11/28/2014 03:23 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST

Montreal borough forced to return $25K to Suncor charity

A Montreal borough that's home to a Suncor oil refinery will have to return a $25,000 donation to Suncor’s charitable foundation after the city administration found out about the deal.

CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, received a copy of the letter with the cheque attached.

The $25,000 cheque was cut by the Suncor Energy Foundation on Sept. 24 and was sent to the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, in Montreal’s northeast, as a contribution toward its public market project in Pointe-aux-Trembles Village.

In exchange, officials for Suncor Energy Foundation asked for the borough to publicize the fact that the donation came from them.  

Suncor Energy Foundation is a private charitable foundation set up by Suncor Energy.

On the foundation's website, it states that Suncor invests in charitable and non-profit initiatives "in communities where we have business operations across Canada and internationally."

The site adds that "priority is given to communities that are key to operations and areas where our employees live and work."

Suncor Energy operates a refinery in the borough.

The Coderre administration caught wind of the donation and demanded earlier this week that the borough refund the money to the foundation.

Montreal executive committee chairman Pierre Desrochers insisted the donation was made in transparency and that borough documents prove it.

However, he continued, Suncor is not permitted to make a donation directly to the public market project because it is not a registered non-profit organization and could not issue a tax receipt.

The borough accepted the donation on behalf of the public market project and then transferred the funds to it.

"We understand that Suncor wants to legitimately contribute to the financing of organizations in the area," said Desrochers. "However, this should not be done through the city. It brings about a problem of perception."

'Inappropriate' transfer of funds

This situation puts borough mayor Chantal Rouleau in an awkward position, particularly when considering TransCanada’s recent public-relations manoeuvres.

The letter accompanying the cheque the Suncor foundation cut clearly indicates that the money was for the public market project and that "the Suncor Energy Foundation (...) is an organization separate from Suncor Energy Inc."

The letter was signed by foundation director Cathy Glover.

"I found this inappropriate. There are issues between a city and a business like this," Desrochers said. "It would be preferable that the donation be made directly to the public market."

The money has yet to be refunded to the Suncor Energy Foundation, but Desrochers said it’s on its way.