July 08, 2015 - 9:00 PM
WHAT IT MEANS TO RECALL PETITION FOR CHIEF AND COUNCIL
| In February, Westbank First Nation members demanded an audit of band dealings in the Lake Okanagan Wellness Centre after they found themselves on the hook for $7.9 million. When they failed to get it, they pursued the recall of Chief and council. In our ongoing series, we discover the documents central to that audit may have been there all along. |
Crucial documents missing from an audit of Westbank First Nation’s involvement in the Lake Okanagan Wellness Centre — a key plank in a member-driven petition to remove chief and councillors — have been found, and may not have been missing in the first place, Infonews.ca has learned.
The stalled plans for what would have been Canada’s first private, for-profit hospital slated for prime band land overlooking Okanagan Lake, has sent shock waves among band members who may be on the hook for nearly $8 million in loans that weren’t approved by members, as required by the band’s constitution, according to documents obtained by Infonews.ca.
The $150-million hospital plan stalled sometime in 2013 after funding was lost amid cross allegations between Westbank First Nation, its partner Ad Vitam, and Oxbridge Ventures of Vancouver. While Ad Vitam principles Mark McLoughlin and Lyle Oberg say plans are back on track with new lenders, it may not be enough to save Chief Robert Louie and councillors Brian Eli, Mic Werstiuk, Chris Derrickson and Mike De Guevera.
Westbank First Nation officials blamed the failure to produce an audit on Ad Vitam, saying McLoughlin couldn’t produce vital financial documents. But in an interview, McLoughlin put it right back on the band, suggesting the materials are, and perhaps always were available.
And while the wellness centre partners point fingers, band members continue to remain in the dark about where the money went.
According to the band’s constitution, the council is obligated to respond to petitions from band members, provided they have 20 per cent of the approximately 500 voting members. Seventy-two band members signed the petition calling for the audit. Failure to produce the audit and explain how the deal apparently soured is now a key reason for a new petition still circulating among band members calling for the removal of chief and councillors.
Members circulated a successful petition with 72 signatures in February demanding a full audit of the wellness centre deal, which wasn’t provided because, according to auditors, they faced lengthy delays getting source documents.
According to BDO auditor Ken Carmichael, in a report to the band, much of the financial statements and paper work was never provided by Ad Vitam.
“Ad Vitam proved difficult to get a hold of and difficult to get commitment from on this matter,” Carmichael wrote. Later in his report, he said: “It is believed by Ad Vitam’s principle, Mark McLoughlin, to be in Ad Vitam’s office space. Ad Vitam has no ability to access this space due to a dispute with its landlord.”
In an interview, McLoughlin now says all the paper work is now accounted for and contradicted Carmichael’s letter to members.
“We had to secure some stuff from the office which we did and we didn’t hear back from (the band’s) legal folks as to what to do with the the information,” he said. “So right now, we are actually in the process of doing our own audit with our funding partner so that audit is underway on our end anyway. As far as what (the band) has to do, they are certainly welcome to have access to anything that they want at any point in time. We do have it all in our possession so it is there for them if they need it.”
But it remains unclear if Ad Vitam had the records all along because while McLoughlin says they “fairly recently” were able to get access to the company’s former office, landlord Noll Derriksan says they neither sought nor were granted access to their offices. According to a default judgment in B.C. Supreme Court, Ad Vitam owes Derriksan nearly $150,000 for unpaid rent.
Still, McLoughlin insists they were granted access to the office.
“When we moved, the realization was that we had some stuff in some cabinets in an area of the office that we didn’t take at the time so obviously when we left we couldn’t get back in there up until fairly recently which we were able to do and secure what we needed to secure. So the band was informed...that all the information was there. We were just looking at where to have that sent. And that is still the same today, they can have access as soon as we are done our audit now because our accountant has all our information,” he said.
When it was put to McLoughlin that Derriksan disputed that claim, he said: “Well OK, well we got it all back.”
Derriksan also said there was no need for Ad Vitam to regain access because the office was empty.
The state of the petition to remove chief and councillors is unknown. Four copies of the petition are currently in circulation and have not yet been returned.
Repeated calls to Westbank First Nation were not returned and Chief Robert Louie has refused requests for an interview. Instead, he relased this statement; “The proposed medical centre project on WFN community-held lands adjacent to the WFN office are undergoing a master planning review with the membership currently and we have no updates for the public at this time.”
Partial interview with Mark McLoughlin of Ad Vitam Health Care.