Stephen Kakfwi accused of sexual harassment in lawsuit against Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

File photo of Stephen Kakfwi. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kakfwi/ CKLB file photo)

Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories, is accused of sexual harassment in a civil lawsuit, although he is not named as a defendant.

The lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

The defendant is the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation where Kakfwi was a mentor for scholars in 2018.

The plaintiff is 38-year-old Cherry Smiley, a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in B.C. and the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation.

She is seeking $1.25 million from the foundation.

Smiley was a recipient of a scholarship for doctoral students with the foundation in April 2016. Her research was focused on the connections between various forms of male violence against Indigenous women and girls.

The scholarship pairs recipients with mentors who are leading Canadians from business, law, media, philanthropy and politics. Smiley was paired with Kakfwi in May 2018.

The allegations

The two officially met in person at a restaurant in St. John’s, N.L. on June 3, 2018.

The lawsuit says following the dinner Kakfwi and Smiley shared a taxi to the hotel both were staying at.

“It was late at night, and as they stood in the empty hotel lobby to say their goodbyes, Mr. Kakfwi suddenly moved his body extremely close to the Plaintiff [Smiley] and grabbed her upper arm, close to her breast, and squeezed it. He proceeded to hold onto her upper arm for an extended period, rubbing and massaging it,” the lawsuit alleges.

It continues to say Smiley panicked and eventually pulled her body away from him.

The lawsuit alleges another incident of sexual harassment that happened on June 6, 2018 at a gala dinner.

“At this gala, Mr. Kakfwi once again pulled the Plaintiff [Smiley] close to his body and grabbed her upper arm near her breast, and proceeded to rub and massage it. While he did this, he once again invited the Plaintiff to visit his home in Yellowknife, telling her she could stay ‘in his spare bedroom,’ ” the lawsuit alleges.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

The lawsuit says the situation was particularly stressful for Smiley as she required a reference letter from Kakfwi in order to receive scholarship funding from the foundation.

According to the lawsuit on June 10, 2018, Smiley spoke with Pascale Fournier, the current president of the foundation — incoming president at the time.

Smiley told Fournier about the alleged incident and asked for a female mentor.

According to the lawsuit Fournier said in an email to Smiley “these incidents should never have taken place and I am sorry you had to deal with them.”

Smiley then began discussing the alleged incident with Morris Rosenberg, the foundation’s CEO at the time.

“During this call, Mr. Rosenberg accused the Plaintiff [Smiley] of ‘blowing things out of proportion.’ He questioned the Plaintiff about the incidents, demanding to know if it was a ‘familiar squeeze’, a ‘sexual squeeze’ or a ‘caress’,” reads the lawsuit.

It adds, John McCall MacBain, the president of the foundation’s board of directors at the time, and other members of the board met with Kakfwi. After the meeting, Smiley was informed Kakfwi would no longer be her mentor.

The non-disclosure agreement

The lawsuit alleges Smiley was pressured to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) by the foundation.

“They told her that it would be ‘bad for her’ if ‘this got out’ and that ‘Kakfwi could sue her’ and that the Foundation ‘could be accused of racism by Mr. Kakfwi’,” it reads.

She was also allegedly told it was a “cultural misunderstanding” and that she wouldn’t “want an investigation.”

However, she refused to sign the NDA.

The lawsuit alleges Smiley fell into a deep depression after the events, eventually leaving the foundation.

In an emailed statement to CKLB, Dyane Adam, vice-chair of the foundation’s board of directors, says “The Foundation has a different interpretation of several allegations,” reported by Radio-Canada.

She writes the foundation approached the alleged incident in June 2018 with deep concern. Only referring to Smiley as “the Scholar,” she says her legal fees were covered and the foundation arranged meetings with her, her counselor, and her supporting companions.

Adam alleges Smiley made the decision not to file a formal complaint leading to an independent investigation.

She says the foundation’s Policy on the Prevention of Harassment and Violence, was adopted in October 2018 — several months after the alleged incident. Smiley’s lawsuit also alleges the organization didn’t have a sexual harassment policy when she reported the incident.  

Frédérique Lorrain, a spokesperson for the foundation, told CKLB Kakfwi hasn’t been associated with the foundation since the alleged incident.

CKLB reached out to Kakfwi by phone several times on Thursday, no calls were answered or returned.

CKLB sent an email to Smiley, but did not receive a response.

About the Author

Luke Carroll
Luke Carroll is a journalist originally from Brockville, Ont. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor in Ottawa, Halifax and New Brunswick. Luke is a graduate of Carleton University's bachelor of journalism program. If you have a story idea, feel free to send him an email at