Indigenous

Workplace investigation found N.S. Regional Chief bullied and harassed former women's association president

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo engaged in “direct discrimination” against a former leader of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA) and other Mi’kmaw women, according to an independent report commissioned by a multi-government organization. 

Morley Googoo dismisses 3rd-party report, women's association passed motion calling for his resignation

An investigation found AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo engaged in 'direct discrimination' against a former leader of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, and other women. Googoo has denied the allegations and dismissed the independent report as 'misinformation.' (Emma Smith/CBC)

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo engaged in "direct discrimination" against a former leader of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association (NSNWA) and other Mi'kmaw women, according to an independent report commissioned by the Tripartite Forum, a federal, provincial and Mi'kmaw government organization. 

Googoo has denied the allegations and dismissed the independent report as "misinformation" intended to harm his reputation.

The September 2018 report, obtained by CBC News, details the allegations against Googoo by former NSNWA president Cheryl Maloney of Sipekne'katik First Nation. 

According to the report, 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'kmaw] Chiefs," and that in a 2017 phone call, he subjected her to threats and verbal abuse.

AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo, centre, at a 2019 powwow with Mi'kmaw chiefs from Newfoundland and Labrador. Googoo oversees Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador in his role with the AFN. (David Newell/CBC)

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 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 like health, justice, education and economic development. 

Maloney confirmed the content of the report, but said she was unable to comment further.

'Bullying and harassment'

The report says that the independent employment lawyer hired by the forum to investigate the allegations found a number of other women connected to the organization "also felt harassed and bullied by [Googoo]," and that she expanded her investigation to include their concerns.

According to the report, the independent lawyer found that: 

  • Googoo's plan to reorganize the forum was motivated by a desire to retaliate against certain women, including Maloney, who he believed were behind calls for his resignation as executive chair of the forum.

  • Googoo's attempts to eliminate Maloney's position and remove NSNWA from the forum constituted direct discrimination against both Maloney and NSNWA.

  • Googoo's attempts to force the reorganization of the forum was "indirect discrimination" against women in the forum. As it primarily affected a "historically disadvantaged group," Indigenous women, the lawyer concluded that Googoo's actions constituted "gender discrimination."

  • Googoo acted in an "aggressive and intimidating" manner toward women of the organization, and that following meetings in November 2016, caused some of the women to fear for their jobs. At least one of the women "became physically ill and was diagnosed with situational depression as a result." 

  • Based on statements Googoo made about Maloney during the investigation interview, the lawyer wrote "it is more likely than not that he made similar belittling and unprofessional comments about [her] to the chiefs and others in the Native community." He also agreed that he called Maloney on Aug. 28, 2017, was angry and made several of the statements that she alleged. The lawyer found his "conduct in these instances amounted to bullying and harassment" of Maloney.

The lawyer noted that federal and provincial human rights legislation is intended to protect people from forms of harassment and discrimination, including on gender and sex grounds.

The independent investigator found Googoo's behaviour toward former NSNWA president Cheryl Maloney amounted to 'bullying and harassment.' (CBC)

'Impossible' allegations

Googoo told CBC News he denied the allegations and classified the investigation as "misinformation." He said he believed the investigation was prompted and carried out "with malice," and was intended to harm his reputation as a Mi'kmaw leader.

"I never harassed [Maloney] at all. Impossible," he said. 

"Everybody that knows me knows I am absolutely not gender discriminatory at all. I have more ladies and women working for me in key roles and decisions ... I'm just not absolutely like that." 

Googoo said he believes it was unproven that his conduct toward Maloney and other women was discriminatory. He said that the 2017 phone call, mentioned in the report, was "more of a personal conversation," and that people in Mi'kmaw communities knew that he and Maloney didn't always see eye to eye.

His role as executive chair, Googoo said, was to carry out directions from the forum's executive committee, which, according to the forum's website, includes the Mi'kmaq Grand Chief, the 13 Mi'kmaw Chiefs of Nova Scotia, federal and provincial ministers of Indigenous Affairs and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. 

Googoo said he stepped down from his role as executive chair before the investigation findings were released for unrelated reasons. He said his role in the forum during the investigation was "inactive," and that there hadn't been a federal minister at forum meetings for over seven years.

Googoo said that since the forum was inactive, and its typical processes weren't followed, the investigation was illegitimate, and he only took part in one investigation interview "to see what it was about."

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Aboriginal Affairs said the Tripartite Forum was in fact active during the time of the investigation, and is still operating. 

"The executive of the Mi'kmaq, Nova Scotia and Canada Tripartite Forum met last in November 2016. That meeting included the federal minister​​​​​​," the statement said.

The Federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs also confirmed in an email statement that the Tripartite Forum has been active since its creation in 1997.

Multiple requests to the office of the Tripartite Forum were not returned.

AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo, right, with AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore in 2017. Googoo denies the allegations against him, and called the investigation 'misinformation.' (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

According to Googoo, he was deliberately left out of a forum meeting that discussed the decision to carry out the investigation. He said it was unclear who called for it, and he questioned the intent behind the decision. 

"I didn't have the opportunity to come back [and] provide any more information to what the investigator would have supposedly heard during her interviewing process," he said. 

"I didn't think [the investigation] was valid at all, and I still don't," Googoo said.

Call for Googoo's resignation from AFN

At the NSNWA December 2018 annual general assembly, a motion was put forward asking "for the resignation of Regional Chief Morley Googoo from the Assembly of First Nations on the basis of gender discrimination toward the NSNWA organization and women," according to the meeting's minutes, also obtained by CBC News.

The motion was passed with two abstentions, according to the meeting's records.

The December 2018 records show that a letter reflecting the call for resignation was to be drafted by the organization's lawyer "for proper terms and protection," but more than eight months since the motion was passed a letter has not yet been drafted or sent. 

NSNWA President Lorraine Whitman said she is unable to comment on the motion or the letter.

Googoo said he was unaware of the NSNWA motion. 

"I would have a meeting with them, for sure, but there's nothing that supports [the motion], and any people on and off reserve would agree with me," he said. 

Googoo said he was looking forward to working with the NSNWA in the future.

About the Author

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a Wolastoqew video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.