By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The Mohawk Council of Kanesatake is facing a $31,000 bill for just six days of legal work battling its own grand chief and the board of the community’s health centre, according to an invoice submitted to the band council by the Delegatus law firm, based in Montreal.
The invoice document is circulating through the community, which sits west of Montreal and was at the centre of the Oka crisis in 1990.
It seems the court battle has come at a high financial cost for the band, which is already facing an about $4 million deficit.
The legal battle has triggered the loss of insurance coverage for the health centre’s board. That means the centre could be taken over by a federally appointed Third Party Manager. Recently the financially-troubled health centre was in danger of failing to meet its payroll, forcing the Kanesatake Grand Chief to pay $6,500 out of his own personal savings to help cover the shortfall.
At the centre of the trouble is a divided band council.
Grand Chief Serge Simon stripped two band chiefs (in Kanesatake band councillors are known as chiefs) of their health portfolios and removed them from the health centre’s board. According to Simon he wanted to separate politics from the running of the health centre. However, four chiefs on council said Simon’s actions were illegal. They slapped both Simon and the health board with court action.
The council has been split this way since the 2011 election. Four chiefs nicknamed “the quorum” have consistently blocked Simon and his minority of two of his supporters on council.
The legal battle between the four band councillors and the health centre’s board is ongoing, a court date is set for the end of August.
Chief Sheila Bonspiel, part of the group that launched the legal battle, blames Simon for the trouble. She says he refused mediation on the health board issue.
“That is part of business, we have a responsibility,” said Bonspiel. “We had no choice but to defend the collective interest of the people…. (Simon) just wants to take us down.”
As for the legal bills, Bonspiel said the law firm lowered their rates after negotiations. She said bill represents the bulk of the preparatory work for the legal battle.
The document shows that legal work ranged from preparing a motion for the injunction, strategic meetings, a review of the final motion and an appearance before the Quebec provincial court, among other tasks.
Simon could not be reached to comment on the issue of the legal bills.
While the “quorum” chiefs are using band council moneys for their legal fees, Simon said he paid his lawyer out of his own pocket.
Simon tried to remove his opposition in a non-confidence referendum on earlier this month.
The “quorum chiefs,” which include chiefs Bonspiel, Shannon Nicholas, Kathy Daye and Sonya Gagnier, lost that vote on June 15.
Simon and his supporters on the council, chiefs Clarence Simon and John Canatonquin, won.
Aboriginal Affairs, however, won’t recognize the referendum’s outcome.
The quorum chiefs agree with that decision and say the non-confidence vote was illegal.
Bonspiel said many community members “boycotted” the referendum which saw about 230 people vote. About 550 people voted during the 2011 election.
Simon also paid for the referendum from his own pocket, a move Bonspiel said delegitimized the process.
“It’s more than unethical, it’s unbelievable, there was no impartiality in that vote,” she said.
Simon, however, says the referendum reflected the will of the community and has previously pointed out that the 212 non-confidence votes Bonspiel received in the referendum topped the 211 votes she received as councillor in the August 2011 vote.
Simon received 305 votes for grand chief during that vote and 209 votes of confidence in the referendum.
Simon recently sent a statement to APTN National News blasting Ottawa for refusing to recognize the referendum’s results.
“It’s clear that our human rights are being violated,” said Simon, in the statement. “The government must stop its interference in our internal affairs.”
Simon said he plans to hold a public meeting and hopes to hold a general election in September.