Vienna and the United Kingdom in 2012.

Robert Dan Small was an executive with the Portland Hotel Society until Thursday, when the B.C. government fired four managers and appointed an interim board after scathing audits detailed the society spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish trips, hotels, restaurant meals and other questionable expenses.

"Words cannot adequately express how shocked and sorry I am about the findings of these audits," Kwan said, adding she is taking an unpaid leave of absence to spend time with her children.

Kwan said it's her understanding that Small, from whom she is now separated, was attending conferences in Europe when he brought the family along.

"He reassured me that the payments were made by him and I accepted that. In a relationship there is an element of trust."

Kwan said she paid for a package vacation to Disneyland with her credit card and made copies of the bill available to reporters.

"Upon arrival in Disneyland my ex-husband informed me that he had paid for a hotel package update," she said.

Kwan said she tried unsuccessfully to reach Small on Thursday for an explanation but communication between the divorcing couple has been difficult.

She said she spent most of the day, after the audits were released, attempting to get answers from the Portland Hotel Society but was not provided with any information.

"Given the findings of the audits it is clear to me that their accounting is deficient and I'm not at all confident that they will be able to provide me with this information," she said. I strongly believe that the travel expense incurred by my family should not be paid for or perceived to be paid for by the society. I'm therefore paying the full amount identified in the audits that either my ex-husband and/or my family is associated with."

The Portland Hotel Society was established more than 20 years ago to help house Downtown Eastside residents, many of them mentally ill and addicted to drugs. The group is best known for administering Insite, North America's only safe-infection site where people shoot up their own drugs with clean needles under medical supervision to prevent overdoses and the spread of infectious diseases.

Questions over spending by the society that received $28.5 million for the current fiscal year prompted an internal review and audit that led to an external audit covering March 2010 to March 2013.

Most of the funding for the society comes from the Crown agency BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health. The society also received Health Canada grants and $100,000 in donations last year.

Other findings in the audits showed that society credit-card expenses for 764 restaurant meals amounted to $69,000. Travel costs expensed for trips to Vienna, Paris, Istanbul, New York City, Banff and Jasper and Ottawa amounted to $300,000.

Kwan said she is disturbed that her family played a part in taking money from a non-profit society that is supposed to help needy people who she has been advocating for during her 17 years in provincial politics.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said Kwan was misled by her former husband and has done the right thing by paying back the money.

"With respect to the whole audit, there's lots that's unacceptable in there and obviously issues of accountability for Portland and for the provincial government are raised by that."

Neither Vancouver Coastal Health nor BC Housing had filed a complaint with police by Friday over a criminal investigation involving the society.

The society's interim board met for the first time Friday. Health Minister Terry Lake said Thursday a new management team will soon be in place to ensure a smooth transition of services so more than 1,000 clients in the Downtown Eastside continue to receive services.

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