08/31/2012 12:20 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. Conservation Group's Accounts Seized By CRA

Land Conservancy of B.C.
The Canada Revenue Agency has seized the bank accounts of B.C.'s largest conservation organization because of unpaid taxes caused by its ongoing financial problems.

The Land Conservancy of B.C. holds the title to 300 properties worth an estimated $32 million across the province, including the Sooke Potholes on Vancouver Island and Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver.

The Victoria-based charity's financial problems came to light three years ago, when former board members alleged the charity took out additional loans on mortgaged properties to cover operating costs and to finance more land purchases.

Earlier this year it was revealed the group had been unable to pay its property taxes on at least one property in the Victoria area, until a donor stepped forward to pick up the tab.

A new board promised to get its financial house in order, and according to board member Briony Penn, it has reduced its workforce and renegotiated deals with creditors.

But it has been unable to make settlement payments with the Canada Revenue Agency, and now its bank accounts have been seized.

Major roadblock

"The CRA freezing our account came as a real blow to us. It's a major roadblock to the plan that we had just prepared for all of our lenders, supporters and short term creditors," said Penn.

The board is meeting again next month in a last ditch effort to keep the conservation organization alive, but without new sources of funding or partnerships, if the organization if forced to closed down it may have to sell its properties with no guarantee they will be preserved.

"We've actually run out of options. We have tried everything, so it's kind of up to the public now," said Penn.

The board is investigating whether other conservation groups can take over its properties, so they won't have to be sold to private interests with no guarantees they will be preserved.

The Land Conservancy was founded in 1997 based on the model of the National Trust of Britain. The aim of the non-profit charity is to protect ecologically significant and heritage properties.

A statement on the group's website blames its financial problems in part on a decline in revenue brought on by "the economic turmoil" and "the collapse of federal and provincial grant programs."

Also on HuffPost

Vancouver's Heritage Buildings