A taxpayer watchdog group is hoping a prison sentence for a chief who stole thousands of dollars from his own band sends a strong message.
“This is a really bad thing,” said Todd MacKay, Prairie Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).
“Some of the folks in these communities have real, everyday struggles with poverty and somebody took a lot of their money.”
MacKay was reacting to the three-year prison term handed Napoleon Mercredi, former chief of Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation in northern Saskatchewan, on Oct. 23.
Mercredi, 64, was convicted in February of fraud, theft over $5,000 and breach of trust in Prince Albert Court of Queen’s Bench.
He was ordered to repay $120,000.
Judge Gary Meschisnick called the crimes “unacceptable” and “selfish”, noting the money could have been used to fund needed programs.
He said he hoped the sentence deterred others from doing the same thing.
The band did not respond to a request for comment from APTN News Monday.
Mercredi’s brother, Louie Mercredi, is now the chief and said in a letter to the court he and his council supported Napoleon, who was chief from 2009 to 2011.
During that time, court was told $260,000 in band funds was misappropriated. But Napoleon’s lawyer said his client freely accessed a line of credit without controls.
“If a politician is convicted of criminally taking a lot of his community’s money, I don’t know that we should be surprised that there’s some handcuffs involved,” said MacKay, noting that’s why the CTF lobbied the former Harper government to bring in the First Nation Transparency Act.
“This sort of thing needs to stop and there needs to be consequences.”
The Act is still law, said MacKay Monday, but not enforced by Ottawa.
The law, which came into effect in 2014, requires the 633 First Nations in Canada to publish their audited financial statements and pay packages for chiefs and councillors online because they receive the bulk of their funding from government.
“We need to make sure that folks in these communities are protected,” MacKay added.