Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 20, 2013

Election result yields divided opinions

Two leading figures of the Liard First Nation have offered starkly different responses to Monday’s election of a candidate for chief with a criminal history.

By Christopher Reynolds on December 20, 2013 at 4:30 pm

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Liard McMillan and Daniel Morris

Two leading figures of the Liard First Nation have offered starkly different responses to Monday’s election of a candidate for chief with a criminal history.

The opinions reveal divisions within a community plagued by domestic violence, high crime rates and allegations of corruption.

Ann Maje Raider, executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS), expressed confidence in the incoming council this week.

She said she wants to move beyond past grievances to confront local challenges like spousal abuse.

Outgoing chief Liard McMillan, who chose not to run in the election, said he was “disappointed” with the win by Daniel Morris, a 50-year-old former chief convicted of assaulting his wife in a brutal two-hour beating.

The attack — interrupted only by sexual intercourse — occurred in a gravel pit outside Lower Post, B.C. in 2003 and prompted Morris’s resignation as chief after roughly five years in office.

“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Raider said. “He says he’s been working on himself in terms of anger.”

She alluded to Watson Lake’s reputation for domestic violence, but approved of the newly elected council despite Morris’s criminal past.

“We trust that they’ll treat our women with the respect and dignity that they deserve. We’re wanting to move together on culture and building the community.”

McMillan strongly disagrees.

“I’m disappointed with the outcome,” he said.

He added he didn’t understand the response from LAWS.

“I have no idea what the motive is. It’s surprising for me that a women’s group who is so adamantly in opposition of myself publicly ... could be so in support of Morris.”

McMillan was referring to an ongoing spat between himself and Raider, set off publicly when council cut official support for LAWS in September.

McMillan had questioned the society’s financial transparency, telling the Star earlier this fall that LAWS was “not accountable to members of the Liard First Nation.”

Raider said there is no weight to suggestions of financial impropriety, pointing to LAWS’ 14-year history of support for victims of domestic violence and residential school survivors.

“Our community has been so embroiled in battle that the issues that have been really important to our hearts have fallen off the side,” Raider said.

“We need to come back together as a community.”

McMillan did not wish to comment on speculation within the community that Raider’s remarks were a political move to secure Morris’s favour, renew official support for LAWS and ease tensions between council and the society.

Prior to the election, which saw Morris win by 20 votes, he circulated an apology letter in the community.

“I want everyone (to) know to this day I regret my actions and the wrong choices I made back in 2003,” he wrote.

“I admit and do blame myself for hurting my family. I do blame myself for hurting my people, and the anger I caused in our community.”

The incident caused a “toxic” rift in the community, dividing it along gender and political lines, said Lance Finch, then Chief Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal.

The Morris affair also thrust family violence in Watson Lake into the spotlight and sparked a local conversation about the community’s intertwined social, economic and crime problems.

Nancy Moore, then the local women’s shelter board president and a town councillor, told the Star in 2004 the town’s social climate was changing and helping abused partners tell their stories.

“It was a pretty moving couple of days for me,” said Moore of a conference around domestic violence that year.

“Sometimes it’s just overwhelming, the strength in people to get up and talk. I’ve learned a lot about strength and character from these women.”

Watson Lake has a violent crime rate four times higher than those of Whitehorse or Dawson City, according to statistics from the territorial government.

The Star has attempted to reach Morris through the Liard First Nation lands office, the election committee and family members, but he has not returned the phone messages.

White Ribbon Yukon, an NGO promoting men’s anti-violence campaigns, has also responded to the election outcome.

“White Ribbon Yukon is aware of and denounces the violent and brutal assault committed by Daniel Morris in 2003, along with all acts of violence against women in our communities,” president Josh Regnier said in a release.

He said the anger management program and counselling referenced in Morris’s apology letter “may demonstrate a willingness to address issues of anger and violence in Chief Morris’ personal life.

“We call on Chief Morris to never again commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women or children.”

Regnier also expressed support for the work done by LAWS to address violence against women and girls in Kaska communities.

