Nova Scotia

Former N.S. Native Women's Association president files human rights complaints over Googoo investigation

Cheryl Maloney says the Tripartite Forum failed to find solutions or protections for Mi'kmaq women after a 2018 report found that Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo engaged in "direct discrimination" against her and other women.

‘Everyone knew about it,’ says Cheryl Maloney about gender-based bullying

Cheryl Maloney has filed four separate complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. (CBC)

The former president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association (NSNWA) said she's turned to the Canadian Human Rights Commission after an investigation into a prominent chief failed to address widespread gender-based discrimination.

This comes weeks after CBC News reported that an independent investigation commissioned by the Tripartite Forum found that Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo engaged in "direct discrimination" against Cheryl Maloney and other Mi'kmaq women.

"The big issue, and the issue why I'm going to human rights, is because everyone knew about it and no one did anything about it," said Maloney in an interview.

On Aug. 6, Maloney filed four separate human rights complaints against the Tripartite Forum executive committee and its federal, provincial, and First Nations partners.

In the complaints, she specifically named Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations; Premier Stephen McNeil, Nova Scotia's minister of aboriginal affairs; and Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

Maloney said the three levels of government were slow to act on her initial complaint against Googoo.

"This is, I think, gender-based discrimination at the highest level in Canada, where you have premiers and senior ministers and Indigenous governments doing nothing on a case that everybody knows about," she said. 

Googoo has denied Maloney's allegations and dismissed the independent report as 'misinformation.' (Emma Smith/CBC) (Emma Smith/CBC)

The Tripartite Forum is made up of representatives from the NSNWA and other First Nations organizations, the Nova Scotia provincial government and the Government of Canada, who comprise committees in areas including health, justice, education and economic development. 

According to the Tripartite report from September 2018, Maloney alleged that Googoo "engaged in gender-based bullying" against her and other women, harmed her reputation "by maliciously relaying negative information about her, particularly to [Mi'kmaq] Chiefs," and that in a 2017 phone call, he subjected her to threats and verbal abuse.

'Trying to remove our voice'

In 2016, Googoo attempted to remove Maloney and the NSNWA from an inter-government partnership by proposing a reorganization of the Tripartite Forum, the report said. 

The independent employment lawyer hired by the forum found that this plan was motivated by a desire to retaliate against certain women, including Maloney, and that it constituted direct discrimination against her and the NSNWA.

Despite these findings, Maloney said the report failed to find solutions and protections for women who come forward with complaints about gender-based harassment.

"The women were made to feel like this was a personality issue between me and Morley," she said.

"This is not a personality issue if you're trying to remove funding from the women's association, trying to remove our voice."

AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo, right, with AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Googoo, who didn't respond to a request for comment on Friday, has previously denied the allegations and dismissed the independent report as "misinformation" intended to harm his reputation.

Government response

In a statement, a spokesperson for McNeil's office said Maloney's concerns were taken seriously from the start.

"Once the allegations against regional Chief Morley Googoo were made by Ms. Maloney to the Tripartite Forum, Nova Scotia worked with her employer, Mi'kmaq community leaders and federal partners to ensure the claims were taken seriously," said David Jackson in an email.

"The forum's three partners are working together to ensure the independent report's recommendations are addressed, which include workplace harassment policies and training."

In response to CBC's request for comment, Don Kelly, spokesperson for the Assembly of First Nations, said the assembly would not comment on the matter as it is now before the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In July, National Chief Bellegarde, who is named in one of Maloney's complaints, sent a letter to Googoo informing him of a proposed suspension in the wake of the workplace investigation.

"This motion is in response to allegations of harassment by yourself towards women in your region," the letter states. "The AFN is committed to ensuring a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination."

In July, Bellegarde said the Assembly has a zero tolerance policy for harassment, bullying and discrimination. (CBC)

The letter said Googoo had 20 days to respond to the proposed suspension, which will elapse on Aug. 11. Kelly did not indicate Friday whether Googoo had responded.

Bennett's office and the Tripartite Forum could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Claim continues important work

Maloney said she had to resign as the NSNWA president because of Googoo's bullying.

In her former role, she said she acted as an important voice for Indigenous women across Nova Scotia and Canada.

While she's no longer the head of the association, she feels as though the human rights complaints will amplify her voice and the voices of other Indigenous women.

"If I had to step down so I can continue the support and advocacy and... to help Indigenous women in this country, then I'll do it," she said.

"I may not be the president, but this claim is continuing that work that was important to me."