'Egregious exploitation': Toronto woman sentenced to 3 years for Inuit identity fraud

IQALUIT — A Toronto woman has been sentenced to three years in prison after she falsely claimed her two daughters were Inuit in order to obtain thousands of dollars in benefits.

"This is an egregious example of the exploitation of Indigenous Peoples," Nunavut Justice Mia Manocchio said Thursday at the sentencing hearing for Karima Manji.

"Ms. Manji's case must serve as a signal to any future Indigenous pretender that the false appropriation of Indigenous identity in a criminal context will draw a significant penalty."

Manocchio issued a sentence more severe than the Crown prosecutor’s recommendation of 18 months to two years in custody.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the organization that oversees enrolment under the territory's land claim agreement, said it's believed to be the first such fraud case in the territory and the first time someone has been jailed for such a crime in Nunavut.

"Justice Manocchio set a precedent with her ruling today, making it clear to potential fraudsters that Indigenous identity theft will not be tolerated," NTI president Aluki Kotierk said in a statement.

Manji, who is not Inuk, pleaded guilty in February to one count of fraud over $5,000.

In 2016, she applied for enrolment cards for her twin daughters, falsely claiming their Inuit status, making them eligible for benefits.

The twins — Nadya and Amira Gill — were born in Mississauga, Ont. They were close to turning 18 at that time. In the application, Manji stated the girls were Inuit, that their birth mother was Kitty Noah, an Inuk woman, and that Manji was their adoptive mother.

Court heard the Gill twins then used the enrolment cards to receive monetary benefits from two organizations. Over the course of more than two years, starting in September 2020, the sisters received more than $158,000 combined.

Noah has since died.

The case came to light after Noah's family raised concerns about Manji and the twins falsely claiming family ties.

Charges against the daughters were dropped after Manji pleaded guilty. Court heard the twins were unaware the cards had been acquired by fraud.

Noah Noah, Kitty Noah's son, has told court his mother was a loving, caring, considerate woman who was taken advantage of.

Manocchio said Manji's actions were an insult to the Noah family.

She added the Gill sisters were also victimized by Manji's deception, saying their lives and careers have been compromised by the crime.

Manji, who has returned $130,000 of the money, was ordered to pay back the remaining balance.

Her lawyer, J. Scott Cowan, argued his client intended to make full restitution, that her crime did not involve "crafty or prolonged" deception, and the funds were used for academic purposes rather than greed or to support a lavish lifestyle.

Cowan recommended a conditional sentence or nine to 12 months. In an email after the sentencing, he said, "It is apparent that the unique features of this case led the judge to impose an exemplary sentence.”

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which is responsible for criminal prosecutions in Nunavut, said the sentence “will warn those tempted in the future of what awaits them if they attempt to make such false claims.”

Manji had a prior a criminal record for fraud. In August 2017, she received a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by one year of probation, for fraud over $5,000.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2024.

— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press