British Columbia

Whistleblower gagged as allegations against Nisga'a government spark investigation

The Nisga'a Nation plans to appoint an independent investigator to look into allegations of wrongdoing raised by an employee accused of photographing financial documents and secretly assembling copies of government emails.

B.C. First Nation wants to seal affidavit containing explosive email allegations against leaders

The Nisga'a Lisims Government has obtained an interim injunction against internet technology manager Andre Cardinal to stop him from further distributing confidential information pertaining to allegations of NLG wrongdoing. (Andre Cardinal/Facebook)

The Nisga'a Nation plans to appoint an independent investigator to look into allegations of wrongdoing raised by an employee accused of photographing financial documents and secretly assembling copies of Nisga'a government emails.

In the wake of an explosive email sent to Nisga'a Lisims Government staff, the Northern B.C. First Nation has obtained a gag order against information technology manager Andre Cardinal.

The Nisga'a government is also trying to convince a B.C. Supreme Court judge to seal the contents of an affidavit containing a copy of Cardinal's allegations.

"The integrity of NLG and its employees have been compromised," NLG president Eva Clayton wrote in a "communique" to Nisga'a citizens on the weekend.

"Because the integrity of the Nisga'a Nation is in question, and on advice from the Council of Elders to conduct a thorough independent investigation, the NLG executive unanimously passed a motion to strike a special committee to oversee the investigation by an independent investigator with no ties to NLG."

Intended to release information to CBC

The Nisga'a Nation was the first to sign a modern-day treaty with the province of B.C. and the federal government in 1998. The Nisga'a Lisims Government came into effect in May 2000, meaning the Nisga'a people had the legal authority to conduct their own affairs.

According to court documents, Cardinal allegedly sent a message detailing his concerns to NLG staff on May 15.

Joseph Gosnell, centre, holds the Nisga'a treaty in 1998, alongside B.C. Premier Glen Clark and Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart as the Nisga'a Nation became the first to sign a modern day treaty with B.C. and Ottawa. (CBC)

The exact nature of his allegations is unclear, but in another communique to citizens, Clayton cited regulations aimed at maintaining financial management standards "comparable to that of any municipal, provincial, territorial or federal government in Canada."

"Nisga'a government is confident in the internal financial controls that are in place to ensure that spending is appropriate and approved and in the best interests of the Nisga'a people," Clayton wrote.

The NLG claims Cardinal photographed "confidential financial documents" on top of chief financial officer Terry Holt's desk and set up a "shadow" email account to copy emails "to and from other persons working for NLG."

The Nisga'a Nation claims Cardinal still has access to offsite storage of the emails, despite having had his laptop repossessed.

He allegedly "said that he intended to release the information to citizens of Nisga'a Nation and to CBC notwithstanding instructions not to do so from his employer."

'I'm prepared to go to jail'

The Nisga'a government filed a notice of civil claim against Cardinal last week seeking damages for defamation and breach of trust.

The NLG also obtained an interim injunction against the IT manager restraining him from further distributing or publishing the information he is accused of taking.

According to court documents, Andre Cardinal allegedly set up a "shadow" email account to copy and store emails offsite. (CBC)

The court documents include a series of posts from Cardinal's Facebook profile in which he claims he was placed on administrative leave in the wake of the allegations.

"I'm prepared to go to jail in order to bring light to matters I raised in my email I sent to to all staff yesterday," he wrote. 

"These people need to understand I'm prepared to do what it takes to bring light on a [very] dark corner of the Nisga'a Nation."

Cardinal hasn't filed a response to the court claim. He told CBC on Monday that he is respecting the injunction.

'Please delete the message'

In the hours after obtaining the injunction, a lawyer for the Nisga'a government wrote to Cardinal asking him to "govern yourself accordingly."

Clayton also put out another communique to Nisga'a citizens.

The Parliament Building of the Nisga’a Nation is located in the Nisga’a Village of Gitlaxt’aamiks. The NLG has promised to appoint an independent investigator to look into allegations of wrongdoing. (Nisga’a Lisims Government / Gary Fiegehen)

"Please understand that NLG takes the distribution of the message and the allegations it raises extremely seriously and will be taking necessary steps to investigate and resolve them in full," she wrote.

"Until that time, however, in the interests of our government and our community, I ask that you please delete the message and refrain from speculating on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the allegations that have been made or sharing the message with others."

'An internal HR matter'

A lawyer for the Nisga'a Nation was in B.C. Supreme Court Monday applying to seal an affidavit from Holt, the Nisga'a CFO, which contains a copy of the "screed" Cardinal wrote to Nisga'a government staff.

Justice Kenneth Affleck adjourned the application to give the lawyers more time to prepare their arguments, noting concerns about the open court principle and what might be a wider public interest in the case.

Nisga'a spokesman Bobby Clark refused to comment on the allegations or the investigations.

"We're actually treating it as an internal HR matter that is currently under investigation," Clark said.

"The communiques are intended to keep Nisga'a citizens informed. We don't have any further comment at this time.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.