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Philanthropist in missing-funds lawsuit
Victoria beneficiary hospital concerned about possible donor pullouts due to suit

 

By William Boei

 

Sunday, July 01, 2005

From the early 1990s on, if you wanted to raise money for charity in Victoria, you called Ian Thow, a senior investment counselling executive with the Investors Group and later with the Berkshire Group.

 

Thow organized charity dinners for the homeless, with local celebrities serving the food. He helped raise $100,000 to buy a police boat for the Victoria police department. He and his family pledged $500,000 to Royal Jubilee Hospital a year and a half ago for its gastroenterology department.

For years, he served as president of CrimeStoppers in Victoria, pledging a $100,000 donation, and he was the driving force behind the new Greater Victoria Police Foundation and a campaign to raise $2 million to buy things like defibrillators for police cars on southern Vancouver Island.

Thow was credited with bringing in $1.1 million in donations for a foundation named for Thrifty Foods president Alex Campbell.

In 2000, he made the winning bid of $1,700 on an Edmonton Oilers sweater donated to a charity gala by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, and shelled out another $1,200 for a seat at Klein's table.

And when retired National Hockey League players Russ and Geoff Courtnall staged celebrity golf tournaments in 2003 and 2004 to raise money for a new psychiatric emergency services unit in Victoria, Ian Thow was right there. He pledged $100,000 himself.

Now Thow is being sued by several clients who claim the money they thought Thow was investing for them is missing.

The B.C. Securities Commission said Thursday it is looking into Thow's activities but has not decided on a formal investigation.

The Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada would not say whether Thow has come to its attention. The association would reveal information about an investigation only if it led to a notice of hearing or a settlement agreement, corporate secretary Laurie Gillett said Thursday.

The RCMP's Integrated market Enforcement Team for B.C. said it wasn't aware of the case.

Officials of the Courtnall celebrity golf tournaments -- the 2003 tournament featured retired hockey player Wayne Gretzky and B.C.- born actress Pamela Anderson, among others, and basketball star Steve Nash attended last year's event -- did not return calls Thursday.

The Greater Victoria Hospital Foundation would not confirm if Thow's $100,000 pledge was actually delivered.

"We can't really discuss any aspect of a gift or pledge without the consent of the donor," said foundation executive director Melanie McKenzie, citing privacy legislation.

McKenzie did confirm that the Courtnall tournaments raised more than $2 million for the psychiatric emergency facility.

"It was one of those spectacular and wonderful projects," she said. "The Courtnalls went out and raised the money and we were able to open it last year."

McKenzie said the foundation is worried about publicity around the Thow case.

"We're concerned that we will be affected by this," she said. "We've already had one donor withdraw a gift as a result of the fact that we won't talk about [whether Thow delivered on his pledge]. So it's deeply troubling to us on all fronts."

A pledge is not a binding contract and charitable fundraisers understand that a donor's circumstances may change after a pledge is made, McKenzie said.

The Berkshire Group's founder, Jamaican-Canadian billionaire Michael Lee-Chin, could not be reached Thursday.