“We would like to get Omar’s clock ticking again. We want this sentence to actually start ticking, so it will expire.”
These were the words spoken by lawyer Nathan Whitling about his client Omar Khadr’s sentence earlier this month.
While these words may raise the eyebrows of some Canadians, as they remember back the $10.5 million payout Khadr received from the Trudeau government in 2017, for some First Nation women fighting for transparency and accountability from their leadership, these words are incredibly frustrating.
Looking for answers
After months of dealing with alleged corruption and transparency issues with the Chief and Council of Tallcree First Nation, Renee Higa-Brown has just about had enough.
Higa-Brown, along with four other women from her band, launched a court case aimed at getting some answers from their leadership as to why 400 Tallcree members were disenfranchised and unable to vote in the last election.
Originally, the women were represented by Jeffery Rath of Rath & Co. but, due to a conflict of interest on Rath’s part, he was unable to continue representing them and recommended they take up the legal counsel of Nathan Whitling.
Rath had previously represented the Tallcree leadership during their negotiations with the federal government around the Agricultural Settlement Agreement (Cows and Ploughs) but had fallen out of favour with them and had taken them to court to receive payment for his work.
Rath ended up winning his case and received twenty percent of the $57 million dollar deal he brokered plus the interest on the ten percent that is held in the children’s trusts fund.
Whitling agrees to help
According to email records obtained by The Post Millennial, Whitling originally agreed to do the case pro bono, however, no formal documentation was ever drafted. Higa-Brown and the other women gratefully accepted his offer via email and looked forward to continuing with their case.
However, after months of delayed email responses, rescheduled meetings and missed teleconferences, the women were getting quite fed-up. They had been asking for a meeting with Whitling to discuss having Judge Mandamin removed from their case because of a conflict of interest on his part (he wrote the original Tallcree election code) but were unable to get Whitling to talk to them on the phone or in person.
Frustrated by all this, the women decided to boycott the case until Whitling would listen to their request to have Judge Mandamin removed. On February 1, Whitling responded via email by dropping the case and advising the women to seek out new counsel.
At this point, it appeared that their dealings with Whitling were complete. However, this was not so. On February 7, Whitling unexpectedly reached out to them letting them know that Judge Manadamin had agreed to step off the case and that if they were still interested, he could continue to represent them.
Four out of the five women agreed to chat with Whitling via teleconference later that week to discuss continuing with his legal counsel but none of them received a response back from him in time for the teleconference.
Then, on February 13, according to court documents obtained by The Post Millennial, Whitling filed a motion with the federal court saying that he was removing himself from the case, saying that he had given notice to his clients on February 9th.
However, according to email records between the women and Whitling, this claim does not appear to be accurate. Whitling originally said he would stop acting as their legal counsel on February 1st, but then on February 7th he re-offered his services.
All of this left the women very confused and unsure of who their legal counsel was and whether or not they would be able to go through with their case.
No real interest in helping
Doris Champagne, one of the women involved in the case, said that Whitling’s involvement was “inconsistent” and that “he came across as not having an interest in the case.”
I feel that Nathan Whitling did this as favour to his lawyer friend [Jeffery Rath] and Judge Mandamin. I felt right from the beginning that I and the group were not being taken seriously, to him we were Indigenous women to be hushed up and not make waves," Champagne said.
Wanita Mitchell, another one of the applicants on the case, told The Post Millennial that Whitling “did not want to have a discussion with us.”
"I have not met Nathan but since he is the lawyer, I felt that he was going to represent me and go over the case - “How will I know if this is a weak case or or a strong case?” I didn’t get the chance to talk to him by teleconference, because he cancelled. He was supposed to be our saviour and the expert on The Charter of Right & Freedoms. I was not looking for money, I just wanted all of our disenfranchised members the right to vote like we did with the cow and ploughs."
Higa-Brown went even further telling The Post Millennial that by the end of the case they "had zero confidence" in Whitling and wanted him out.
"We felt that Nathan didn’t want anything to do with our case because he kept ignoring our emails for extended periods of time and quit on us twice. I was confused about Nathan quitting on us twice, because Nathan never confirmed that he was taking our case on 'pro bono' officially by having us sign to an agreement. The last time that Nathan discussed plans for the case was on February 08, 2019 when he cancelled the teleconference meeting and quit on us a second time. Nathan never did give us the chance to be heard, we had to issue boycotts in order for him to understand that we meant business. We honestly thought that Jeff Rath was referring the best to us, I guess Jeff just wanted to move on fast after being ruled a conflict of interest. We really have no idea why Nathan took our case on. We feel that Nathan has destroyed any chance of us making headway."Renee Higa-Brown
All of this leaves a sour taste in the mouths of these women. They feel slighted and disrespected by a lawyer who was able to find plenty of time to represent a convicted terrorist but can’t find a spot in his schedule to meet with some First Nations women fighting alleged corruption in their own community.
For his part, Whitling denies the women's charges, saying there was "no lack of professionalism" on his part. He refused to meet their demands to remove Judge Mandamin from the case because "there was no basis for doing so."
While Whitling did acknowledge that he cancelled the teleconference because he thought that some of the women were planning on boycotting it, he maintains that he was clear in his communications "at all times."
"My involvement and motion to be removed from the record have had no effect on the Applicants’ ability to pursue their claim which remains before the Court. I hope that they are able to find alternative counsel willing to act for them and to pursue their claim."Nathan Whitling