Religious Sect Members Who Obtained $12 Million Through Manitoba Government Contracts Run Companies Out of Co-owned Building, Records Show
Business funds sect’s political activity, ex-members say
Members of a controversial religious sect who obtained over $12 million through emergency COVID-19 government contracts in Manitoba operate multiple businesses out of a building they own together, corporate documents reveal.
Acure Safety, Central Dental and Meditek are all Manitoba companies owned by members of the controversial Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. These three companies combined obtained millions in emergency COVID-19 contracts, according to Government of Manitoba records.
Acure Safety obtained two government contracts worth nearly $11.5 million for disposable isolation gowns.
Central Dental obtained three government contracts worth $287, 775.50 for nitrile gloves.
Meditek obtained one government contract worth $780,000 for emergency field beds.
Acure Safety, Central Dental and Meditek all share the same Winnipeg office building, 251 Saulteaux Crescent. This building is registered to North Moray Centre Inc, a holding company registered to the Brethren owners of Central Dental and Acure Safety, according to corporate records, as well as other individuals who appear to be Brethren members.
The Plymouth Brethren’s Universal Business Team
A business/management consulting company called the Universal Business Team also operates out of 251 Saulteaux Crescent. The UBT provides “advisory and group buying services” to a global network of “3,000 family businesses” run by Brethren members, according to its website. The UBT was listed as a top importer for hand sanitizer in Canada in 2020, according to the Canadian Importers Database.
The UBT is directly linked to another Brethren-run company, Klondike Lubricants, that obtained emergency contracts in Manitoba and Ontario. Klondike Lubricants obtained two contracts worth $70, 759 from the Manitoba government for hand sanitizer, and one $2 million contract for face masks from the Ontario government. Brad Mitchell, who co-owns Klondike Lubricants, is also listed as a director of Silver Bridge Funding Inc, a non-profit organization that has registered the name Universal Business Team.
Mitchell also has ties to the family of PBCC world leader Bruce Hales. Mitchell is listed as a director of Ox Tools – another company listed as a major PPE importer in 2020 – alongside Dean Hales, son of PBCC leader Bruce Hales, according to corporate records.
A copy of a 2015 Universal Business Team directory obtained by PressProgress reveals just how interconnected Brethren business owners are in Canada. The UBT directory features thousands of names across North America and includes regional maps by time zone and driving distances between municipalities.
The UBT’s Central Time Zone map highlights the municipalities of Winnipeg, Stonewall, Woodlands and Pembina where Manitoba Brethren communities and businesses are located. Tha map also includes Saskatchewan municipalities of Regina, Oxbow, Maple Creek, and the Alberta municipality Calgary.
The UBT directory includes similar maps for time zones across North America, as well as a system to denote family connections.
Dozens of companies with connections to a tiny fundamentalist Christian sect were awarded as much as £2.2 billion in government coronavirus contracts, The Times can reveal https://t.co/Mghzkn0yFR
— The Times and The Sunday Times (@thetimes) February 5, 2022
Other international companies linked to the Plymouth Brethren were involved in a controversy in the UK after The Times reported dozens of Brethren-linked companies received £2.2 billion in COVID-19 related contracts from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care. The Times’ investigation also revealed one of these companies, Unispace Global, was an office interior design company “that suddenly became a PPE provider at the start of the pandemic.”
Companies linked to the family of the PBCC’s world leader obtained millions in COVID contracts from the Australian federal government, according to Australian outlet The New Daily.
The UBT did not shed light on business relationships at 251 Saulteaux Crescent when contacted by PressProgress.
Businesses Fund Political Activity, Ex-Brethren Say
Two Manitoba Brethren business owners who obtained government contracts appear to have ties to the Brethren campaign against gay marriage in 2005. The campaign appears to have been coordinated by a group of Brethren members across Canada and the United States called the North American Commission for Representation to Government.
📣Announcing a New Investigative Series from PressProgress
Merchants in the Temple: How an Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Wields Money & Power in Canada
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) July 4, 2023
Rob MacKinnon, a former Regional Coordinator for the Brethren Commission, says Brethren-run businesses were key for funding the Commission’s political activity.
“As business owners, we were expected to expense things for our gov’t outreach and lobbying to our businesses,” MacKinnon previously told PressProgress.
