The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and its president David Chartrand are accusing the new leadership of the Métis National Council (MNC) of using litigation to “secure power and influence amongst Métis People in Canada and to erode and ultimately usurp the MMF’s position as the representative body of the Red River Métis.”
In a 55-page statement of defence filed May 4, Chartrand, former vice-president and spokesperson for the MNC, says legal action undertaken by the national council in January in the Ontario Superiour Court of Justice “does not advance any legitimate legal complaint.”
The statement of defence says all issues Chartrand and former MNC President Clement Chartier had with the MNC centred around a “bitter battle over the fundamental question about what it means to be Métis.” It goes on to say the battle ensued when, in 2017, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) “sought to adopt a broader, pan-Indigenous definition (of Métis) based on self-identification and a connection to territories outside the Métis Homeland.”
The MMF withdrew its membership from the MNC in September 2021, just prior to a court-ordered Métis National General Assembly which saw Cassidy Caron elected as the new president. Chartier chose not to seek re-election. He had been president for 18 years.
On Jan. 27, Caron took to Facebook to explain that after a “comprehensive review of MNC administrative, legal and financial policies and processes including contracts, agreements, and consulting arrangements” and after consulting with legal counsel, MNC decided to proceed with court action against Chartrand, the MMF, Chartier, executive director Wenda Watteyne, and a handful of contractors and their companies for “breach of fiduciary duties and the other unlawful conduct.”
The statement of defence says a “toxic environment” was what led to settlement payments being made to consultants, who left their positions around the same time the MMF withdrew from MNC. It states the payouts were part of the contracts MNC had negotiated with the consultants. In its court filings, the MNC alleges the payouts were “excessive, inappropriate or unnecessary.”
The statement of defence also denies allegations that the MMF hid its role in delivering $9 million as part of a service agreement for funding the Métis Veterans Legacy Program; that the MMF leased office space in Ottawa to the MNC at a “much higher than the fair market rent”; and that he was in a conflict of interest when the MNC transferred the ownership of the Métis Nation Historical Online Database to the MMF.
Chartrand was MNC finance minister, a role he held for more than 18 years, and MMF president when these actions are alleged to have taken place.
The MNC was formed in 1983. The MMF was one of its three founding members, joined by the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) and the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S). The organization later expanded to include the MNO and the Métis Nation of British Columbia. All remaining provincial organizations supported the MNC’s decision to take the legal action.
The MNC statement of claim alleges the withdrawal of MMF, as well as Chartrand, Chartier and Watteyne, resulted in a “scorched earth policy to intentionally cause financial harm and other injury to MNC, recognizing that MNC and MMF would now be competing to be the legitimate or recognized authority and voice of the Métis Nation going forward.”
The national council is seeking damages of $15 million against Chartier, Chartrand, MMF, and Watteyne, as well as to freeze their funds and investment accounts on an interim basis. The MNC is also looking for $1 million in “aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages.”
As far as (MNO) President Margaret Froh is concerned, MNC’s legal action brings an end to “a top down old boys club” and is a clear assessment of “what had happened at the Métis National Council before last fall’s elections.”
MNA President Audrey Poitras says, “We are obligated to do what is right and necessary to restore accountability, transparency, and integrity to the MNC by moving forward with this litigation with a view to ensuring transparency and accountability and holding individuals responsible for their actions.”
Chartrand has filed a counterclaim seeking indemnification, costs and a declaration he “acted in good faith and in advancement” of MNC’s interest.
Caron said in a statement she is “pleased” to have received the defence so the case can proceed.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com