Lawyer Garth Wallbridge is facing conflict of interest allegations raised by the Dehcho First Nations. He was their chief negotiator before he represented the Nahanni Butte Dene Band, a former member of the Dehcho First Nations. (CBC) A complaint filed by the Dehcho First Nations against its former chief negotiator, lawyer Garth Wallbridge, alleges Wallbridge was in a conflict of interest when he represented the Nahanni Butte Dene Band after being fired by the Dehcho First Nations.
The complaint to the Law Society of the Northwest Territories triggered a disciplinary review. The hearing began in Yellowknife on Wednesday with four witnesses being called, including Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and Wallbridge himself.
Wallbridge was the chief negotiator for the Dehcho First Nations for nine months in 2016. In the position, Wallbridge helped negotiate the land claims between the Dehcho First Nations and the federal and territorial governments. He did not act as legal counsel for the Dehcho First Nations, which consists of 10 First Nations and Métis communities. Wallbridge was fired in October 2016.
In April 2017, Wallbridge was hired as a lawyer for the Nahanni Butte Dene Band. The band remained part of the Dehcho First Nations until May 2017, when Chief Peter Marcellais announced the Nahanni Butte Dene Band would withdraw its membership from the Dehcho First Nations. Dehcho First Nations grand chief Herb Norwegian said he was ‘blown away’ by Wallbridge’s move to the Nahanni Butte Dene Band. (CBC) "I was just blown away by that," said Norwegian.
Wallbridge helped the Nahanni Butte Dene Band after the N.W.T. government filed an injunction to stop it from conducting unauthorized road work near the community, but said he knew "nothing" about the project during his time as chief negotiator. The injunction was withdrawn after Nahanni Butte stopped construction on the road.
After the injunction, Wallbridge assisted the band with two other issues: an environmental review hearing and Nahanni Butte’s exit from the Dehcho First Nations .
At the hearing, Wallbridge said he only found out the band had pulled out of the Dehcho First Nations through CBC radio. He said he was not involved in the decision to pull out of the Dehcho First Nations, and that he only assisted with paperwork after the announcement was made.
But Norwegian said he was shocked when the Nahanni Butte Dene Band withdrew, and felt "it was obvious" that Wallbridge was behind the escalation. The allegation is that because Wallbridge was an adviser with the Dehcho First Nations, he put himself in conflict of interest by going to work for the Nahanni Butte Dene Band.
Norwegian said Wallbridge had an obligation to work for the unity of the Dehcho First Nations while he was chief negotiator, and would have likely had access to all confidential Dehcho First Nations information.
"As long as he asked the right people, he had access [to information]," Norwegian said. 4 of 5 allegations dropped
Wallbridge told CBC in an email that on Thursday morning, after Norwegian’s witness statements, the law society dropped four of five allegations against him — including the allegation that he had confidential information from the Dehcho First Nations that he misused as council for the Nahanni Butte Dene Band.
The Law Society also dropped the allegation that Wallbridge advocated for the Nahanni Butte Dene Band to leave the Dehcho First Nations.
This leaves only one allegation left against Wallbridge: that he had a fiduciary role for the Dehcho First Nations that continued after he left. This means that as the chief negotiator, Wallbridge was required to act in the best interest of the Dehcho First Nations, and that duty continued […]
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