Investigators from the Federal Government have cleared the Hartley Bay Band Council and the Gitga’at Development Corporation of wrongdoing after a three-year Forensic Audit after corruption allegations made against the community’s leadership by Brian Robinson, and other fellow band members.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” said Robinson, who had provided over 1,700 documents for the investigation and had received death threats because of his involvement
“I encourage anybody who is trying to improve their community to not hold back. As long as your heart and mind are in the right place when you do it, go for it. If you know your people are wrong, do what you can do. At least I can say we tried.”
There were five different specific allegations looked at by the government investigation which began in 2008 and in its conclusions that were announced last week, officials said that most of the allegations were unfounded while for some there was not enough evidence to conclude wrong doing. There were several allegations made that this was because the council had destroyed evidence of wrongdoing before the investigation started.
First allegation was that the band and development corporation was not able to account for all the money being made from the sale of the community’s timber resources. This suggested that someone might have been skimming off the top. The investigation concluded that there was no evidence of misappropriation of the funds coming from timber sales. Investigators did however criticize the band for a lack of “controls and governance” over its timber operations, and that this is what lead to the appearance of corruption.
The second allegation investigated by the government was two former band employees, Pat Sterritt and Art Sterrit who resigned from their jobs in September of 2005 and received large severance packages of over $36,000 and $48,000 respectively, despite the fact that they resigned and were supposedly not entitled to them. The investigation concluded that the severance paid to the two employees were fair and were an included condition of their contracts.
The third allegation was that former band council member Chris Boulton had been claiming travel expenses accommodation from the Band despite the fact that he had been using “personal accommodation,” such as staying with relatives. Investigation concluded that Boulton could not be said to have done anything wrong because there are no separate rules for when someone uses non-commercial accommodation.
The fourth allegation was that the Band council had violated housing policy by contributing more than the maximum subsidy of $40,000 allowed to build a new house, to Cam Hill a council member. The cost of construction of Hill’s house was over $300,000. The investigation found that the band had approved the extra money but had put in place rental charges so that it would be paid back. Investigators said that the council had done this on several occasions and so was not acting with favouritism towards Hill.
The fifth, and last allegation looked into by investigators was that a former employee of the band had been receiving kickbacks. The Band Council has since referred this issue to the RCMP.
While Hartley Bay’s political and business leadership has been cleared of wrongdoing, the investigation did have some criticisms and recommendations for the community.
Officials criticized the Hartley Bay Band Council for a lack of transparency in its political and financial dealings, which is something that it must address because it understandably invites suspicion on its activities.
Investigators found that the band has been keeping money it receives from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in the same account as money from other sources. Which on top of making it hard to tell if the money is being used for what it intended, is also a violation of agreement for receiving the money and needs to be addressed right away.
Additionally, investigators said the band needs to establish a new framework for the accountable management of its resources, especially in the timber sector.