Lockout ends after chief agrees to leave of absence pending audit
Christine Wood, Coast Reporter, May 12, 2016
One week after it started, the lockout at the Sechelt (shíshálh) Nation ended May 10 with the agreement Chief Calvin Craigan would take a leave of absence for at least 30 days while a forensic audit is conducted by an independent third party.
The agreement signed by protesters and councillors Tuesday afternoon also called for the chief to hand over his cell phone and credit card and for a freeze on spending by the chief until the audit is complete.
Protester spokesperson Melodie Casella said her group had decided in the days leading up to the end of the dispute to ask for the chief’s resignation. The group had amassed 87 signatures on a petition asking for his resignation, but she felt the signed agreement was a start.
“Let’s agree to disagree right now and then unlock the doors and then get the forensic audit called to come in to start doing their job,” she told a crowd of protesters after signing the document with councillors Garry Feschuk and Randy Joe, who had agreed to meet with protest spokespeople at around noon on May 10.
The meeting happened after Craigan, Feschuk and Joe gathered on the steps to the administration offices to address a crowd of about 60 band members, some clearly on the side of chief and council, and others clearly in support of the lockout.
“I promised you yesterday and have been promising you all week that we would bring you answers, that we would bring answers to the entire membership. The questions that we took from the general meeting were taken very seriously, and council has tried to find those answers,” Craigan told the assembled group.
“So yesterday we left here with the petition and we consulted with our lawyers and our mediator and this is the answer that’s coming back for all the people.”
The answer provided by chief and council was that the petition calling for Craigan’s resignation was illegal. Protesters didn’t agree with the legal opinion on the petition, but conceded when an agreement was offered to have Craigan take a leave of absence.
“Legally we could petition that too, but right now, I said, we’re going to work on the agreement because that’s a whole other can of worms from what I know,” Casella said.
The petition signed by 87 members of the shíshálh Nation called for Craigan’s resignation based on alleged misappropriation of funds, alleged hiring without due process and an alleged breach of his oath of office.
Protesters did not initially disclose their aim to unseat Craigan when they chained and locked the doors to the administration offices on Tuesday, May 3.
At that time, they alleged financial mismanagement and unfair hiring practices and questioned the dismissal of councillor Ben Pierre Jr. and the dismantling of a locally run fishing business. Protesters also said there was a lack of communication from the band office that frustrated the situation.
Tensions ran high between band members throughout the week-long lockout that pit families and friends against each other, with each side strongly supporting either chief and council or the call for change.
Protester Willard Joe said the dispute caused a rift between him and his brother Randy Joe, who is a current councillor.
“I’m hoping it will be mended once all of this is over,” he said.
Willard Joe was a staunch supporter of the lockout, to the point of buying new heavy duty locks and chains when someone cut off the old chains during the twilight hours on May 9.
He also stood watch outside the main door to the administration building when chief and council arrived on May 10 to address the membership.
Days earlier, on Friday, May 6, Craigan, Randy Joe and Feschuk arrived at the administration offices with Randy Joe holding a large pair of bolt cutters, saying chief and council would meet with protesters inside the office once the locks were cut off.
Protesters put themselves between the door and the council members and called the police, who responded with several officers.
That standoff ended without incident and the locks remained in place.
On May 10 at around 1:30 p.m., Ben Pierre Sr., one of the spokespeople for the protesters, removed the locks and chains after giving a short speech.
“Each and every one of you I know are family members and related to us one way or another. I’m not apologizing for anything where I stood for my rights, my family, my children, my grandchildren, my great grandsons,” Pierre Sr. said.
“What really hurts most is when people are divided and split, fighting amongst each other. It’s come to this point. And I want each and every one of you to know that on behalf of my daughter and my wife and my children that we worked hard, sincerely and on behalf of each signature that is on that petition. That’s the validity of the concerns of this administration. We’ve come to an agreement, we signed the agreement and I’m now opening the doors.”
Once the doors were opened, Randy Joe invited staff members to return to work and the crowd dispersed.
With Craigan taking a leave of absence, councillors Feschuk and Randy Joe remain at the helm, along with Coun. Chris August, who has been on a leave of absence but still holds his position on council.