The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and its President David Chartrand deny accusations of illegal corporate schemes levelled by the Métis National Council (MNC) in a multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit.
MMF, in a statement of defence filed May 5, contends the federal council’s case is a legally baseless political ploy “to secure power and influence” and “erode and ultimately usurp” MMF’s influence among the Red River Métis.
“The MNC is misusing the overburdened civil justice system as a stage for political theatre,” the document claims. “This action is an abuse of the court’s process that should not be permitted or condoned.”
Back in January, MNC sued MMF, Chartrand, former president Clément Chartier, former top MNC official Wenda Watteyne and a list of contractors and other staff associated formerly with MNC, which was formed in 1983 to advocate for Métis federally.
MNC claims the outgoing regime helmed by Chartrand and Chartier perpetrated an illegal “scorched earth policy scheme” to gut the MNC prior to breaking off from it, leaving the incoming administration with weak and impoverished organization burdened with deliberately onerous contracts.
MMF denies everything.
“There is no ‘scheme’,” the defence says. “The MNC’s scandalous, vexatious and baseless allegations are a transparent attempt by the MNC’s newly elected administration to delegitimize and discredit the MMF and President David Chartrand in order to preserve and enhance their own standing and influence.”
The MNC alleged in its Jan. 27 claim that the former administration along with MMF perpetrated various crooked schemes aimed at empowering and enriching themselves as jockeying for power and leverage played out in the political arena.
The MNC alleged its former administration transferred $9 million from a veterans’ fund to the MMF along with an important historical database allegedly belonging to MNC.
Other accusations include hiking up the rent of an MMF-controlled property leased to MNC, which is used as MNC’s Ottawa headquarters, and “excessive or inappropriate spending” on lavish gifts and severance packages.
MMF says nothing illegal happened and that MNC has cooked up “disjointed allegations arising from far-ranging complaints contrived into an alleged ‘scheme’.”
MMF says the cash transfer from the veterans’ fund was “lawful” and “necessary” under a valid and binding service delivery agreement signed in September 2020 and amended April 2021.
The Manitoba organization says it obtained the historical database, which is culturally but not economically significant, for $10 via a perfectly legal and bylaw-compliant purchase agreement in August 2021.
MMF similarly maintains that the rent hike at the Ottawa property, which is owned by an MMF-affiliated company but leased to and occupied by MNC, was legal and consistent with market value for the office space.
Chartrand, who was MNC finance minister and MMF president when the events unfolded, denies payments to contractors were unreasonable and denies that he deliberately struck unfair bargains with contractors to burden MNC with “oppressively onerous” deals.
Chartrand also argues the payment to Chartier, identified in MNC’s claim as a $4,000 gold watch given as a retirement gift, was reasonable given Chartier’s “years of dedicated service to the MNC.”
Chartrand also filed a counterclaim seeking indemnification, costs and a declaration he acted in good faith advancing MNC’s interest.
In a statement announcing the defence, Chartrand blasted MNC’s claim as a desperate salvo in a hotly contested political conflict.
“The MNC action is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” the statement says. “The MNC started its legal action based on its own internal ‘audit’, which has not been made available to date, in order to distract the MMF and our Citizens from advancing our Nation.”
The issues at the heart of the dispute go back at least two decades. In 2002, the MNC adopted a national definition to govern eligibility for Métis citizenship.
The respective provincial Métis organizations were expected to re-register their citizens under the new criteria but the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) refused, leaving the issue to simmer on the backburner for years.
It began to boil over in 2017 when the Métis general assembly tapped Chartier to probe the situation. He delivered his report in November 2018 blasting MNO.
The assembly voted to place MNO on probation for one year while MNO opened up its books for review to ensure all citizens met the Métis eligibility criteria.
But MNO President Margaret Froh blasted right back. She told Chartier in a January 2019 letter the proposed review would be “an affront to the integrity of our objectively verifiable Métis registry system.”
Chartier, backed by Chartrand and others who later changed position, then suspended MNO though MNO maintained it was never valid. MNC then hit governance gridlock.
Chartier, still president at the time, refused to call an election that included MNO. But MNO and the Saksatchewan and Alberta wings created a “tri-council” that argued Ontario could only be suspended during the general assembly — where there would also be an election.
MNO launched a successful court bid, backed by the other tri-council members, which forced MNC to hold its election where President Cassidy Caron was acclaimed.
Caron announced the lawsuit in a six-minute video statement that claimed an audit commissioned by the new administration uncovered “very concerning governance and financial practices and policies or, rather, an apparent lack thereof.”
She said it had “tarnished the reputation of the MNC” and pledged to restore it.
Caron said in a statement she is “pleased” to have received the defence so the case can proceed.
“We have every confidence in the judicial process and as this is a matter before the Court, we will have no further comment at this time.”
Read the full statement of defence: