Daniel Morris wants to be chief of the Liard First Nation again, but he may seem like a long shot.
Morris was chief once before, but he was removed from office in disgrace in 2003 following a conviction for brutally assaulting his then-estranged wife and threatening another man with a loaded rifle.
The News made repeated attempts to reach Morris for over a week, but he did not respond to requests for comment.
After returning home one spring evening in 2003, Morris discovered that his wife was missing. According to court records, Morris grabbed his .30-30 rifle and four live shells, climbed into his truck and headed to Lower Post, B.C., to look for her.
He found her there in a car with another man whom court records did not identify. Morris cocked the rifle and threatened to kill the man with it, court records state.
He then forced the man from the vehicle and ordered his wife to drive back towards Watson Lake. As the other man fled, he heard Morris yell, “I’m going to kill you” at his wife, court records said.
Once on the road, Morris followed his wife in his pickup until they reached a gravel pit near the entrance to Lower Post. Morris hauled his wife from the car, marched her into a nearby sand pit and began to beat her.
“She pleaded with him to stop and at one point agreed to have sexual intercourse with him if he would stop beating her,” court records said. “After the sexual intercourse, the respondent (Morris) continued to assault her. The assault continued for approximately two hours in total.”
The Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society at the time called the attack “a horrific act of domestic violence.”
At his trial, Morris pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife, as well as uttering death threats and forcible confinement. He was sentenced to two years probation for his crimes.
Earlier this month he circulated an apology letter in Watson Lake.
“I admit and do blame myself for hurting my family. I do blame myself for hurting my people and the anger I caused in our community. I regret my unfair actions and my unfair behaviour,” the letter reads.
It goes on to say that Morris has taken an anger management program and counseling, and that his family is back together again.
But that apology has little meaning in the eyes of the First Nation’s current chief.
“He’s apologizing for what he did to his wife in 2003 and said he’s taken anger management classes, but I know that the last time that he ran, in 2010, and lost, he came up to me and threatened me and I had to get a peace bond against him,” said Liard McMillan.
After the last election, there was a push to have the LFN general assembly consider changing the election rules to prevent convicted criminals from running for office. But the proposal was never followed up, McMillan said.
“We should have done it, but we never did. I have to take the blame for that. It’s just something that our council never did,” McMillan said. He did point out that while Morris was facing the criminal charges before his conviction, the LFN government paid his legal expenses. McMillan is not seeking re-election as chief.
In an unrelated matter, Morris is also accused by the First Nation of having taken nearly $250,000 in inappropriate loans from the LFN government while he was chief.
McMillan tried to get the RCMP and Aboriginal Affairs – which funds a significant portion of the First Nation’s budget – to investigate the loans. McMillan personally supplied the RCMP with seven bankers’ boxes full of documents that he says back up the allegations, and the police wound up seizing dozens more.
The First Nation hired FJD & Company to conduct a forensic review of the governments books. That report alleges that Morris took $150,000 in improper loans, and also signed himself $36,000 in cheques in a single day.
The FJD & Company report also said that Morris received more than $67,000 in reimbursement of income taxes withheld from his salary. Another auditing firm, KPMG, later determined these repayments were part of a broader arrangement that saw more than $1.5 million set aside for Revenue Canada instead of being disbursed to band members.
But he was never charged with anything. Aboriginal affairs hired financial firm KPMG forensic to review the FJD report. KPMG confirmed FJD’s findings that Morris took the money, but found there was no way to prove that it was Aboriginal Affairs money he took because money from a variety of sources all went into the same bank account. In the end, Aboriginal Affairs closed the file without ordering a full forensic audit.
In his apology letter, Morris said he never stole any money, but was in fact made the scapegoat for other councillors’ unethical financial behaviour.
“I did not steal or take any money or funding from the Liard First Nation office. When I was chief, our government at that time helped out members. We gave out loans to members … some paid up their loans and some is still outstanding, and I took the rap for that,” the letter reads.
His letter doesn’t mention anyone else by name, or explain any of the details of the KPMG report, and it claims that Aboriginal Affairs exonerated him because he wasn’t charged with fraud.
The whole thing rings false for McMillan.
“He’s basically denied doing anything wrong with the money that he took. He’s saying Indian Affairs cleared his name. They didn’t clear his name. They simply looked for and found a loophole so they could wash their hands of it and avoid major embarrassment in Ottawa,” he said.
Advance polls for the election were held on Dec. 2. The final poll will be on Dec. 16.
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