An Ontario Superior Court judge is ordering the Métis National Council (MNC) to take a position.
The judge wants to know whether the national council believes the six historic Métis communities claimed by the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) “fall within or don’t fall within” the Métis Nation homeland boundaries.
These historic communities have been controversial since MNO expanded beyond the Métis Nation’s stated homeland in 2017.
In his Sept. 28 written ruling following a discovery examination earlier in the year, Justice Robert Centa said the question put forward by the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) regarding the national council’s position on the matter is a relevant one.
“I order MNC to provide a complete and substantive answer,” wrote Centa, who gave the council 20 days to respond.
Centa’s ruling is part of ongoing litigation begun by MNC in January 2022.
MNC is seeking damages of $15 million against the national council’s former executive president and CEO Clement Chartier. Also named are former acting president David Chartrand, executive director Wenda Watteyne and the MMF.
MNC is also seeking partial or full repayment of severance and termination payments for a handful of consultants.
The national council alleges Chartier, Chartrand, Watteyne and MMF “intentionally cause(d) severe financial harm and other injury to MNC” to their own benefit upon leaving MNC in 2021.
MMF removed itself from the MNC in 2021, four years after MNO announced the additional Métis communities. The national council appointed an expert panel in 2021 to examine MNO’s claims, but the panel only met for the first time in 2023.
Rahool Agarwal, legal counsel for MMF and Chartrand, says MNC has confirmed the panel has been convened to examine the new historic communities, but as the panel is still meeting, MNC doesn’t “yet have a position.”
“This is an issue of significant importance for the Métis Nation as a whole,” said Agarwal. “To not have a position on it despite being asked by the court to provide that position is concerning.”
Legislation is currently before the House of Commons to recognize Métis self-governance agreements for Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Bill C-53 pertains to the internal governance of these Métis governments, including Métis citizenship, Métis elections, Métis governance operations, and Métis child and family services, MNO president Margaret Froh told Windspeaker in July.
Even without a conclusion to the work of the MNC expert panel, all Métis communities claimed and represented by the MNO would be formally acknowledged in Canadian law if Bill C-53 passes into law. The legislation has received first and second reading and will be before the standing committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on Oct. 26.
Agarwal said MNC’s statement did not offer a timeframe for a finding from the panel.
In a past interview with Windspeaker, Froh asserted that MNC is only an advocacy organization and not a Métis government, so she would not speculate on whether there would be any impact on the MNO if the national council were to take a position against the historic communities.
Judge Centa has also ordered that the national council provide MMF with relevant documentation on the comprehensive review that President Cassidy Caron said led to the MNC damages suit.
In a Facebook post after the national council filed its Statement of Claim, Caron said legal action was brought about after a review of governance and financial practises and policies, which “uncovered agreements, contracts and consultation arrangements that may be questionable in nature.”
Read our story here: https://windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/statement-claim-against-former-metis-national-council-leadership-alleges
The damages lawsuit was one of the first orders of business undertaken by Caron after she was elected as MNC president in September 2021. She was nominated by Froh. Caron will be up for re-election shortly as MNC bylaws state the election should take place “between the second and third year” of the president’s term.
During the discovery process, MMF requested minutes from the Board of Governors meetings where the comprehensive review was discussed and the motion made to take legal action. MMF also asked for other related documents. MNC refused stating the request was “overbroad and certain of this correspondence is subject to solicitor client privilege.”
Judge Centa disagreed.
“It appears that the comprehensive review was the catalyst for this $15 million action. The complete record of what MNC learned, and how it learned what it learned, should be produced to the defendants who now have to respond to MNC’s claim,” wrote Centa.
However, says Agarwal, MNC has “asserted privilege” over the Board of Governors information on the comprehensive review.
“We'll have to determine what relief we might seek from the court in that regard,” he said.
Other documents the court ordered the national council to provide to MMF included documents from Power Law, MNC’s external legal counsel. Chartrand alleges Power Law provided him with the legal advice on settlement payments to certain employees and consultants. The court ordered that Priorities and Planning Commission records be provided to MMF, which establishes past practises that Chartrand states he followed.
The national council has also been directed to advise Chartrand of “every part” of the bylaw he is alleged to have breached when he received payment from MNC upon his retirement, as well as advising MMF of “each and every” cause of action against all the defendants.
Agarwal says that not all documents have been received from the national council as not all timelines set by the judge have been reached. His legal team is presently reviewing the disclosure documents that have been received.
“Some concerns remain and we're still at the stage of assessing the severity of those concerns and whether further assistance from the court is going to be required,” said Agarwal.
Centa also ordered MMF or Chartrand to provide further answers to the national council’s questions, although the list was not as extensive.
Centa directed Chartrand to respond to allegations that he made “disparaging remarks” about national council’s board members or departing employees and consultants in 2021. Chartrand contended the question was irrelevant, but Centa disagreed.
“Given the pleading in this action, the answer to this question could be relevant to several of MNC’s allegations,” wrote Centa.
Other additional information that Chartrand or MMF must supply includes administrative and expense details for the Métis Veteran Legacy Program and the reasoning behind transferring the online historical database from MNC’s website to MMF’s.
The Veteran Legacy Program and database were subject of a motion in July by MNC for interim possession. Both are currently in possession of MMF.
However, Centa ruled against the national council on that interim possession motion and ordered MNC to pick up MMF’s legal costs of $213,687.57.
“MMF was clearly and overwhelmingly successful in this motion,” wrote Centa in an Oct. 19 costing decision.
“MNC sought execution before judgment. Given the extraordinary relief sought by MNC, it had to expect that MMF’s response would involve significant time and expense,” he wrote.
For Centa to make his ruling, he received 1,700 pages of affidavit evidence from MNC and MMF, conducted multiple days of examination, and delivered 40-page factums on what he referred to as an “interlocutory skirmish” started by MNC.
“I have little doubt that MMF would have agreed to do voluntarily what the consent order now requires: preserve the database and produce relevant documents. MNC did not have to bring a motion of this scale to achieve those goals,” wrote Centa.
Both Centa’s decision on the interim possession motion and legal costs, says Agarwal, is “vindicating.”
“It certainly affirms the belief in the merit of our position and that this (damages) case has no merit and that it will ultimately be dismissed,” he said. “We have certainly the better side of the litigation and it's unfortunate that that the MNC had to, without the need to, bring these grievances in the form of litigation and that's unfortunate. But that's where we are.”
In a statement, Chartrand accused the national council of “wasting the court’s time and the financial resources of Métis people for the sole purpose of destroying reputations.”
The remaining matters will go to court in January 2025, where it is scheduled to be heard over nine weeks.
“If the MNC loses the trial, they will likely be ordered to pay a significant portion of the defendants’ costs (which)… will likely be significantly higher than the costs ordered for the interim possession motion,” said Agarwal.
Windspeaker.com made repeated attempts to reach MNC President Caron for comment.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com