A Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) employee’s searing allegations against his employer and elected representatives of the Nisga’a Nation last spring were made without merit, according to a NLG statement announcing the findings of an independent investigation.
In May last year Andre Cardinal, the NLG’s information technology manager, sent photographed financial documents and an eight-page email to 150 people and organizations with ties to the nation. The email contained an array of accusations, including financial misconduct, corruption and nepotism against the NLG executive and members of the elected council both past and present.
A special NLG investigation committee hired Vancouver employment lawyer and consultant Earl Phillips to conduct his own independent investigation, and on March 31 the NLG announced in a news release Phillips had concluded the former IT manager “relied on rumour and innuendo to make reckless inferences and assumptions.”
“This entire incident was personally hurtful to many people and caused considerable distress and strain on NLG, elected representatives, officers, employees, and some of our consultants, and indeed their families,” said Juanita Parnell, elected urban representative and chair of the special committee overseeing the investigation. “We are pleased that this thorough and independent investigation has determined that the many allegations made had no basis in fact.”
However in the same release Parnell wrote some of the reports findings raised concerns about certain administrative procedures, which the executive will correct by adopting the investigator’s recommendations.
Parnell did not mention which procedures were being addressed. However in an emailed response to Black Press the NLG stated the general theme of the recommendations was to take steps that increase accountability and transparency.
“We are seeing such things as strengthening whistleblower protection and establishing privacy protection,” the email reads. “There is a general sense that [the report] is a serious response to a serious issue.”
Details of Cardinal’s original allegations are still unclear.
The investigator’s full report was not released to the general public. An executive summary is available to Nisga’a members, but the NLG said they’ve only received a handful of requests. They attribute the low number to the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelming daily life.
In a Facebook post last year Cardinal wrote the lack of transparency and accountability with the NLG prevented Nisga’a members from thriving economically, sparking small protests among Nisga’a members at the NLG offices. The goal of the mass-email was to educate members on the government power structure and how it can be co-oped, blocking common citizens from participating fully in their young democracy.
The NLG eventually fired Cardinal and obtained an injunction preventing him from distributing further information. The government also asked the BC Supreme Court to seal an affidavit in which the email could be read by the public.
Responding to the report’s findings Cardinal called the investigation a “whitewash,” stating in an email the father of the principal person he accused of corruption was chosen to sit on the investigation committee.
“As well, I was told that the investigator they hired decided to go with the ‘Andre is mentally ill theme.’ Funny, I don’t remember being tested recently by a mental health professional,” He wrote in an email to Black Press.
NLG has now filed a Notice of Civil Claim against Cardinal with the B.C. Supreme Court.
Cardinal explained he’s being sued for breaching last year’s settlement agreement by posting documents recently to Facebook, which he says backed up his original allegations.
“I’m not responding [to the civil claim] as there really isn’t anything they can take from me as I’m not a rich person. I’m in the acceptance phase of this thing now,” he wrote.
“The only person who’s life is destroyed is me. No one else lost their jobs: hurt feelings aren’t actionable.”
The NLG did not confirm if a family member of one of the people accused by Cardinal was appointed to the committee, but refuted the idea there was any bias, stating the committee’s only involvement was to find an independent investigator.
“After that was done the committee had no role in the investigator’s work or conclusions,” reads the email from NLG.
“It was a thorough and independent investigation. Nothing was held back. We have had a strong report result and we are now working on its implementation.”
Report’s key findings provided by NLG
1) “Almost all of the Allegations are an unreliable combination of fact assumption, inference and rumour” which are “mistaken beliefs” of which the Investigator sought to limit both “spread and acceptance.”
2) While mistaken, many of the Allegations serve to highlight concerns that the Independent Investigator addressed in his recommendations. These recommendations have been adopted by the Executive.
3) Problems with NEST reporting stem “largely” from different accounting standards. NLG never faced a potential liability for any amount.
4) The fisheries payment referenced in the email was exactly the same as made to other fishermen, just not through Canfisco. The payment was “documented in NLG’s books” and is “the same amount available to other fishermen.”
5) Cardinal, the former information technology manager “did not act in good faith [or] for legitimate purposes”, made reckless inferences and assumptions, and relied on rumour and innuendo.
6) There was collusion only to the extent that the former information technology manager was “implicitly encouraged” to express allegations that were based on inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable evidence. There was no collusion in the personal insults, innuendo or scurrilous rumours contained in the email.