North Vancouver RCMP is talking with Squamish Nation chiefs and council over the alleged mishandling of community money in the wake of an internal investigation into $1.5 million in unaccounted funds.
"The North Vancouver RCMP Economic Crime Unit is currently in conversation with the Squamish First Nations band over the alleged mishandling of cash disbursements by staff," said Cpl. Richard De Jong. "Additional information will be released by police if and when it is relevant or pertaining to the file."
Squamish Nation member Beverly Brown wants some answers about how $1.5 million in community funds is unaccounted for.
"People are outraged," she said. "I want the actual unedited version of the audit not just the summation of it... That's got to be more telling than this.
"They're just continuing to keep us in the dark and it's our money. We as a nation don't even know where we stand financially."
Brown's comments come in the wake of an explosive independent investigation into unaccounted for cash disbursements at Squamish Nation. The investigation found no "direct evidence" that the funds were kept by those involved, but alleged they handed out funds to develop political support from members.
Two long-serving elected officials were stripped of their duties this week, but will remain in office, according to a press release on the Squamish Nation website on Oct. 20.
Councillor Krisandra Jacobs, who has been elected six times since 1997, and band manager Glen Newman will keep their elected positions but Squamish Nation Chiefs and Council have removed them of all authority over financial matters, among other things, according to the release.
That does not sit well with Brown, who in the wake of the audit made public on Oct. 19, called North Vancouver police and requested criminal charges be pursued in this matter.
"The community is not happy at all with their (council's) decision," said Brown. "They breached trust. We can't have people like that making major decisions for the community. That's an insult to the people who elected them. If you worked for the provincial government, or the municipal, or the federal government you would not be in there. You certainly would not be collecting a paycheque."
The internal investigation revealed deep flaws in the accounting practices at Squamish Nation — one of the wealthiest First Nations in B.C. with an annual budget of $57 million, much of that self-generated through businesses and leases. The nation also receives millions from higher levels of governments — $11.3 million from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in 2014, for example.
And yet, in a two-year time period Jacobs allegedly cashed more than $882,000 from the emergency fund and can only account for $114,000 of that money — that's 13 per cent of the funds she received and "even this information is speculative," states the report.
Newman, too, did not keep accurate records of more than $555,000 disbursed to him over the two-year investigation period.
"He acknowledged that his record keeping could and should have been better," states the report. "In summary, although Mr. Newman did not keep the appropriate and accurate records of how he spent the funds, he did keep some records, which can account for a significant portion of the funds which were provided to him."
The report comes months after the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, requiring all Canadian First Nations to submit financial statements to the federal government. The statements, including council and chiefs salaries, are made public online.
For Colin Craig, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who has been a driving force calling for more transparency in First Nations government, the investigation only reinforces the need for the new act.
"People expect provincial governments, federal governments, municipal governments to be accountable and transparent with the public," said Craig.
"And if they aren't, those elected officials serving those governments face the heat and that's what we're seeing more and more in aboriginal communities and it's a good thing because everybody expects their leadership to be accountable as well."
The Squamish Nation investigation, made public on Sunday, Oct. 19, covered a two-year period, from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2014, revolving around the cash disbursements from the band's emergency fund, a fund designed to help Squamish Nations most vulnerable members with emergencies such as rent, taxes owing, food vouchers, vehicle insurance, among other things. The report states that generally when members need emergency funds, there is an attempt to pay the funds directly to the third party, such as the landlord or the insurer.
Jacobs and Newman could also provide cash directly.
"It appears that this process of obtaining funds was not publicized or widely known within the membership," states the report by independent investigator Nazeer Mitha. "The concerning issue... is that members who sought funds through this alternate process, received cash with little or no record-keeping of the funds being distributed to them."
Mitha highlights various examples in the report, noting that almost all the payments made out to Newman and Jacobs were in whole numbers, with reasons such as "petty cash" or "public relations."
On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, for example, Jacobs received payments totaling $7,000 and Newman payments totaling $8,700.
"Between the two of them, they received payments totaling $15,700 in one day."
In the course of the investigation, Jacobs told Mitha that the reason why many cheques were paid to herself was because she was helping vulnerable members of the Nation on the edges of society, many of them did not have bank accounts and were unable to cash cheques.
The cheques were cashed and kept in safes in their homes or deposited directly into personal accounts.
The report states that there is no direct evidence either Jacobs or Newman used the funds to benefit themselves, no evidence to show that the funds were improperly used.
However, both benefitted personally in that they were "able to curry favour with many members of the Nation by providing them with funds at (their) discretion."
Brown wants more answers and will be calling for them at the upcoming general meeting. She wants to see the unedited official version of the internal audit, which has not been made public to members.
"I'm wanting to make change," said Brown. "I feel like I'm not the only one who's dealing with this. Other nations from around Canada are dealing with the same improprieties, in different ways.
"We're all suffering some kind of injustice and the money is not going to the community, and that's not OK."
Squamish chiefs would not comment on the matter.
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