The First Nations Health Authority is suing the Inter Tribal Services Association and the New Horizons Indigenous Association, claiming the Nanaimo-based organizations have wrongfully refused to return millions in unused funds meant for health-care services in First Nations communities on Vancouver Island.
The health authority filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on January 27. According to the claim, the associations share leadership with what was formerly known as the Inter Tribal Health Authority (ITHA), which was funded by the federal government until 2013 when the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) was established.
“FNHA’s establishment in 2013 marked an important milestone in First Nation health governance and delivery in Canada, in transferring responsibility for the programs and services from Health Canada and into the hands of indigenous communities and decision-makers,” the claim states.
Under funding agreements, the plaintiff dispersed funds to the Inter Tribal Health Authority for “specific expenses,” but complaints began in 2016 “from certain First Nations regarding issues with respect to services and funding that were supposed to be delivered by ITHA to their communities.”
As well, an evaluation report submitted by ITHA executive director Trish Cassidy in May 2016 allegedly failed to address the complaints, causing the plaintiff “to question the quality of the evaluation and the tranparency and accountability of ITHA’s governance.”
Meanwhile, an auditor probing the ITHA reported “interference” with access to records and outlined several issues including “conflicts of interest among board members, senior leadership and staff members.” Moreover, the auditor found a “lack of transparency and board oversight” related to a house rented in Nanaimo for board members and clients as well as “two ITHA satellite offices that apparently do not exist.”
The First Nations Health Authority claims it received complaints from 13 of the 31 communities served by the Inter Tribal Health Authority between 2016 and 2018, including claims of “dysfunctional internal financial management” and “lack of reporting and accountablity to ITHA member Nations, including lack of transparency and responsiveness regarding funding allocations and service levels.”
The plaintiff terminated its funding agreement with the ITHA in March 2019 and claims the defendants have failed to return millions in unexpended funds from surpluses built up over the years.
“The original failure of ITHA to properly allocate the surplus resulted in funding and service gaps to these communities ... and therfore harm to communities and individuals that were the intended recipients of the limited health funding,” the claim states.
The defendants, according to the lawsuit, were incorporated less than a week before the termination of the funding agreement and are now using unexpended funds on “unpermitted uses” such as “significant legal costs.”
The First Nations Health Authority seeks damages for breach of the funding agreements, unjust enrichment, conversion and breach of trust. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court and the defendants had not responded to the claim by press time.