Despite using the Ta’an Kwach’an Council’s credit card for personal purchases, Chief Kristina Kane and Deputy Chief Michelle Telep shouldn’t be removed from office, the First Nation’s judicial council ruled.
The Aug. 24 decision notes that the council didn’t have any credit card use policy at the time Kane and Telep spent money on the card.
“The absence of a clear, consistent written policy on credit card usage mitigates to some degree the inappropriate use by Ms. Kane for personal charges,” judges Barbara Evans and Michael Dougherty wrote.
Kane continued using the card despite warnings from staff that doing so was problematic. She racked up more than $9,000 in personal charges on the TKC credit card from 2013 until December 2015. The full amount was repaid by April 8, 2016.
“Chief Kane was made aware that there were concerns regarding use of the TK Visa for personal expenses but continued to use it for personal purposes until December of 2015,” the judges wrote.
“Even in the absence of a credit card policy, Ms. Kane ought to have known that use of a corporate credit card for personal use is not acceptable.”
The complainant, Bonnie Harpe, was seeking to have both Kane and Telep removed from office.
The judicial council ruled the violations weren’t severe enough to warrant that.
“While the dignity of the office of Chief is hard won, it is easily lost,” the judges wrote. “The TKFN has been impacted by her actions but not widely or irreparably.”
The Ta’an judicial council can remove any Ta’an official if it finds the person compromised “the dignity of effectiveness of the office.”
“Ms. Kane’s violations are more administrative in nature than demonstrative of contempt for the laws of the TKFN,” the council concluded.
The card was in Kane’s name and tied to her personal bank account, suggesting Kane believed it was her own credit card, the judges added.
The judicial council ordered that a credit card policy be implemented within the next six months.
Kane has to send a letter of apology to all Ta’an citizens, including Harpe.
According to a similar but separate decision for Telep, the deputy chief spent $1,900 on the card and repaid it fully.
Kane declined to be interviewed for this story.
Instead the Ta’an Kwach’an Council sent out a press release, in which Kane apologized for the credit card use.
The council said it was taking “strong steps towards enhancing good governance practices through important changes to its legislation and policies.”
The judicial council ordered that a leadership and accountability act be implemented.
The corresponding regulations should ensure there are oversight procedures for financial requests made by TKC directors, chief and deputy chief.
On top of the chief and deputy chief, the TKC executive director can also use the Ta’an credit card.
Those regulations are to deal with another breach of Ta’an policy by Kane, when she got cash advances before paying back prior ones.
“The payroll cash advances policy was breached by Ms. Kane on an ongoing basis with the knowing collaboration of the departmental employees,” the judges wrote.
Harpe, the complainant, didn’t mince her words about the decision.
“If it was somebody else in a white’s man government, they would have been charged,” she said.
When Ta’an citizens first learned of the credit card use, one of the TKC councillors called the RCMP to report what she believed was fraud. The judicial council notes in its decision it appears there were no follow-up calls from the police.
“A lot of our members still think there should be a police investigation into it because it was public money,” Harpe said.
“I would think the taxpayers would be pretty upset considering the money they have given to us through the land claims agreement is being squandered off and used to benefit some people, not all the people.”
The fact Kane shouldn’t have been using a TKC credit card for personal purchases is a “no-brainer,” Harpe said.
She questioned why the TKC credit cards weren’t taken away from Kane when it became known she was using them for personal purchases.
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