The theft of millions of dollars from the Seabird Island First Nation by a Caucasian employee of the band was nothing short of a reminder of historical trauma experienced by aboriginal people in Canada due to colonialism.
That’s according to a victim impact statement read by a band councillor at the sentencing hearing for Stephen Andrew MacKinnon on Jan. 12.
“As a vulnerable First Nation community, trauma impacts us again,” Seabird Island band councillor Alexis Grace said in the courtroom alongside six other former or present band council members.
“We continue to live with historical trauma.”
MacKinnon worked setting up computer systems for Seabird Island and stole approximately $2.3 million over many years dating back to 2005.
MacKinnon, who lives in Chilliwack, was charged with one count each of fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000, forgery, and using a forged document. The most serious offences, forgery and using a forged document, come each with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
He pleaded guilty in July 2017.
Dressed in an untucked blue dress shirt with socked feet and leg shackles on Jan. 12, MacKinnon listened as the court heard of the shattering effects his multi-year thefts had in the community near Agassiz.
Grace said the tensions over the missing money went so far as to fracture interfamilial relationships at Seabird Island, in part due to the fact that during the investigation, band council could not talk about the matter.
“Not being able to speak fuelled hostility towards leadership,” Grace said. “The conduct of Stephen MacKinnon destroyed the foundation on which Seabird Island was built.”
Over the years while he was stealing money from the band, MacKinnon acted as a great benefactor with displays of riches, gifts and charity in the community, something that later caused guilt and shame for beneficiaries of his supposed generosity, Grace said.
The sentencing hearing on Jan. 12 was actually supposed to be heard on Nov. 21, but MacKinnon, who was out of custody at that time, didn’t show up.
A large group of Seabird Island band members including Chief Clem Seymour showed up for the sentencing Nov. 21 but it didn’t happen. Instead, MacKinnon’s lawyer Darrel Schultz said he had been fired by his client and he was unaware of the 48-year-old’s whereabouts.
MacKinnon turned himself in on Nov. 22.
Schultz was back at MacKinnon’s side on Jan. 12, to put forth a somewhat pitiable defence of a man with issues with his parents, a lifelong struggle to feel accepted, all alongside financial difficulties.
“He didn’t think he would be loved without the money,” Schultz said, adding that he was “compensating for something sorely lacking in his own life.”
Schultz said the thefts began in 2005 when he made a purchase with a Seabird Island band credit card. The item had to be returned and a cheque was made out to him personally, something that proved a temptation too great to turn down.
“He got hooked on it,” Schultz said of the money, and the simple method he devised to steal.
“Then he lost it … bad decisions followed bad decisions.”
Grace told the court that MacKinnon’s substantial thefts represented a re-victimization of the people at Seabird Island.
“This will be with us forever,” Grace said. “This trauma will not soon leave our hearts.”
She added that the band council was, however, hopeful for the future with justice being served.
Crown counsel is asking for a jail sentence in the five-year range. Judge Richard Browning is scheduled to render his decision on sentencing on Feb. 16.