Judge revokes bail as Inuit enrolment fraud case sentencing begins

Karima Manji left the Iqaluit courthouse in handcuffs Monday afternoon while she awaits sentencing in her fraud case, expected to come Thursday.

Earlier this year, Manji pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 in a case about Inuit enrolment that attracted international attention. She had been out on bail since she was charged in September 2023.

In 2016, Manji fraudulently obtained Inuit enrolment with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. for her twin 25-year-old daughters, Amira and Nadya Gill, according to an agreed statement of facts.

NTI is the organization responsible for ensuring Inuit receive the benefits they are entitled to under the Nunavut Agreement.

Through that enrolment, the twins obtained $158,254.05 in scholarships from the Kakivak Association, which provides financial support to Qikiqtani Inuit students.

With the money, the twins paid for their education at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

The Gills also launched an online store that sold products, including T-shirts and COVID-19 masks, with Indigenous artwork. Profits went to the charity Indspire, which provides bursaries to Indigenous students.

In March 2023, Inuit activists took to social media to question the twins’ identity.

The twins were also charged with fraud in September 2023, at the same time as their mother, but the Crown withdrew those charges when Manji pleaded guilty in February 2024.

Manji appeared in Iqaluit court in person at Monday’s hearing — the first time she has done so since she was charged.

Wearing a COVID-19 facemask, she sat quietly as Crown lawyer Sarah White and defence lawyer Scott Cowan made their submissions to Justice Mia Manocchio.

Both White and Noah Noah — whose late mother Kitty Noah’s name was used to obtain the NTI cards — said they were hoping for a jail sentence of 18 months to two years less a day, a sentence Manji could serve in a jail instead of in a federal prison.

Cowan was seeking a conditional sentence, meaning Manji wouldn’t have to go to jail.

In the Crown’s submissions, White said there is limited case law because this might be the first time someone has been charged and convicted of a fraud relating to Indigenous identity theft.

“Ms. Manji’s actions were deliberate and calculated,” White said.

She noted Manji paid back $130,000 of the money her daughters obtained.

Marie Belleau, a lawyer for NTI, read a victim impact statement on her organization’s behalf.

Belleau said Manji’s actions caused “irreparable damage,” resulting in the loss of opportunities for Inuit youth.

Manji’s actions forced NTI to tighten its Inuit enrolment process to prevent others from obtaining fraudulent enrolment, she said.

Noah, who came to court with his family, described in his statement how Manji’s actions affected them, while also speaking about his mother.

Noah Noah enters court for Karima Manji’s sentencing for fraud on Monday. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

“[Kitty] was nice despite not having much,” he said, describing his mother as the “opposite” of Manji.

“The stress on my family has been terrible.”

In defence submissions, Cowan highlighted the fact Manji has already paid back most of the money her daughters got.

Manji owns property in Toronto and works “odd jobs,” he said.

Manocchio referred to Manji’s previous fraud sentence.

In 2017, she was sentenced to two years less a day for defrauding the March of Dimes charity in Toronto.

Cowan referred to case law about fraud and spoke about why this one was different.

In other fraud cases where charities were the victims, the culprits received jail time after using the fraudulently obtained money on “anti-social behaviours” such as drugs and gambling, he said.

“This is a mother asking for scholarship money for her daughters,” Cowan said.

He said Manji, while living in Iqaluit in the 1990s, had “pro-social” impact on the people of Nunavut, and “sat in as a parent” with the Noah family.

But members of the Noah family shook their heads in response.

Manji offered an apology.

“I am deeply sorry for what I caused,” she said.

“I’ll accept any sentence you give me with grace and dignity.”

Manocchio said she will give her sentence Thursday.

But the judge revoked Manji’s bail.

“The accused is no longer presumed innocent,” Manocchio said.

Manji was taken into custody at the end of proceedings.

Leaving court, Noah called it “a good day.”

“I’m glad that she’s no longer out on bail, that she will be definitely handed a sentence,” he said.

Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News