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Council embroiled in lawsuit ahead of election

Marcus Bankuti The Eastern Door

The former top executive of Mohawk Online is suing the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) for wrongful termination and defamatory statements, claiming the grand chief and two others alerted him to comments made by MCK chief Cody Diabo at a Council meeting last summer, The Eastern Door has learned. 

The plaintiff, Dean Montour, alleges he was dismissed from his position as CEO more than a year before the end of his contract as retaliation for his demands that Diabo retract statements that put his integrity into question. He is seeking more than $300,000 in damages from Diabo and the MCK. 

Diabo and MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer are scheduled for pre-trial examinations by Montour’s lawyers on June 13, just weeks before the July 6 election in which both Council members are vying for the grand chief’s seat. 

“I still stand by I was doing my job,” said Diabo, who added he could not say much due to the pending litigation. “That’s what the community elected me to do, and that’s what I do every day that I’m there. So it’s my job to ask questions and to understand before any decision is made.” 

Diabo declined to weigh in on how the news could impact the election. “I don’t know, that’s up to the community,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m in for the whole three years, and I’ll continue to be working and asking questions that I think are needed to make informed decisions for the community.” 

The lawsuit, filed at Quebec Superior Court, alleges that defamatory statements were made by Diabo at the July 18, 2023, meeting of Council, and that Sky-Deer, MCK chief Ross Montour, and then-MCK chief Mike Delisle, Jr., separately informed Dean about the comments. 

Although the lawsuit states that all three of those Council members attended the meeting, the minutes from that day indicate that Ross was not present due to bereavement. He is not mentioned again in the minutes of meeting, which included the usual chiefs’ updates, including updates from Delisle and Sky-Deer on a gaming strategy session. 

Sky-Deer, Ross, and Delisle, now the MCK’s membership registrar, did not return requests for comment made through the MCK, nor did MCK legal counsel Eric Doucet, co-counsel for the defendants. 

“As this matter is associated with a legal proceeding concerning a personal services contract, no information will be provided at this time,” wrote Lisa Lahache, MCK’s political press attache. 

Stephen Ashkenazy of Hamilton Cooper Ashkenazy, the defendants’ other co-counsel, declined to comment. 

Dean claims in his filing that on September 6, 2023, he confronted Diabo, who is alleged to have doubled down on comments casting doubt on Dean’s motives, and is alleged to have questioned Dean’s involvement in a 50/50 raffle. 

“It must be understood that such constituted a direct accusation and an attack on plaintiff’s integrity and honesty,” reads the court filing. 

On September 19, 2023, the plaintiff demanded in writing that Diabo stop making such accusations and apologize in writing in a letter to be presented to the MCK members present on July 18. While this formal demand is cited as an exhibit, none of the supporting documents noted in the lawsuit are currently available to The Eastern Door.

“To this date, Mr. Diabo has refused to retract his statements, has defended his position without ever identifying the source of his information and has clearly and deliberately nourished suspicion within MCK about the plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, and motives,” reads the lawsuit. 

The filing argues that the MCK is also liable for Diabo’s alleged statements because of an October 23, 2023, letter insisting Diabo was “acting in his role as an elected chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.” 

Dean was terminated on November 16, 2023, with 13.5 months left on his contract, according to the court filing, which states a 30-day “zero revenue” clause, section 3.3.2, was cited by the MCK upon his dismissal. According to the filing, such periods occurred in July 2017, April 2022, November 2022, December 2022, and from February 2023 to November 2023. 

The lawsuit claims Dean was not told the situation could affect his future with Mohawk Online. The filing also argues the clause was applied in a way contrary to the way it was intended. 

“It is clear that MCK used section 3.3.2 as a technicality or ‘loophole’ to attempt to justify terminating plaintiff’s employment, and in direct retaliation of the circumstances and ‘constructive dismissal’ environment,” it reads. 

Dean’s lawyers did not reply to requests for an interview, while Dean declined to comment, citing the advice of counsel. 

A total of $110,000 is being sought for the defamation claim, most of which was exemplary damages, and another $191,896.28 is being sought from the MCK for wrongful termination, the pro-rated amount of the remainder of Dean’s contract. 

The case protocol included with the court documents gives insight into the issues in dispute, including whether Dean’s contract constituted an employment contract, whether his termination was legal, and whether he was defamed or slandered. 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on May 31 in issue 33.22 of The Eastern Door.

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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.

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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.