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Simon, Council served with defamation suit

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Two community members are suing the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) and MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon following a Facebook flub that has seen him suspended for three days by his colleagues.

Simon admits that on May 19, he posted unredacted minutes from a Council meeting in 2014, when he was grand chief, to the Election Kanehsatake Facebook page he administers. He did this, he said, to demonstrate that current MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille, then a chief, had seconded motions relating to the approval of G&R Recycling.

However, the minutes also suggested that “Isabelle N.” was in housing default repayment and that “Tracy” was unwilling to do a repayment agreement; the minutes were included as exhibits in a motion to institute proceedings filed by Tracy Paul Cross and Isabelle Nicholas.

“I screwed up,” said Simon, who subsequently replaced the post with a version omitting the information. 

“I’ve always prided myself in remaining professional in what I was doing. To have done this, even by accident, it’s shameful for me to have done that.”

He said he accepts the decision of three chiefs to reprimand him with a three-day suspension without pay, which he proposed at a Council meeting attended by four chiefs on Tuesday.

Bonspille said he had not been informed by the other chiefs of the three-day suspension when asked about it by The Eastern Door

He insists that no duly-convened meetings are permitted to be held over the summer, which he said is in line with the federal calendar, and reiterated his long-held position that only the grand chief can call Council meetings. “They’re defiant and having their own backdoor meetings,” he said.

Bonspille has ordered that Simon be suspended with pay indefinitely, although it is not clear that he has the authority to do so unilaterally.

“I’m going to be seeking an independent investigator to look into the issue,” said Bonspille. “Right now, yes, I did send him a letter that he is suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation.”

He declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing legal action. “I had to take action as the grand chief until this issue is taken care of,” he said.

A demand letter sent to Bonspille by Simon’s lawyer, Dan Goldstein, this week characterized Bonspille’s order to suspend Simon indefinitely as being in violation of the May 10 federal court order reinstating Simon pending judicial review of the appeal board decision nullifying his election.

Cross and Nicholas, along with their lawyers, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. Their motion seeks a combined $155,000 in damages from the defendants for loss of enjoyment of life, loss of reputation, and inconvenience, as well as punitive damages for $55,000 against Simon.

In addition to a slate of other remedies, the motion demands that Simon be required to step down from his position as chief.

“There’s no legal basis for that,” said Goldstein. “One, it’s the wrong jurisdiction because the appointments and the removal of a chief, that’s for the federal court. It’s not a civil proceeding thing.”

He characterized the motion as not meriting a comment.

“It’s a joke,” he said. “You can tell by the conclusions. You can’t go after something that’s so ridiculous, so preposterous, and expect it to succeed.”

The motion makes a range of allegations relating to defamation, many of which are based on what appears to be an assumption that Simon is behind the “Billy Nicholas” Facebook account, a pseudonym adopted by an unknown person who has espoused allegations against various Kanehsata’kehró:non.

In a letter included in the exhibits, Cross seems to claim that a comment made by Billy could have only come from an August 2, 2022, Council meeting. Simon was not an MCK chief on that date.

“I’m not Billy Nicholas,” said Simon. “I wish they would find out who he or she is so it can be put to rest.”

Other exhibits present arguments from one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Irwin Liebman, that Simon condoned Billy’s defamatory comments because he allowed them to stand on the Election Kanehsatake platform.

Another item alleges that MCK chief Denise David “openly in a public forum wrongfully and falsely revealed a situation relating to taxation and legal fees being allegedly paid by the MCK in respect of plaintiff Tracy Cross, which false statement (sic) started circulating among other communities.”

David did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.

MCK chief Brant Etienne suggested this incident stems from a community meeting in which the allegation was invoked without Cross’s name being used.

“It was just about the grand chief’s conduct,” said Etienne. “During which Tracy stood up in the meeting and said, if I remember correctly – I’m paraphrasing, just so nobody confuses this – ‘They’re talking about me.’ He stood up and said it.”

Etienne believes the lawsuit against MCK is without merit. “Anybody can sue anybody for anything, I guess,” he said.

“He can spend his money the way he wants. Maybe we’ll look at recouping the costs if it ends up costing too much.”

He also believes the three-day suspension for Simon that he voted for is a reasonable reprimand.

“Do I think there was any malicious intent behind this? No,” said Etienne. He added that Simon removing the unredacted minutes and admitting it was a mistake were meaningful remediation steps.

“By coming forward and suggesting this, I think that also shows a willingness to step up and take blame for what essentially amounts to a Facebook goof,” Etienne said.

Simon’s three-day suspension is effective beginning Monday, July 3. Etienne and MCK chiefs John Canatonquin and Amy Beauvais voted in favour of the reprimand, according to Etienne, while Simon abstained.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 30, in issue 32.26 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.