Nunavut Tunngavik looking to recoup $158K in funds from Inuit identity fraud case

Nunavut Tunngavik president Aluki Kotierk, seen here following the signing of the Nunavut devolution agreement last month, called the actions of Karima Manji, who pleaded guilty on Friday to defrauding Inuit organizations of more than $158,000 for her daughters’ education, ‘detestable.’ (Dustin Patar/The Canadian Press)

Last week’s guilty plea from an Ontario woman charged with Inuit identity fraud is being welcomed by many in Nunavut — though some are now wondering whether Karima Manji will pay back the money fraudulently obtained for her daughter’s education.

Manji and her twin daughters Nadya and Amira Gill were charged last year with fraud over $5,000. They were accused of falsely claiming Inuit status for the Gill sisters, and then using that status to defraud the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association of funds only available to Inuit beneficiaries.

On Friday, Manji pleaded guilty in Nunavut court. The charges against her two daughters were withdrawn. Manji will be sentenced in June.

An agreed statement of facts entered into court said Manji filled out forms in 2016 to enroll her daughters as Inuit children so they could become beneficiaries of the Nunavut Tunngavik land claim, saying they were born to Iqaluit woman Kitty Noah and that Manji was their adoptive mother. The Gill sisters, now 25, then received more than $158,000 from the Kakivak Association between 2020 and 2023, for education-related expenses.

“I’m glad she pled guilty,” said Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), said of Manji. Kotierk also said she was disappointed that the charges against the Gill sisters were dropped.

Kotierk said she felt personally “violated” by what happened, calling the identity fraud “detestable.”

“Their mother deliberately, criminally, fraudulently applied as though they were Inuit. That creates a disservice to Inuit who could have benefited from that. So I think that’s where it stings,” Kotierk said.

The agreed statement of facts, entered into court along with Manji’s guilty plea, said the Gill twins were not aware the identity cards they received were fraudulent.

Anne Crawford, an Iqaluit-based civil lawyer who’s practiced in Nunavut for 35 years, said what happened on Friday was “not an exceptional outcome” for a fraud case.

“But I think it’s coming out of a Canada-wide awareness of Indigenous identity theft, and this is a particularly serious case with a particularly significant amount of money,” Crawford said.

Anne Crawford is a civil lawyer based in Iqaluit. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“It was very significant to the point that students in Nunavut, other Inuit students, are looking around and saying, ‘how did they end up with that much money?’ They’re interested in these agencies explaining exactly how that much money had been spent on one or two students.”

Crawford also said that Friday’s outcome may not represent “the end of the story.” She said the affected Inuit organizations still have the right to sue Manji and the Gills, to recoup the $158,000 that was fraudulently obtained.

She also says the Gill sisters may face professional repercussions in their careers, as a result of Manji’s guilt.

“So I don’t think we can say they’ve walked away with no consequence,” Crawford said.

NTI to ‘keep all our options open’

Asked about a potential civil lawsuit against Manji and the Gill sisters, Kotierk said that may depend on Manji’s sentence, to be delivered in June.

“I think we keep all our options open,” Kotierk said.

“But like I say, the sentencing hasn’t occurred yet. So the sentencing in June might direct that the person pay back what they’ve taken.”

Manji’s lawyer, John Scott Cowan, said the Crown is seeking a restitution order, which means his client would be on the hook to pay the money back. He also said that Manji could be sentenced to house arrest, or time in a penitentiary.

In the meantime, Kotierk said NTI has already made changes to its enrolment system. She said all applications now go through a centralized department at NTI, and are then sent to the appropriate community enrolment committee.

Those local committees can then ask for additional documentation from an applicant “if they suspect anything or if they just want to feel reassured about the application,” she said. For people who live outside Nunavut, that may include a birth certificate or adoption papers.

As for whether there may be other beneficiaries who are currently enrolled but shouldn’t be, Kotierk said that’s not what her organization is focused on now.

“I don’t think we’re going down that route of a witch hunt so to speak, of trying to check their lists now,” she said.

‘Taking up space’

She hopes the case sparks more discussion about the issue of Indigenous identity fraud, across the country. It’s something that goes beyond a single case of fraud, she said.

“By claiming Indigeneity, individuals can take up space — whether it’s program space, whether it’s discussion space, meeting space — that would be rightfully given to Indigenous peoples. And I think that’s the broader discussion that I’m hoping will result over time with situations such as this one,” she said.

Noah Noah, whose mother Kitty Noah was falsely named as Nadya and Amira Gill’s biological mother, is also reluctant to completely close the book — though he said Manji’s guilty plea came as a relief.

Noah Noah of Iqaluit holds a picture of his mother, Kitty Noah, who died last year. Kitty Noah was falsely claimed by Manji to be Nadya and Amira Gill’s biological mother. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“Justice for mom, for sure,” he said.

Noah is disappointed that the charges against the Gill sisters were dropped, and he hopes that NTI works to get the money back.

“Certainly recoup the funds that this family has gotten or earmarked for Inuit children … That is what I would like to see,” he said.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Nunavut RCMP charge Gill sisters, mother with fraud for claiming Inuit status, CBC News

Finland: Sami self-governing reform headed to Finnish Parliament, Yle News

CBC News

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