A dispute between the elected treasurer of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) and the rest of the provincial council might be headed to an appeal.
In a ruling dated March 9, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice J. Meschishnick ruled that Mary Ann Morin hadn’t resigned from her position as treasurer with the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan and that she hadn’t waited too long to bring forward her court case.
Meschishnick ruled that Morin had not resigned and continues to hold that position, which also makes her the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan’s Minister of Finance.
The Métis nation, which has been using an appointed interim treasurer designated since the dispute began in 2017, says it intends to appeal.
The original dispute
The MN-S in 2017 had recently come out of an election where more than double the number of Métis people had voted as compared to the previous year. The election was seen by many as a chance to reset the previous few years’ legacies of infighting and court cases.
Morin said she had accountability in mind when she was chosen as treasurer and minister of finance.
“When you’re federally funded … things are specific You have to report and you have to spend on the way it’s allocated,” Morin told the Daily Herald last week.
In 2017, Morin felt that the funding MN-S received from the federal government, as reported, was incomplete and the MN-S was not being transparent.
“We were going through the election process to rebuild the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan. We had to get people to believe in us again. This was a big group of people who entrusted us with their vote to bring back the Métis nation the way we remember from when we were young as strong people who supported the communities.”
The MNS says its reporting from 2017 was compliant.
“The MN-S undertook a comprehensive review of funding following the renewal of funding from the federal government in 2017,” they said in a written statement.
“This review included the completion of all outstanding reporting. This was done in direct partnership and with the active participation of federal officials who were on-site to support the reinvigoration of the MNS … and the resumption of a normal funding relationship.”
As all the reporting was done through this partnership with the federal government, the MN-S “is confident that all reporting was of the highest standard.”
Audited financial statements have been approved by the legislative assembly and all reporting has been reviewed and accepted by Canada, they said.
The court case
The court case emerged from an email Morin sent on Sept 12. She asked that a motion be put on the agenda for the Provinciaal Métis Council’s (PMC )Sept;.24-26 assembly to accept her resignation if she couldn’t assure accountability, community and transparency.
MN-S president Glen McCallum interpreted that email as a resignation.
The PMC met on Sept. 23 and acknowledged that Morin had resigned and that the president had accepted the resignation on Sept. 13.
Morin, though, sent a variety of emails to various people to clarify that she had not resigned and to attempt to withdraw her motion.
Justice Meschishnick said Morin attended a meeting in April 2018 to express her opposition to the decision acknowledging that she had resigned,d and protested a meeting in July of that year to draw attention to what she considered to be an improper and unfair decision.
“She continued to hold herself out as the treasurer regularly protesting at events and by publishing a newspaper and online material as if she continued to be the treasurer to such an extent that the respondents applied for an injunction before me to prevent her from doing so,” the justice wrote.
The Métis Nation disputes this. They said Morin waited 19 months to commence legal action and did not attend any council meetings during that time. The MN-S wrote that the only reason the issue ever came to the court is that “the MN-S brought the issue to a head.”
“One of the reasons a resignation cannot be withdrawn is because a government like the MN-S needs certainty as to who is a member of the PMC and who is not,” they wrote.
“Ms. Morin created significant uncertainty for the MN-S.”
According to MN-S, the law surrounding resignations says that once one has been offered, it can’t be withdrawn except with the consent of the body it’s offered to. The MN-S say they never agreed to withdraw the resignation.
“There is no dispute that Ms. Morin offered her resignation to the PMC, MN-S wrote.
But that’s not what Meschishnick ruled.
A resignation must be “unequivocal” and “capable of objective verification,” Meschishnick wrote.
He cited Morin’s affidavit that she never intended to resign but threatened to in the hope that that members at the PMC would understand her position on disclosure and accountability.
On Sept. 13, he wrote, she sent an email to a member of the council which said: “And no I am not quitting but I need something brought to the table…” In a Sept. 15 email, Morin tried to rescind the motion and the threat of resignation.
Morin’s emails and motion “cannot be read as an immediate resignation,” Meschishnick wrote.
“The writer has clearly intended the resignation is not effective until accepted by PMC.”
Secondly, he wrote, by having the resignation debated at a council meeting through a motion, Morin was at least reserving the right to withdraw that motion of resignation.
Thirdly, Meschishnick said, she made it clear that the acceptance of her resignation was conditional on it being accepted on her motion, not omen made by someone else.
That motion, Meschishnick wrote, was not dealt with. Instead, one of a different council member was debated. That motion acknowledged — but didn’t accept — Morin’s resignation.
He found that while the law surrounding resignations doesn’t require that it be accepted to be effective, nothing prevents someone from making their resignation conditional. Morin’s resignation, he said, needed to be accepted by the council and be accepted on her motion. Neither of those conditions, he ruled, were met.
Whether her resignation would have been accepted after the debate, he said, can only be speculated. What is known, he wrote, is that the council did not accept Morin’s resignation on a motion made by her.
Despite Meschishnick’s ruling, released over a month ago, Morin still hasn’t been contacted by the MN-S, nor has she been able to act as treasurer and finance minister. She’s of the opinion that though an appeal is pending, for the time being, the ruling stands.
Morin believes she could easily step into the role now — she has seen herself as treasurer this entire time and has been following along with the MN-S and their audited financial statements.
“There’s been a past practice that the person who is being appealed has that ability to sit at the table and be a part of meetings,” Morin said.
“If the appeal is lost, I do have signature rights as the Minister of Finance, and as a director with the provincial Métis Council. I believe that I’ve always kept track right through anyway.”
Morin sent a letter to the federal ministries of Indigenous Services and of Indigenous and Northern Relations last week.
The letter calls on the federal government to copy all financial correspondence between Canada and the MN-S to Morin’s office, to freeze all funding and put third-party management in place until the MN-S is confirmed to have fulfilled its obligations in reporting and fiduciary responsibility and resolved internal governance issues and to directly negotiate with the three large Métis urban populations in the province.
Morin, in her letter, also calls on the government to support the survivors of the Ile a la Crosse Residential School.
So far, she’s received an acknowledgement of Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller’s receipt of her letter, but nothing further.
The federal government did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
“It’s a democratic vote,” Morin said.
“If people don’t agree it’s not up to leadership to determine that you don’t agree so you’re not part of the team. That’s not … the reality of democratic voting. Otherwise, why would people be brought to vote?”
The MN-S is standing firm in their position, moving forward with their COVID-19 relief measures.
“The MN-S continues to believe strongly that it followed proper procedures when it voted to accept Ms. Morin’s resignation,” they wrote.
“The judge failed to properly consider the law in relation to resignations. In this case, the PMC accepted the resignation and the (legislative assembly), the ultimate governing authority over the MN-S, elected Earl Cook as her replacement in the Spring 2018 (assembly).”
The MN-S also argues that a principle in Canadian law requires courts to show deference to the decisions of Indigenous Governments.
“Our government has entered into a self-government framework agreement under which Canada ultimately acknowledges our inherent right to self-government,” they wrote.
“Here the MN-S, the PMC and the (legislative assembly) made a decision to accept Ms. Morin’s resignation and elect Dr. Earl Cook in her place. The Court did not consider its deference obligation in rendering its decision.
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Morin has elected to distract the government of the MN-S who are working around the clock to respond to the rapidly changing world we are all living in as a result of COVID19. The MN-S has already rolled out programs to assist our citizens manage in these unprecedented times and we will continue to support Métis citizens throughout Saskatchewan throughout this pandemic.”