Some black businessmen say the new government program to support black entrepreneurship is hard to reach, offers vague repayment terms, and asks aggressive questions about candidates’ sexual orientation.
The Black Business Loan Fund was announced in September by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Its application portal was launched late last month.
The $ 291.3 million program offers loans of up to $ 250,000 to companies, most of which are owned by blacks. Black entrepreneurs starting companies or running an existing small business can also apply for funding.
The government contract for the management of the fund was awarded to the non-profit organization African-Canadian Economic Federation (FACE), which was established at the end of January. The newly formed organization is headquartered in Montreal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, located on Rue Papineau, and is an umbrella organization for five groups of black communities.
Toronto-based entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland said she was initially delighted with the foundation.
“I felt it was a really great opportunity for Canada to do some really great things,” she said.
But that excitement quickly turned to disappointment once Sutherland began the application process. She and several other black business owners who spoke to CBC News say the program does not clarify key aspects of the redemption.
“As a banker in my previous life, I went through all the difficulties and tried to gather as much information as possible, but could not find anything regarding the terms of the payout,” Sutherland said. “I couldn’t find anything about the loan rates.”
Toronto-based clothing designer Jules Ossom, who also applied for funding, said he was shocked when asked to indicate his sexual orientation in an online application.
“Are you gay, bi, heterosexual, I like it, am I going for money?” he said. “Because reputable banks, RBC, TD, Scotia, do not ask you these questions.”
Talent agency owner John Campbell said he was also worried about sexual orientation. “We found that many issues violate Canada’s Human Rights Act, such as sexual orientation and preference,” Campbell wrote in an open letter to FACE, which he shared with CBC News.
“The purpose of the loan was to help the community; however, this process negatively affects mental health. “
When asked about the application, Tiffany Callender, CEO of FACE, told CBC News that the goal is to find out who the candidate is “as a person.”
“FACE is looking to the future,” she said. “How do we connect entrepreneurs to opportunities and specific programs and support that relate to their interconnectedness? And, of course, you don’t need to answer all the questions on our website to process your loan. ”
Some applicants feel that the application process itself is confusing and that FACE itself is not helping.
Montreal-based recording entrepreneur Hostan Gutier said he tried five times to apply for a loan on FACE but failed each time.
Inability to communicate
“I thought there might be a problem with their webmaster,” he said. “Therefore, I contacted their webmaster and received no answers. Secondly, I called them on their phones, and their phones did not work. “
WATCH: Black Business Owners Express Concerns About Government Loan Fund:
Goutier also claims to have tried to contact the organization on social media, but received no response.
“When the government entrusts you with such a serious task, you must have the skills first of all to know how to communicate with people,” he said. “If you don’t answer or talk to people, something is definitely wrong.”
Callender said the sheer number of companies applying for the website resulted in delays in communication.
“By leaving their phone number or sending an email, we are doing our best and hope to expand our team to be able to respond better,” she said.
Ryan Knight of the Afro-Caribbean Business Network said he wants to know how FACE ultimately came to run the program. He said his organization has expressed interest in running the program at the office of Small Business Minister Mary Ng, who is in charge of the foundation.
“If it were open publicly, I would be very deaf because … we went directly to the office of Minister Ng,” he said. “We were participants in the consultation when they asked us to conduct surveys.
“Why don’t we get an email saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people to manage the loan fund. Are you interested? Here is an open application. “
Ng confirmed that the government has not submitted requests for qualified contractors. “Fighting systemic racism is what we do, and we do it with these organizations,” she told CBC News. “And no, you are not going to fight systemic racism by submitting an RFP.”
Ng said FACE was the right choice to launch the project. “What I can say about the group that runs this fund is that they have 35 years of experience. [as] organizations that directly support black business organizations, ”she said.
So far, no loans have been provided under the program. Ng said FACE will begin disbursing loans in early July. “I am very confident that FACE – and in the work they are going to do, will be able to make decisions and be able to disburse loans,” she said.
Knight said he is still concerned about what he considers a lack of oversight and due process.
“You don’t want the program to be demolished due to lack of due process,” he said. “They didn’t go through due process and that’s what happened with the WE scandal.”
To learn more about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories in the black community – visit Being black in Canada, a CBC project that black Canadians can be proud of.