Morris’s letter touched on one other point of controversy: allegations that he abused his time in the chief’s seat by using more than $200,000 of band money for personal expenses.

“I did not steal or take any money or funding from the Liard First Nation office.

“When I was in office as chief, our government at that time ... gave out loans to members and employees of Liard First Nation,” Morris wrote.

“Some paid up their loans and some is still outstanding, and I took the rap for that.

“So then I got investigated by the forensic auditors in Ottawa for fraud, they looked through everything very carefully and found nothing wrong and I was not charged for fraud,” he wrote.

McMillan pointed out that after Morris left office, the Liard First Nation commissioned FJD & Company to conduct a forensic review of council finances.

It found Morris took roughly $150,000 in improper loans — including $36,000 in cheques written to himself in one day — and received more than $67,000 in income tax reimbursements.

A second analysis by financial firm KPMG, commissioned by Aboriginal Affairs in Ottawa, confirmed the report’s findings.

“The RCMP said they couldn’t proceed without a forensic audit. And the Department of Indian Affairs wouldn’t pay for one because they couldn’t confirm the money was actually taken from them,” McMillan said.

That was due to the fact that the loans were drawn from council’s general revenue fund, made up of cash from multiple sources, not just Aboriginal Affairs.

McMillan also said it would not make sense for the band to pay for an audit itself, which he estimated would cost $800,000 to recover less than $250,000 in “loans.”

When it became apparent Morris was not going to pay back the money, a statute of limitations on civil court proceedings prevented a lawsuit, he said.

The territorial Limitation of Actions Act states litigation to recover unpaid debts cannot take place more than six years after the time the cause of action arose.

“(This is) a chief who is known to have beaten ... his wife and allegedly taken a bunch of money, whether through personal loans or otherwise, from the First Nation,” McMillan said.

“It just doesn’t add up, in my mind.

“At the end of the day, the membership has spoken, and ultimately I have to respect that decision,” McMillan said. “It is a democratic process.”

He called for a citizenship code and constitution “to define who the members are.”

He and Raider agreed on at least one thing: the need to clarify and reform membership and election rules.

“They’re really outdated,” Raider said. “We need to work on our rules and make it so that it’s more fair and clear.”

She was referring to 10 residents of Lower Post, B.C. who accused the Liard First Nation elections committee in November of altering to their advantage the registered voters list in the run-up to this month’s election.

Election rules state that a voter must be both an LFN member and part of the Kaska bloodline, which led to the near disenfranchisement of some people who had voted in the 2010 Liard First Nation election.

The 10 residents were ultimately allowed to vote, avoiding a perhaps cruel irony where a group formerly excluded from the vote in Canada because of their genetic lineage would be disenfranchised by fellow Liard members based on blood.

McMillan concurred with Raider. But his suggestions included a condemnation of Morris and those emulating his past behaviour: “I think we need to update our election code to prevent people from running for office if they’ve been convicted of crimes, particularly violent crimes against women.

“I also think we need to update our election code to prevent people from running for office if they owe large sums of money to the Liard First Nation, or to any of its subsidiaries,” McMillan said.

Morris is scheduled to take office Dec. 30.

He has virtually no criminal history aside from the incident in 2003. He received a fine after an assault conviction in 1989.

On June 30, 2003, Morris found his partner sleeping in a truck with another man.

Carrying a rifle, he threatened to kill the man and proceeded to beat his partner at a gravel pit outside town, “punching and kicking her all over her body,” according to a 2004 court ruling.

At one point, she pleaded with him to stop and agreed to have sex with him if he would let up, according to facts laid out in the case.

“After the sexual intercourse, the respondent continued to assault her,” wrote Justice Finch.

The assault continued for two hours, leaving the mother of Morris’s two teenaged children in hospital for three days. She reported periodic blurring of vision as a result.

“It was a violent and protracted assault which occurred after Mr. Morris spent more than an hour searching for his wife,” Finch wrote. “He was sober and had the opportunity to contemplate his actions.”

A psychological assessment presented at his sentencing stated Morris does not take full responsibility for his actions, played down his history of spousal abuse and “showed virtually no empathy for his victims.”

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