A Creston man has founded an organization he hopes will even the odds for Indigenous peoples who want to litigate their own councils.
Rob Louie is president of Band Members Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada (BMAAAC), a non-profit society that provides legal assistance to band members who want elected representatives held responsible for financial misfeasance.
Louie, a former criminal defence lawyer, said he was a university student in the 1990s when he began hearing horror stories of complainants unable to afford legal fees.
“I just thought, why isn’t anything being done? And what I found was legal aid doesn’t [assist] if there’s a band member seeking justice,” said Louie, who spoke to the Nelson Star from his home in Cold Lake, Alta.
“It’s a David and Goliath situation, because the chief and council have the money or the resources and the band members don’t.”
BMAAAC was incorporated in February 2019, but began operating this fall with its first case in Alberta where a member of the Samson Cree Band is challenging a $1,000 non-refundable electoral appeal fee by her band council and chief.
Four legal firms — Dentons LLP, Runyowa LLP, Parlee McLaws LLP and MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP — are currently assisting the association with pro bono support.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s in the spirit of reconciliation, but definitely the legal community sees there is a problem and they’re offering some time to help band members who have meritorious cases,” said Louie.
In 2015, Louie was a consultant for his uncle Wayne Louie, a former chief of the Lower Kootenay Band, who sued his chief and council after they awarded themselves a total of $25,000 in bonuses during an in-camera meeting in 2009.
Wayne said at the time he was concerned Jason Louie, who is currently the band’s chief, was using band money to defend himself while Wayne had to pay for his own expenses.
“The chief flew to Vancouver to attend court and ate out on the band’s dime,” he told the Creston Valley Advance in 2015, “while I had to take a 15-hour bus ride and packed a sandwich. There’s something wrong with that picture.”
Wayne Louie lost in a trial but later won a decision by the BC Court of Appeal.
Rob Louie said that case showed him the necessity for an organization like BMAAAC. He said members typically support chief and council salaries and bonuses, provided they know about it.
“Not after the fact or behind closed doors, and I think that’s what comes out with band members is when chief and counsellor go behind closed doors and award themselves an honorarium or a bonus, and exclude the membership from that same financial pie if you will.”
Louie also plans to return to practise next year. He left a firm in 2004 to recover from alcoholism, and spent the next 15 years working as a legal consultant as well as with at-risk youth. He’s now working on a masters specializing in constitutional law at York University’s Osgood Hall Law School in Toronto, and said he is on track to be readmitted to the Law Society of British Columbia in 2021.
Part of that process, he hopes, will be a review by the society of a 2017 decision against him when he was fined a total of $5,000 for misrepresenting himself as a practising lawyer and offering legal services for a fee. Louie said he was under the influence of alcohol when he consented to the society’s ruling and wants it changed.
Substance use, which can be caused by inter-generational trauma, can lead to misappropriation of money by councils according to Louie. It’s a topic he says should be discussed in 2020.
“It’s not because somebody is inherently evil or they’re crooked. It’s because there’s a substance use or an addiction issue behind it,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s gambling, sometimes it’s alcohol, sometimes it’s drugs or all three. Our leaders are not immune to that lifestyle.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Rob Louie was not related to Wayne Louie. In fact Rob is Wayne’s nephew.
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