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EXCLUSIVE: Retired justice slammed by RHT litigation chair for 'extremely negative' report

Community sessions 'went well' overall, says the litigation fund's chair, in contrast to the situation described by former Office of Mizhinawe leader Harry LaForme in a resignation letter circulated this week
Robinson Huron Treaty chiefs took part in a treaty renewal ceremony at GFL Memorial Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie Sept. 9, more than a week after they decided to dissolve Harry LaForme's role as lead for community consultations regarding the proposed $10-billion settlement with Canada and Ontario over unpaid treaty annuities.

The organization behind a landmark court decision for beneficiaries of the Robinson Huron Treaty — resulting in a proposed $10-billion settlement over unpaid treaty annuities with Canada and Ontario — has fired back at the retired justice who abruptly resigned from his role in leading consultations with First Nations within the treaty territory regarding the proposed annuities settlement.  

In a confidential letter obtained by SooToday, Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund (RHTLF) Chair Mike Restoule blasted former Office of Mizhinawe leader Harry LaForme for his “extremely negative” resignation letter and interim report on the community engagement sessions which took place in First Nations across Robinson Huron Treaty (RHT) territory over the course of the summer.     

“It is too negative,” said Restoule in his Sept. 12 letter to LaForme. “Sure, there were concerns expressed in the community sessions, but overall, the sessions went well, and the comments were positive. As you yourself indicated, the first few sessions were a little rough, but as we progressed the sessions went more smoothly, and community members were very appreciative. 

“The overly negative tone in your interim report is one of the main reasons the chiefs and trustees decided to discontinue your role and dissolve the Office of Mizhinawe.” 

Restoule claims in the letter that one of the issues leading to the decision to scrap the Office of Mizhinawe and LaForme’s role stems from the timing of the disclosure that Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP — the Toronto-based law firm that LaForme works for as senior legal counsel — “has been retained to provide independent legal advice on the proposed settlement agreement.”  

“It would have been appropriate for you to make this disclosure to us beforehand, so we could discuss it and agree on a way forward,” Restoule said. 

SooToday has reached out to LaForme for comment.

Restoule also used the Sept. 12 letter to criticize LaForme for formulating a “very negative view” of meetings that were held between the RHTLF and RHT chiefs in Sault Ste. Marie Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, likening secondhand accounts of alleged behaviour at the meeting to court proceedings “involving organized crime.”

“These meetings were in-camera without members of the public and should not be commented on by individuals, especially a retired judge, who was not a witness to the proceedings,” Restoule said. 

The litigation fund chair went on to advise LaForme that the “vast majority of chiefs did not find your report reflected what occurred in their own community sessions” when the interim report was considered by RHT chiefs-in-assembly and trustees. 

“As the overwhelming majority of the chiefs noted on Sept. 1, the overall sense in the communities is that that members were pleased to be receiving reliable information, pleased with finally settling the annuities litigation, and were hungry for further engagement from their own leadership about the use of funds at the community level and per capita distributions,” said Restoule. “In the sessions that did have tense moments, the tension eased by the end of the evening and people were still talking with each other, sharing laughs, and engaging with the community leadership and other members.”

According to the litigation fund, a motion was tabled and passed in accordance with the RHT trust indenture to dissolve the Office of Mizhinawe and “continue the work at the local level” during the Sept. 1 meeting. 

Restoule said the litigation fund received advice to wait until the conclusion of last week's Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 Gathering in Garden River First Nation and Sault Ste. Marie to notify LaForme of the decision.   

“Because the Office of Mizhinawe was brought into the Robinson Huron Treaty process through ceremony, it was felt that notifying you of the chiefs decision to dissolve the office required the guidance of elders and knowledge keepers. For this reason, the [litigation management committee] could not immediately reach out to you to inform you of the outcome,” Restoule said.

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
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