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Justice

Foundation seeks to dismiss suit involving ex-NWT premier


The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that claims the foundation breached its contractual duty to a woman who alleged she was sexually harassed by a former NWT premier.

Cherry Smiley, a member of the Nlaka’pamux and Dine’ Nations and a PhD student researching violence against Indigenous women and girls, filed the $1.25-million lawsuit against the foundation in May 2021.

Smiley alleges Stephen Kakfwi, who is Dene and was the NWT’s premier from 2000 to 2003, sexually harassed her in 2018 while he was her mentor as part of the foundation’s scholarship program. 

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Kakfwi is not being sued and none of the allegations against him have been proven in court. 

Smiley says the foundation breached its duties and her confidence in its handling of her allegations. She says staff at the foundation did not believe her, pressured her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, prevented her from contacting an ombudsperson, and publicly attacked her. 

Smiley 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 foundation that it breached its contractual obligations.

As first reported by the CBC, the foundation filed a response to the suit in December, seeking to dismiss or stay the case on the grounds it was filed in the wrong province.

The foundation argued the BC court has no jurisdiction over the case as there is no “real and substantial connection” between the province and Smiley’s claims. 

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While the suit was filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the foundation’s only office is located in Montreal and Smiley’s claim relates to meeting Kakfwi at an event in St John’s, Newfoundland. It was there that Smiley claimed Kakfwi “grabbed her upper arm, close to her breast, and squeezed it” then proceeded to rub and massage it, leaving her “shaken, distressed, and upset.” 

According to the foundation, its staff listed in Smiley’s claim live in Montreal, Ottawa, and London, England. Smiley lives in BC. 

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is a non-partisan charitable organization founded in 2001 to honour former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. It supports fellowships, mentorships and public events.

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