AFN Regional Chief suspended pending investigation into gender discrimination allegations

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The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has suspended Regional Chief Morley Googoo with pay pending the results of an investigation into allegations that Googoo engaged in gender-based discrimination against women he worked with. 

The decision to suspend Googoo, regional chief for Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, was made Wednesday at an AFN executive meeting in Vancouver.

“Details of the meeting are confidential and AFN will provide no further comment until the investigation is complete and a decision is made by the AFN Executive,” an AFN spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The spokesperson said the investigation will “move quickly and diligently,” but would not speculate on how long it would take.

The AFN investigation comes after CBC News reported about a prior investigation, commissioned by a federal, provincial and First Nations government organization called the Tripartite Forum. It found in September 2018 that Googoo discriminated against Cheryl Maloney, a former leader of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA), and the NSNWA by attempting to remove them from the forum.

The investigator also found that Googoo’s conduct toward Maloney amounted to “bullying and harassment.”

“I’m very disappointed,” Googoo said in a phone interview.

“I still haven’t had the opportunity to meet face to face and deal with my allegations to the [AFN]. The [AFN] has been making these decisions without my input whatsoever from Day 1.” 

Googoo said he’s been given no information on the AFN investigation, but said he will be participating to ensure he’s given a fair chance to respond and that he’s afforded “due process.”

In July, the AFN gave Googoo 20 days to provide a written response to the harassment allegations. 

“It was kind of difficult to give a general response when I really actually didn’t know the context of what was being discussed at that meeting,” Googoo said.

He said he’d learned of the proposal to suspend him through news reports and in his written response he requested a phone call with assembly executives to discuss how to resolve the issue. 

Googoo said he also provided the AFN with information related to Maloney’s allegations and the Tripartite Forum investigation, which he maintains was incomplete and meant to harm his reputation. 

‘Everyone knew about it years ago’ 

Cheryl Maloney called the AFN’s decision to investigate “very disrespectful,” because a third-party investigator had already made conclusions about Googoo’s conduct toward her and other Mi’kmaw women.

“I don’t know what they’re going to get,” Maloney said of the AFN’s investigation. 

“They’re not going to get the same level of investigative power that [the] initial report had found. The investigator was able to go and talk to all the women in the forum within their employment and they felt safe.” 

‘It should have been addressed when it was first raised,’ Cheryl Maloney says. The initial investigation into the allegations concluded in September 2018. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

She said she was frustrated that she wasn’t informed the AFN was examining the situation until the organization requested her copy of the investigation’s summary report. She said that while she’s aware there was a 30-page full report produced on the investigation, it was never given to her.

She also said it’s been frustrating that no action has been taken against Googoo by the Tripartite Forum or the AFN since the initial investigation’s conclusion.

“It should have been addressed when it was first raised,” Maloney said. 

“Everyone knew about it years ago. [Googoo] is not a good role model for Mi’kmaw children, youth and women, especially now, in a time of missing murdered Indigenous women and girls [and] the calls for justice.”

Focus of AFN investigation still unclear

A spokesperson from the Nova Scotia department of Aboriginal Affairs, which was a participant in the forum and commissioned the first investigation, told CBC News in an emailed statement that the province received the full confidential report and considered Maloney’s complaints seriously. The spokesperson said the department had not been contacted by the AFN.

A spokesperson for the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said the department would not comment as the matter involves a human rights complaint.

CBC News sent questions regarding the forum’s investigation results to the Tripartite Forum Secretariat but has not received a reply. 

AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick/P.E.I. Roger Augustine, National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Regional Chief Morley Googoo at the First Nations Self Government Summit in Halifax in November 2018. (First Nations Self Government Summit)

Googoo said that because he resigned from the Tripartite Forum before the report was completed, he wasn’t given its findings. He said that he has sent written requests to the forum for the findings and the investigator’s interview records. 

“I just want this process to be fairly done,” he said. 

A statement provided to media by Googoo’s communications consultant said he hasn’t yet reached a point where he’s considered resigning from the AFN.

“I’m still trying to just address the first complaint and move forward from there … you know these kind of processes are very challenging to deal with, no matter [how] many years experience you have as a public figure,” he said.

Pleaded guilty to assaults

Googoo was first elected as chief of his community, We’koqma’q First Nation in Nova Scotia, in 1992 and served until 2003.

According to court records, in June 1996 Googoo was charged with assaulting a woman near Millbrook First Nation, N.S. He pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence. He was given one year of probation and was required to complete an anger management program.

Googoo was re-elected as chief of We’koqma’q in 2006. In 2007, court records show that he pleaded guilty to uttering threats against his ex-wife and assaulting her in her home. He was granted a conditional discharge and given 15 months of community service and probation. 

In 2011, Googoo was elected as AFN Regional Chief for Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2017, he was charged with assault and causing a disturbance at a hotel near Sydney, N.S. The charges were withdrawn in 2018, after Googoo went through the restorative justice system. 

“That’s my history,” Googoo said, in regards to his court record.

“I think my present and my future actions in my initiatives [are] important. I have taken a lot of courage to own anything that I’ve done wrong in the past and dealt with it accordingly. In this process, if I was gender-biased and discriminatory, I would own it. I don’t believe I am.”