Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services sues Sipekne’katik following order to leave community

Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services's office building in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S./Photo by Stephen Brake

An Indigenous agency that provides child protection and family support services to First Nation communities in Nova Scotia is suing the province’s second largest Mi’kmaw First Nation after it was ordered to leave one of its communities.

In a lawsuit filed with Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Dec. 2, 2021, Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services, or MFCS, accuses the Sipekne’katik First Nation of breach of contract when the chief and council ordered the agency to vacate its office building in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S.

MFCS is seeking compensation for the office building it constructed in the community as well as incurred costs when it was forced to relocate in a short period of time.

MFCS still maintains offices in Eskasoni First Nation and Bear River First Nation. Some of the employees who were based in the former Indian Brook office now work in an office building in nearby Shubenacadie, N.S.

MFCS has relocated to the Shubenacadie Professional Centre/Photo by Stephen Brake

No response to MFCS requests

According to the lawsuit, MFCS received a letter from Sipekne’katik chief and council on Oct. 22, 2021, ordering the agency “to vacate the Indian Brook Office by November 30, 2021.” The letter also stated that “MFCS was to continue providing child and family services to Sipekne’katik without interruption.”

In response to the Oct. 2021 letter, MFCS requested to meet with the Sipekne’katik chief and council to ask them to either reconsider their decision or give the agency more time to find an alternative location.

“Sipekne’katik did not respond to MFCS’s request,” the lawsuit states.

MFCS states that “due to Sipekne’katik’s actions, including its lack of communication, MFCS was forced to make alternative work arrangements, including leasing new office space for approximately 70 employees to continue its operations providing essential services and child protection on five week’s notice.”

Once MFCS staff vacated its offices, the agency left the building’s key with its legal counsel with instructions they not be turned over to Sipekne’katik “until it had received compensation for the value of the building and for expenses that had been incurred and will be incurred by MFCS to secure new temporary and permanent office space.”

According to court documents, MFCS paid approximately $1.87-million to construct its office in Indian Brook and another $200,000 for renovations to accommodate more staff since it was first built in 2011.

MFCS claims Sipekne’katik breached the terms of an unwritten agreement between the agency and the First Nation which allowed MFCS to operate indefinitely on Sipekne’katik lands and would only be required to leave “if MFCS acted improperly or due to an overwhelming community need to use the land that could not be accommodated elsewhere.”

The agency also believed Sipekne’katik owed MFCS a more “reasonable notice” to terminate the unwritten agreement.

Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services building in Indian Brook, N.S./Photo by Stephen Brake

Contract “illegal and void”

In response to MFCS’s lawsuit, the Sipekne’katik First Nation disputes the agency’s ownership of the building in Indian Brook.

“To the best of Sipekne’katik’s knowledge, the building was constructed on behalf of MFCS and was funded, by the Government of Canada,” the notice of contest states.

Instead, the notice alleges MFCS “commenced exclusive and rent-free use and occupation” of the building in question.

Sipekne’katik denies any contract existed between the First Nation and MFCS to construct the building and use it for its operations.

“Alternatively, if any such contract existed whatsoever, it was and remains illegal and void pursuant to the provisions of the Indian Act,” Sipekne’katik states.

Sipekne’katik rejects MFCS’s claim that it owes the agency compensation for the building or the costs incurred to relocate. The First Nation alleges MFCS tried to “extract certain financial payments from Sipekne’katik” by refusing “to turn over keys to the building.”

“Sipekne’katik states that it provided reasonable notice to MFCS of its requirement to vacate 520 Church Street and that it committed no breach of any contractual or common law duties whatsoever,” the notice states.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation is asking the court to dismiss MFCS’s lawsuit with costs.

MFCS remains “open and available to discussions”

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack or the First Nation’s legal counsel did not respond to Ku’ku’kwes News’s request for an interview or comment on the MFCS lawsuit.

In a statement issued to Ku’ku’kwes News, MFCS, through its law firm, states that while it has filed a lawsuit to recover the costs to replace the value of the building and the expenses incurred to relocate, the agency remains “open and available to discussions on compensation at any time with the Sipekne’katik Band Council.”

A hearing for the lawsuit has been scheduled in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Truro, N.S. in October.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.