Joyce Bonspiel-Nelson said her employment termination was only to be expected.
“They were looking to find a way to get rid of me,” said the former executive director of the Kanesatake Health Center (KHC). “It didn’t surprise me - I knew it from the minute I saw the election results of the AGA (annual general assembly).”
At the board of directors assembly on October 5, returning member Alexandre Beaupré was joined by Garry Carbonnell, Wanda Gabriel, Ellen Filippelli and Gabrielle Lamouche.
However, shortly after the election, Carbonnell and Beaupré resigned, while Bonspiel-Nelson was suspended with pay.
Her employment was effectively terminated on December 7, with the board citing that the decision was part of its ongoing investigation into management issues at the center.
“There was nothing in my file previously,” said the former director who held the position for 29 years. “But they went in with that goal and they were going to continue to dig until they found anything.”
In the meantime, Patricia Gabriel and Shirrillean Nelson were appointed by the board to act as interim co-executive directors until a permanent replacement is named. Both Gabriel and Nelson declined to comment on their current roles.
Meanwhile, in a previous interview with The Eastern Door, Carbonnell stated that it was his belief that the newly elected members had come into the position with the intention of suspending Bonspiel-Nelson.
“They didn’t want to talk about the programs, what was going on, what needs to be fixed (or) what problems we have going on in the community that we can help – none of that,” Carbonnell said. “It was just straight to the executive director.”
The investigation referred to as the reason behind this termination is an external audit at the KHC looking into the handling of expenditures of the community’s former pandemic response unit created by the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK), but managed by the health center.
When the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) was dismantled, a handful of staff were demoted as the center’s previous organizational structure was reinstated.
Part of what is being probed is a suspected excess of $2.4 million in salaries for less than 10 employees which would have been observed over the course of a single fiscal year.
“Due to the nature of the dismissal, the matters pertaining to this have not yet been resolved,” Filippelli told The Eastern Door. “Therefore, we were advised not to release any information so that we don’t damage anybody’s reputation or the inquiry itself.”
Among the slew of former employees impacted by the ERU’s dissolvement was Robert Bonspiel.
While his past standing as spokesperson for the unit and his current role as president of the First Nations Paramedic (FNP) are not connected, Bonspiel said local public health had been ordered to no longer share with him COVID-19 related information for Kanesatake.
The statistics he had been receiving from health officials in the last 22 months were shared with community members in weekly videos hosted on the FNP Facebook page.
“It will be an incomplete picture (now) due to the fact that we don’t have access to public health anymore because they were instructed by both MCK and KHC to not give me any more information,” said Bonspiel, who was informed of the decision on December 15.
Throughout the pandemic, the FNP president said that Kanehsata’kehró:non have been continuously referring to these live-streams for updates on cases within the community and other relevant COVID-19 information.
According to Bonspiel-Nelson, anyone associated with the former council administration, including those connected to the ERU, were all subject to scrutiny.
“With the way things are at the moment, we need people in these positions who know what they’re doing,” she said. “Because in the end, who’s going to suffer is the community.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door