POLITICS

Vancouver police refer complaint about Metis groups to federal government

10/05/2014 12:10 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - A complaint about the Metis National Council and one of its provincial affiliates has been handed to the federal government.

However Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's office says his department has looked into the complaint and decided no further investigation is required.

In July, Vancouver police referred a complaint about the two Metis organizations from a rival group to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

"The assessment and investigation services branch, audit and evaluation sector, department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development ... will be resuming this investigation," police spokesman Const. Brian Montague wrote in an email.

The B.C. Metis Federation, one of the two major organizations representing Metis people in the province, filed a police complaint this summer after The Canadian Press first reported the Metis National Council and its provincial affiliates had come under scrutiny over their management practices and financial controls.

No charges have been laid, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

It took the Vancouver Police Department some time to determine if the matter fell under the jurisdiction of its financial crime unit or would be better dealt with by another agency, such as the RCMP or police in the city of Abbotsford, where one of the Metis organizations has its headquarters.

The police ultimately decided to refer the matter back to Aboriginal Affairs.

The complaint is against the Metis Nation British Columbia and the Metis National Council. The British Columbia organization is one of five governing members of the national council.

The B.C. Metis Federation met in June with federal officials and staff from Valcourt's office. The organization wants to be recognized as a credible alternative to the Metis Nation British Columbia. The two rival groups are locked in a public battle that has gone all the way to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In mid-August, a Valcourt aide emailed B.C. Metis Federation president Keith Henry to say the minister's office was still looking into the matter.

"Our office is continuing to look into the concerns you have raised and we met with department officials earlier today to get further information," wrote Bryn Gray.

He mentioned he was joined at the meeting by another aide, Amanda Gordon.

"We have asked for additional information in order to get a more complete understanding of the situation and what has transpired since the audit was conducted," Gray wrote.

He also told Henry he was leaving Valcourt's office to return to his legal practice, and that Gordon would be in touch. Gordon sent an email to Henry the next day, saying she would get back to him when she had more information.

Henry says he hasn't heard anything more from the minister's office since then.

"I feel like I'm getting the run-around," he said.

Meanwhile, Valcourt's office has said very little about audits done in 2012 of the council and its provincial affiliates, which only became public this spring after The Canadian Press obtained them under the Access to Information Act.

Those prior investigations raised red flags over the council's management practices and financial controls, and identified questionable contracts and apparent conflicts of interest.

Council president Clement Chartier and vice-president David Chartrand of the Manitoba Metis Federation say the outside auditor's initial findings were flawed and other issues have since been resolved.

The auditor, however, has publicly stood by her work.

Officials in the minister's office have repeatedly said the matters raised in the audits have already been dealt with through the signing in April 2013 of a renewed Metis protocol and a new governance and financial accountability accord.

Under the new accord, the council agreed to post financial information on its website, and develop and make public its strategic and annual operational plans. Aboriginal Affairs is supposed to post the council's audited financial statements on its website.

So far, neither the council nor the department have posted any of those documents on their websites.

Meanwhile, the government recently announced it is going to stop funding Metis Nation-Saskatchewan, one of the council's provincial affiliates, as of Nov. 1 because of "ongoing internal governance issues."

Protesters picketed last year outside the office calling for the resignation of Robert Doucette, the Metis group's president.

At the time, the group's vice-president said several council members were concerned about an overhaul of the group's governance structure and that Doucette was acting secretive. Gerald Morin also said the group was supposed to hold a council meeting every two months but hadn't had one in more than five months.

All of this comes at a critical juncture for the Metis people. The eventual outcome of a long court battle could turn the Metis into an even greater force in aboriginal politics.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and several Metis and non-status Indians took the federal government to court in 1999, alleging discrimination because they were not considered "Indians" under a section of the Constitution Act.

Last year, the Federal Court recognized them as "Indians" under the Constitution, a ruling largely upheld earlier this year by the Federal Court of Appeal.

Depending on if and when the federal government appeals that finding, a final decision would begin a long legal process that might eventually open the door to financial benefits and more programs and services for Metis people.

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