Former N.W.T. premier denies sexual harassment allegation in lawsuit involving former mentee

·4 min read
Cherry Smiley, left, has added former N.W.T. premier, Stephen Kakfwi, right, to a lawsuit against the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. In a statement of defence, Kakfwi denies there was any contact between him and Smiley that could be construed as sexual in nature. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada, Hilary Bird/CBC - image credit)
Cherry Smiley, left, has added former N.W.T. premier, Stephen Kakfwi, right, to a lawsuit against the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. In a statement of defence, Kakfwi denies there was any contact between him and Smiley that could be construed as sexual in nature. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada, Hilary Bird/CBC - image credit)

Stephen Kakfwi denies he sexually harassed his former mentee in a program through the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and denies he acted in any way that could be construed as sexual in nature.

Kakfwi, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, was paired with Cherry Smiley as a mentor in the foundation's scholarship program.

Smiley alleges that Kakfwi sexually harassed her at a conference in St. John's, N.L. in 2018.

Smiley is suing the foundation and Kakfwi for $1.25 million for breach of contract, breach of confidentiality and damages for the way they handled her complaint.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In her statement of claim, Smiley alleges that Kakfwi rubbed her arm suggestively, "moved his body extremely close to [hers]," and repeatedly invited her to stay with him in Yellowknife, which she said made her uncomfortable.

Smiley, in the court documents, said the events left her feeling "shaken, distressed and upset."

Though Kakfwi was not named as a party to Smiley's original lawsuit, he is named in a re-issued statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on March 31 after the foundation argued the lawsuit had been filed in an inappropriate jurisdiction.

No contact that was 'sexual in nature'

In his statement of defence filed May 5, Kakfwi denies "grabbing [Smiley's] arm, rubbing and massaging it for a prolonged period," as Smiley alleges.

He denies that there was any contact between him and Smiley "which could be construed as being sexual in nature."

Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press
Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press

Kakfwi admits that he invited Smiley to visit the Northwest Territories and to stay with him and his wife, but said he did so "recognizing that traveling can be expensive."

He said he made the same offer to another, male, mentee he was paired with through the program at the same time.

Kakfwi's statement of defence says he and his wife have hosted previous scholars of the program in the past.

Wrangling over jurisdiction

Smiley's lawsuit was first filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on May 19, 2021.

On Dec. 15, 2021, the foundation filed a response suggesting Smiley's claim be dismissed or stayed since British Columbia's court does not have jurisdiction over the foundation, and said the lawsuit should be moved to Quebec.

It said the only connection to British Columbia is Smiley's residence and points out that the events in Smiley's allegations took place in Newfoundland and that of the seven foundation's representatives mentioned in the claim, none are in British Columbia. Five of the seven representatives are located in Montreal, with one in Ottawa and one in London, England.

On May 27, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation again filed an application to have the case dismissed or stayed "on the basis that Newfoundland and Labrador is not the most convenient forum in which to proceed with this litigation."

The foundation says Quebec is "the more appropriate forum."

It points out that the foundation is based in Montreal and that Smiley's allegations are based on the handling of the complaint, which are not tied to Newfoundland.

Kakfwi has a different lawyer than the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and his response does not dispute the lawsuit's jurisdiction.

Kakfwi said he was "shocked" by the allegations against him and repeatedly asked the foundation to see the complaints Smiley made against him. He said each of his requests were denied.

Kakfwi also said that he expressed willingness to participate in a traditional health exercise with the plaintiff "with the objective of allowing them to reach an understanding in a culturally appropriate manner." He said he made that request through the foundation and it was also rejected.

Plaintiff 'prepared to fight all the way'

Marshall, Smiley's lawyer, calls the foundation's application to change jurisdiction a "delay tactic."

She said the case could go on "for years," but that Smiley "is prepared to fight all the way and we are looking forward to obtaining a court date."

Marshall said they plan to fight the foundation's motion to have the lawsuit stayed and moved to Quebec. She called the connection to Quebec "tenuous."

"The core of this litigation involves things that happened in Newfoundland," she said, adding that the foundation is a national organization with operations "all over the country."

"It's unfortunate," Marshall said, that fighting this motion will continue to cost Smiley but that "it's not going to deter [her] client."

Smiley has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her case and "tak[e] on the Trudeau Foundation."

As of Tuesday afternoon the campaign has raised $935 of its $10,000.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation declined to comment since the matter is before the courts.

In an emailed response attributed to Dyane Adams, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation's vice-chair of their board of directors, the organization said it "intend[s] to let the legal process follow its course. As previously mentioned, we do not agree with, and have contested, the legal claim filed by Ms. Cherry Smiley."

Kakfwi, reached by phone, was unable to comment Tuesday.

Disclosure: Stephen Kakfwi is married to Marie Wilson, who is a member of the board of directors of CBC/Radio-Canada.

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