Some black businessmen have said that the new financial aid program established by the government to aid black entrepreneurship is difficult to access, offers unclear repayment terms and asks compelling questions about the sexuality of applicants’.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund in September while its application portal was launched late May.
The $291.3 million program offers loans of up to $250,000 to businesses that are majorly black-owned. Also, black entrepreneurs starting businesses or operating existing small businesses can access the fund.
The contract of the government to administer the fund was awarded to the Federation of African Canadian Economics (FACE), a non-profit organization incorporated in January. FACE is headquartered in Justin Trudeau’s riding of Papineau in Montreal and it is the five black community-based groups’ umbrella organization.
While raising her concern about the program, Toronto-based entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland said at first, she was excited about the fund. She said: “I felt this was a really great opportunity for Canada to step up and do some really great things.”
But the excitement ended when she began the application process. Sutherland and many other black business owners said the program does not explain important repayment areas.
Sutherland said: “In my past life being a banker, I went through and tried to gather as much information as I could and I couldn’t find anything regarding repayment terms.
“I couldn’t find anything regarding loan rates.”
Julz Ossam, a Toronto clothing designer who applied for the fund revealed that he was surprised when an online application form requested that he state his sexual orientation.
He said: “Are you gay, are you bi, heterosexual, I’m like, am I coming for the money? Because the established banks, RBC, TD, Scotia, don’t ask you these questions.”
In the same vein, John Campbell, who owns talent agency disclosed that he was concerned by questions bordering on sexual orientation. In an open letter written to FACE, Campbell wrote: “We found a number of questions that violated the Canadian Human Rights Act, for example, sexual orientation and preference.”
“The loan was intended to help the community, however, the process is negatively impacting mental health.”
When quizzed about the application’s questions, the CEO of FACE, Tiffany Callender said the goal was to find out who the applicant is “as an individual.”
She said: “FACE is looking to the future. How do we connect entrepreneurs to opportunities and specific programs and supports that relate to their interoperability? And of course, it is not necessary to answer all the questions stated on our website in order to process your loan could.”
Furthermore, some applicants said the application process is baffling and that FACE has offered no help.
Hostan Gauthier, a Montreal-based recording entrepreneur said he attempted applying for a loan on the FACE portal no fewer than five times and failed each time.
He said: “I thought maybe there was a problem with their webmaster. So I contacted their webmaster and got no response. The second thing I did, I called them on their phones and their phones weren’t working.”
Also, Gauthier made it known that he tried reaching out to the organization on social media but he was not attended to.
He said: “When you are entrusted with such a huge task by the government, you have to be the first to know how to communicate with the people.
“If you’re not responding or you’re not talking to people, something is definitely wrong.”
Callender said there has been communication delay due to the large number of businesses applying on the website.
Ryan Knight of Afro-Caribbean Business Network said he would like to first know how FACE put him in charge of the program. He said Afro-Caribbean Business Network showed interest in managing the program in the office of Small Business Minister Mary Ng, who is responsible for the fund.
He said: “If it was open to the public, I would be very deaf, because … we were talking directly to Minister Ng’s office.
“We were part of the consultation when they asked us to do the survey.
“Why can’t we get an email to say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people to manage the loan fund. Are you interested? Here’s the open bid.’”
NG has however confirmed that eligible contractors have not been issued request for proposals by the government.
She said: “Tackling systemic racism is what we’re doing and we’re doing it with these organizations. And, no, you’re not going to tackle systemic racism by imposing an RFP.”
While talking further, Ng said that FACE was the right choice as far as running the project is concerned.
She said: “What I would say about the group that manages this fund is that they have over 35 years of experience [as] organizations that directly support black business organizations.”
“I’m very confident that FACE — and the work they’re going to do, will be able to make decisions in that and be able to spread the loans.”