Mitchell’s business partner and co-owner of Klondike Lubricants, Phil Jenner, is also listed as a donor to the Canada Growth Council in 2019, a third party advertiser that ran anti-Liberal attack ads in the 2019 federal election.
📣Read Part 2 of the PressProgress investigative series Merchants in the Temple.
Who is the Canada Growth Council and why did they mass text Manitobans?
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) July 5, 2023
Two Brethren members who do business out of 251 Saulteaux Crescent also have ties to a Brethren-run school that requested LGBTQ content be censored from a tour of the Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. The two Brethren members include a current and former director of Northern Shield Academy Inc, the legal name for One School Global-Stonewall. One School Global recently lost a federal court battle to prevent the CHRM from including their school names in a CBC freedom of information request.
A OneSchool Global representative told PressProgress the characterization of the Brethren as “secretive” is “deeply offensive.”
“References to the Church as a “secretive religious sect” are deeply offensive to its 50,000 members worldwide. The PBCC is a mainstream Christian Church that cares for its neighbours and offers support to local communities in times of need,” the OneSchool Global representative told PressProgress.
The PBCC was the subject of a 2021 CityNews documentary that brought to light disturbing allegations from former members detailing how they were cut off from friends and families under the PBCC’s “doctrine of separation.” The PBCC disputes these claims and denies it is a “cult.”
In 2014, the Winnipeg Free Press also reported that the Plymouth Brethren had “gone from being a Christian sect to full-blown cult.” However, the PBCC released a lengthy 23-point rebuttal accusing the newspaper of “untruths, inaccuracies, and a misleading presentation of allegations.”
— Winnipeg Free Press (@WinnipegNews) May 11, 2014
An entire section of the FAQ page on the PBCC’s official website goes into further detail explicitly denying that the group is a “cult” or that it breaks up families.
“No, the Plymouth Brethren are not a cult,” the website states. “Any breakdown of relationships within a family is always tragic and every effort is expended to prevent this occurring or to try and bring in reconciliation if it does.”
How were these contracts obtained?
When the first COVID-19 lockdown hit Manitoba in March 2020, the province was in the middle of restructuring the healthcare system, which included a new Procurement and Supply Chain division through Central Services, according to a report.
This new restructuring, combined with global supply chain issues during the pandemic’s first wave, meant Manitoba’s procurement teams were forced to adapt their processes. $400 million worth of PPE contracts were “sole-sourced,” “on the fly,” and mid-level decision making was “less than traditional,” the report notes.
There were a number of challenges in obtaining information about the government’s procurement process during this time.
First, the Manitoba Government deactivated the email accounts of the emergency procurement team responsible for sourcing $400 million worth of PPE supplies – an “unusual” and “troubling” sign of poor record keeping, according to archival experts.
Manitoba government deactivated email accounts that sourced millions in COVID-19 contracts.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) January 26, 2023
Second, significant mistakes were made in data entry. One government contract for Central Dental was initially listed online at over $37 million. The contract’s value was later changed online to the correct amount, $177,080, after PressProgress requested the contracts through Freedom of Information.
“Due to an administrative error, the value on the Manitoba Government proactive disclosure website for disclosure of contracts was entered incorrectly,” the Manitoba Finance FIPPA unit told PressProgress.
Third, the Brethren have fought to keep information about themselves redacted in freedom of information requests, as noted earlier.
PressProgress was able to obtain partial correspondence between government procurement teams and some Brethren-run businesses, but not all. Notably, much information about Central Dental contract and the $10.5 million Acure Safety contract was withheld. PressProgress found two key takeaways:
Klondike Lubricants appears to have obtained their contract through a referral from a redacted “third party” to government bureaucrats.
“Let me make the virtual introduction between [redacted] and Justin,” one email states. “Klondike lubricants have stock of 236 ml of sanitizers in Canada right now.”
Another email shows that one government procurement team member was confused as to whether Acure and another company were the same.
“Am I getting these mixed up? Is Acure and [redacted] the same or different vendors?” another email states.
“Different vendor names but same company … I can’t have multiple names for same shipments. I’m trying to organize.”
The Manitoba Government did not shed light on its procurement process following requests from PressProgress.
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