North

Controversial allegations of fraud, corruption divide Liard First Nation

A letter, sent to the federal government last month by then-chief Daniel Morris and two councillors, alleges millions of dollars in unauthorised transfers, bonfires to destroy official documents, and even alludes to 'suspicious' deaths.

Allegations in public letter to federal government ask for investigation, forensic audits

Most of the accusations in the letter sent last month to the federal government by the former chief and council of the Liard First Nation concern alleged financial mismanagement at the First Nation, between 2003 to 2014. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Members of the Liard First Nation (LFN) are trying to make sense of some shocking accusations published days before the election by the now-former chief and council.   

None of the accusations have been verified.

A letter, sent to the federal government on May 29 by then-chief Daniel Morris and two councillors, alleges millions of dollars in unauthorised transfers, bonfires to destroy official documents, and even alludes to "suspicious" deaths of people who opposed the previous council.

The 20 page letter was also published and distributed around Watson Lake.

The letter was signed by then-chief Daniel Morris, who was voted out of office earlier this week. (CBC)

It is signed by Morris and two people who were on council at the time: Roy Dick and Cindy Porter, who are requesting law enforcement officials to investigate further.

Most of the accusations in the letter concern alleged financial mismanagement at the First Nation, between 2003 to 2014. Many of those accusations are focussed on former chief Liard McMillan.

"By the end of his terms as Chief, he [McMillan] had a new house in Teslin, a house in Whitehorse, new vehicles, numerous large pieces of mining equipment and a place in Mexico. This is on a salary of just over $72,000/year," the letter reads.

The letter demands an audit of the Liard First Nation Development Corporation and other companies. It alleges they were used as covers to siphon money from community programs.  

"Much of the money earmarked for the LFN was sent to the Development Corporation including money for Social Assistance. In the period between December 2007 and August 2009 over $5.5 million was fax or debit memo transferred between accounts without a financial department person appearing to be in the process," it reads.

McMillan says the entire thing is a lie.  

"Anyone can hire some Inspector Clouseau and come up with a whole novel," he said.

'No supporting documentation'

"There's no supporting documentation to any of these allegations. When anybody makes a criticism about elected officials that should be allowed and we should respect that.

'Anyone can hire some Inspector Clouseau and come up with a whole novel,' said former chief Liard McMillan.

"However, when those allegations are being made and they're false and not backed up with evidence, that's where we get into libel and slander," he said.  

The newly-elected LFN chief, George Morgan, says he's suspicious of the allegations but says council and the community will have to weigh the evidence and decide how to proceed.

The letter was written by a private investigator from B.C. hired by the Liard First Nation last year.

Alan Vonkeman of Xpera Risk Mitigation & Investigation says his work is credible and should be taken seriously by authorities.

"I have been working with the elders and people of LFN since the spring of 2016. My job as an professional investigator is to work with evidence, documents and eyewitnesses to find the truth and prepare, if needed, an evidence package to be used in judicial proceedings," he wrote in an email to CBC.

'Suspicious deaths'

The letter's allegations of financial mismanagement alone would be shocking to many, but it goes even further.  

The letter states — without any detail or explanation — that community members have feared for their safety "base[d] on the suspicious deaths of several who stood in the way of the desires of those in power."

It does not provide names of people who died.

When asked about these claims, Vonkeman told CBC that he could not provide details.

"This investigation is incomplete and much work is still required to be done. There has been conversations with the RCMP, but as noted, the document is a letter to the federal government, to look into the whole matter," he wrote.

Even those who signed the letter couldn't provide any details.

"I am sorry, but I have no knowledge of this as it was confidential meetings with the investigator and members. This goes back to previous elections. They get quite heated," wrote former LFN councillor Cindy Porter in an email to CBC.

Former councillor Roy Dick also did not address the claims of suspicious deaths when speaking to CBC.

He said the investigation's goal was to "find out where all the money went with the last chief and council," he said.

Dick estimated the First Nation was about $5 million in debt when he was elected to council in 2014.

Former chief McMillan is especially disturbed by the insinuation that he or his council had anything to do with people's deaths.

"Lying publicly about somebody is wrong and shouldn't be allowed," he said.

Other allegations  

This isn't the first time there have been allegations of corruption within the Liard First Nation. Both McMillan and Morris have levelled accusations of corruption at each other over the years.  

Morris was also chief prior to McMillan taking office in 2003.

In 2005, McMillan's administration published its own investigation which accused Morris of writing himself cheques from First Nation funds and distributing $1.58 million worth of First Nation funds to staff and council, and without authorisation or proper record-keeping. Those allegations were never tried in court.

Actual facts about the First Nation's finances are tough to find.

The LFN has been under third-party management since 2014, as part of an effort to repay debts. Both Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Health Canada have expressed a lack of confidence in the First Nation's ability to administer federal funds and placed those funds in control of a third-party manager.

The company, Ganhada, will not speak to media about First Nations it manages or their finances, nor say how much debt remains to be paid.

'Might be some politics being played,' says new chief

Chief George Morgan says he cannot decide on his own whether to act on the latest allegations. However, he said he is suspicious of the motives behind the accusing letter.

"This investigation just happened to begin one month before the election. There might be some politics being played here," he said.  

'The community might want to have a meeting on it. We're not sure,' said newly-elected LFN chief George Morgan. (Submitted by Paul Tubb)

Nevertheless, he says he will put the matter to the new council.

"The community might want to have a meeting on it. We're not sure," he said.

Morgan added he would like to speak with the private investigator to find out more about the investigative process behind the letter, to assess its credibility.

He also believes that his predecessors on council may deserve investigation.

"We also haven't had any financial reporting for last three-and-a-half years, so that financial reporting and analysis has to be done," he said.

CBC has asked the RCMP and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to comment on the recent letter, but has not had a response.

Former chief Daniel Morris also could not be reached for comment.

About the Author

Philippe Morin is a reporter based in Whitehorse. Follow him on Twitter @YukonPhilippe.