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Peel child welfare organization paid $49,000-plus to company run by senior staffer

Peel CAS headquarters in Mississauga. Google Maps

Peel’s publicly-funded child welfare organization has paid a company run by one of its senior executives more than $49,000 since 2020, an investigation by Global News shows.

Emails and internal documents show Peel Children’s Aid Society (CAS) paid at least $49,100 to Kitchener-based Cloud Ventures Inc. for services, including summer camps.

Records maintained by the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services state someone named Haris Syed is the secretary and treasurer for that company.

Syed’s LinkedIn profile suggests he works in financial planning at Peel CAS.

His LinkedIn profile lists his location as the “Greater Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo Metropolitan Area.” Government records show the Haris Syed at Cloud Ventures Inc. was registered at an address in the outskirts of Kitchener.

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In late 2019, Syed opened a business teaching children to code in Waterloo‘s Laurelwood Shopping Centre with his business partner, Naveed Ali, according to local reporting at the time.

The business was a branch of Code Ninjas, a North American franchise that specializes in teaching children and early teenagers to code. Code Ninjas operates more than 500 branches across Canada and the United States.

Cloud Ventures, paid more than $49,000 by Peel CAS, is the name of the registered business that runs Code Ninjas Waterloo.

Global News obtained an invoice from Code Ninjas Waterloo to Peel CAS with Cloud Ventures listed as the address, alongside a Code Ninjas logo.

Both Ali and Syed are listed as active officers for Cloud Ventures Inc. by the province.

“Peel CAS created a project to support youth to develop their programming skills with Code Ninjas at the beginning of 2020,” the organization said in a statement.

“A virtual component was needed to ensure the health and safety of our youth. Unfortunately, virtual programs were not available from the local Code Ninjas vendor at that time.”

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Emails obtained by Global News also show front-line workers at Peel CAS were encouraged to sign children up for virtual camps run by Code Ninjas Waterloo, the business Syed reportedly launched.

“If you haven’t register (sic) a child/youth on your case load, please register now. Your support is appreciated,” a June 3, 2020 email to several internal Peel CAS staff lists said.

The email included a brochure for a camp run by Code Ninjas Waterloo.

Virtual summer camps run by Code Ninjas Waterloo in 2020 cost $130 plus tax, according to the documents.

“The agency obtained quotes from prospective vendors,” the Peel CAS statement said. “A cost-effective provider, Code Ninjas Waterloo, met the specific needs of our youth and the agency. However, one of our staff members was affiliated with that provider.

“This was taken into consideration before the vendor was approved.”

Another email on Jan. 28, 2022 issued a reminder to sign children up for more virtual programming in February 2022. Code Ninjas Waterloo was one of the programs attached.

Peel CAS said it ended its relationship with Code Ninjas Waterloo “earlier this year.”

Peel CAS said approval “should not have been granted” and that the organization “sincerely regrets this error.”

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Peel CAS has arranged to have children attend camps run by Code Ninjas Waterloo since 2020, according to the organization.

The value paid to Cloud Ventures Inc. is more than $49,000. Syed is the manager of financial planning, analysis and compliance at Peel CAS, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He did not respond to questions from Global News sent on April 5 and April 7. A voicemail left on Syed’s Peel CAS number was not returned.

Attempts to reach Syed’s business partner, Ali, through Facebook and LinkedIn were unsuccessful.

Peel CAS has been under scrutiny over its management for more than a year.

In early 2021, the province ordered an investigation into the organization after reports of anti-Black racism raised by front-line staff and its union.

The resulting document, published in October 2021, described the organization as “seriously troubled.” It pointed to concerns about how the children’s aid society was run, including costs, salaries and expenses.

The review found training and recruitment costs at the organization were double that of “comparator societies” and that promotion and publicity costs were triple.

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Peel CAS CEO Rav Bains has been on administrative leave since November 2021 pending a board investigation.

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According to the statement from Peel CAS, the organization’s conflict of interest policy “requires that the agency avoid not only actual conflicts of interest, but potential conflicts and the perception of a conflict of interest as well.”

A post on the Peel CAS intranet created in July, 2020, replicated and sent to Global News, also said Code Ninjas Waterloo would offer 10 per cent discounts to front-line workers.

“Code Ninjas Waterloo, offers 2 VIRTUAL coding Summer Camps with discounts for PeelCAS staff,” the post said.

It instructed staff to email Naveed Ali, Syed’s business partner at Cloud Ventures Inc. according to official records, for a discount.

“We have been reviewing and strengthening our policies and procedures, while ensuring appropriate controls are in place to eliminate any future potential conflicts of interest,” Peel CAS said.

 

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