Former chief of Smith's Landing taking First Nation to court

The ousted chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation says council's disciplinary actions against him were made in a 'procedurally unfair manner' and is asking the federal court to intervene.

John Tourangeau alleges council unfairly suspended him, slashed his pay

In court documents, former chief John Tourangeau alleges the four councillors of Smith's Landing First Nation on the Northwest Territories-Alberta border unjustly suspended him without pay for 30 days and slashed his salary from $96,000 to $32,000. (CBC)

The ousted chief of Smith's Landing First Nation is challenging disciplinary actions taken against him, and is taking the First Nation to federal court.

John Tourangeau was expelled from his position as chief by council, according to a notice posted Friday.

In court documents filed months before his expulsion, Tourangeau alleges the four councillors of the First Nation unjustly suspended him without pay for 30 days and slashed his salary from $96,000 to $32,000.

The former chief of the First Nation on the N.W.T. and Alberta border says these decisions were made in a "procedurally unfair manner."

He argues that council cut his salary as punishment, which it did not have the authority to do. Tourangeau has applied for a judicial review of his pay cut and suspension.

Tourangeau is asking the court to order Smith's Landing First Nation to pay him the wages he lost during the periods of his suspension and salary reduction, as well as his legal fees

Conflict between council and chief

The federal court documents describe a chief and council at odds for more than a year.

None of the allegations contained in the documents have been proven in court.

Tourangeau was elected chief of in a by-election in June of 2017 after the previous chief resigned.

A notice of application dated Sept. 4, 2018 says current councillor Geronimo Paulette ran against Tourangeau in the by-election and lost by a "relatively narrow margin."

Paulette is now acting chief.

Tourangeau declined CBC's request for comment.

Smith's Landing CEO Frank Lepine said the First Nation is not commenting on Tourangeau's removal from council or his court case.

This is not the first time infighting among Smith's Landing First Nation's chief and council has made the news. In 2012, then-Chief Cheyanne Paulette resigned over tensions with councillors.

Cheyeanne Paulette, a former chief of the Smith's Landing First Nation, resigned from the position in 2012 over tensions with council. (CBC)

'This is embarrassing': email

On April 10, 2018, Coun. Thaidene Paulette sent an email to the chief and council with the subject line "This is embarrassing."

This email was included court documents.

In it, Paulette says the chief has been to more out-of-town meetings than meetings in his own community. "It's an utter embarrassment," Paulette writes.

A week later, Smith's Landing First Nation council cut Tourangeau's salary through a band council resolution.

The resolution alleges that since his election, Tourangeau "has made no effort" to hold a planning session with council or implement a mandate.

The resolution says the 66 per cent salary reduction reflects Tourangeau's "capability and qualifications as chief thus far," and that council will review his pay every three months until the end of the current term in June 2019.

In August, after allegations the chief harassed and bullied a First Nation employee, council suspended Tourangeau without pay for 30 days — the maximum under Smith's Landing First Nation's regulations. 

In its court filing, Smith's Landing First Nation says Tourangeau was given opportunities to defend himself, but that he "chose to remain silent."

Tourangeau's court documents say he was not given advance notice of the allegations against him and not given "meaningful opportunity to make submissions in support of this new proposed salary."  

The First Nation says Tourangeau breached his oath of office and that council's disciplinary decisions were reasonable.

A federal court hearing is set for Sept. 17 in Edmonton.

The current chief and council's term is set to expire this year. Nominations for their positions opened on Monday.