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Ex-NWT premier accused in sexual harassment suit against foundation

Last modified: May 28, 2021 at 8:54pm


Stephen Kakfwi, NWT premier from 2000 to 2003, is accused of sexual harassment in a $1.25-million lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia on May 19.

Cherry Smiley, a 38-year-old PhD student researching violence against Indigenous women and girls, alleged Kakfwi harassed her while acting as her mentor for a prestigious scholarship program organized by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Smiley, who is a member of the Nlaka’pamux and Dine’ Nations, filed the lawsuit against the foundation and is not suing Kakfwi personally.

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She is seeking damages of $500,000 for breach of the contractual duty of good faith and honesty, $500,000 for breach of confidence, and $250,000 for punitive damages. She is also seeking a declaration from the Trudeau Foundation that it breached its contractual obligations.

Radio-Canada first reported details of the case on Wednesday.

Smiley was selected in April 2016 as one of 16 applicants to receive the foundation’s scholarship, which is valued at $225,000 paid over three years.

Smiley learned in March 2018 that Kakfwi would act as her mentor through the scholarship’s mandatory mentorship program. She then attended a summit arranged by the foundation in St John’s, Newfoundland, between June 3 and June 6 that year.

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According to the civil claim, Smiley attended dinner with Kakfwi at a St John’s restaurant as part of the mentorship program, where he invited her to his Yellowknife home. After dinner, they shared a cab back to the hotel where Kakfwi “suddenly moved his body extremely close” to Smiley before he “grabbed her upper arm, close to her breast, and squeezed it.” He then held onto her for an extended time while “rubbing and massaging” her arm.

At a June 6 gala dinner, Kakfwi is alleged to have repeated the action, again inviting Smiley to his home in Yellowknife.

Kakfwi’s actions made Smiley feel “shaken, distressed, and upset,” according to the civil claim.

Smiley said she was pressured over the next several months to sign a non-disclosure agreement by foundation board members. Despite repeated requests, Smiley refused to sign the agreement.

Kakfwi was listed as a mentor on the foundation’s website until September 2018.

Smiley detailed feelings of depression, anxiety and fear in her annual report to the foundation in 2019. She said the foundation did not act on the report and she experienced delays receiving scholarship funding after submitting it.

Dyane Adam, vice-chair of the foundation’s board of directors, said by email the foundation “has a different interpretation of several allegations in the article published by Radio-Canada.”

Adam said the foundation supported Smiley by paying legal fees and arranging meetings with Smiley and her counsellor. She said Smiley did not choose to file a formal complaint at the time of the allegations.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is a non-partisan charitable organization founded in 2001 to honour former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It received a $125-million endowment from the federal government the following year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cut ties with the foundation in 2004.

Kakfwi did not answer calls to his personal cellphone on Friday.

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