Sunday, 13 March 2016

Rana Bokhari's Harperite tendencies on display in residential school survivor response

Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Rana Bokhari, who I mistakenly called a "dynamic leader", has been running on a grab bag of policy proposals and without a clear plan available to the public on how she'd pay for it. As the campaign has dragged on one event made it abundantly clear that, far from being a dynamic, transparent, and optimistic leader Bokhari is acting with an intolerance of dissent reminiscent of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Manitoba Liberal Leader has indicated a clear intolerance for tough questions with her response to Residential School Survivor Gerald McIvor.        

Manitoba liberal leader denies she mishandled residential school survivor claims - APTN National News

The Residential School Survivor asked various questions about her involvement as a lawyer with Carroll Law Office. That law office was involved in a complicated controversy involving legal fees charged to Indian Residential School Survivors for filling forms.

 The brother of Rana Bokhari, Syed Bokhari, and Ken Carroll from the Carroll Law Office formed First Nations Residential School Solutions, Inc (FNRSS) in 2010. Along with the law office FNRSS would play a major role in this controversy.

After investigating for years, the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat alleged in 2014 that the Law Office and FNRSS worked together to charge 30% of settlement value fees to clients. Carroll denied the claim. In April 2014 Justice Schulman of the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba ruled the fees charged by FNRSS were "unconscionable" as well as "illegal". Ken Carroll claimed to have reimbursed clients of his for the fees charged as well as cut his ties to FNRSS.

In a particularly stark case, reported by the CBC and APTN, it is alleged that Rana Bokhari's brother escorted one Residential School Survivor who had just received a compensation cheque to the bank. The alleged purpose was so the survivor could cash the cheque and pay the high fees for legal work immediately.

Rana Bokhari's main professional experience and hence track record for which one can assess her competence to be premier is in law. Bokhari was a junior lawyer at Carroll Law Office. Furthermore, her brother was part owner of the controversial FNRSS agency which charged, in the words of Justice Schulman, "unconscionable" and "illegal" fees to Residential School Survivors. These facts do not implicate her in any wrongdoing, however Manitobans can have reasonable questions about her legal career given the controversy involving her employer and brother.

Residential School Survivor Gerald McIvor seems to have had just that: questions for a potential next Premier of Manitoba regarding her professional past.

Rana Bokhari denies having any involvement in the fee controversy and has yet to be accused of any involvement. In her words to an APTN reporter "sometimes [...] just by association, as a young student you just happen to be involved in a part of a firm that has something going on and as students we don't know what's happening at the upper levels, right? We're just, we're little gophers doing what we're told to do, right?"

Rana Bokhari's brother and in 2014 part owner
of First Nations Residential School Solutions, Inc
Syed Bokhari.

Image Source: Twitter/@204Syed
Bokhari also told APTN that she left Carroll Law Office within five days of finding out about the overcharging situation. Bokhari told the CBC she became "very emotional" and "enraged" over the overcharging.

So what was her response, as "enraged" as she was at the overcharging to Residential School Survivors, to one survivor who asks questions and is concerned about her past employee-employer relationship? Is it a reasoned demonstration of why she was not involved and is not responsible? Is it a redirection to the Carroll Law Office or FNRSS, to better answer those questions?

Nope.

A Manitoba Liberal Party lawyer, not Rana Bokhari, responded to McIvor's inquiry without answering him. The lawyer's response was cold to the Residential School Survivor, Liberal Leader Bokhari even herself admits it was "harsh".

In it, the Manitoba Liberal Party's lawyer wrote that "Ms Bokhari denies having done anything unprofessional or improper" and that if McIvor "spread[s his] false allegations further you will be subject to defamation and liable [sic] proceedings".

One has to wonder what false allegations were made by the residential school survivor. Based on the reports from APTN and CBC (including the screen shots of the email in the APTN piece) it looks like Gerald McIvor was asking questions rather than making claims. Rana Bokhari, subsequently defending her self-admittedly "harsh" response to a residential school survivor, stated " […] you almost feel like you're getting slandered, right?" and that she was "threatened [.... with] timelines". The CBC article says that it was the tone she found defamatory, which makes you wonder how a "tone" as opposed to actual claims can be defamatory.

Regardless of how "threatening" deadlines are, not answering and bringing up the spectre of defamation and liable proceedings is a ridiculous response to deadlines, no matter how unreasonable you perceive them to be. Redirection or offering answers past the deadline or just saying you do not have all the information are infinitely more appropriate responses than a "harsh" response from your party's lawyer to a Residential School Survivor.

Rana Bokhari's whole overreaction to the questions reveals that she shares many flaws with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Rather than acting transparently her response to hard questions is to clamp down, sending a response through her party's lawyer which shuts down dialogue and discussion. A bit of time after the backlash from her response she cancelled an in-depth sit-down interview with the Canadian Press.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari has acted with a Harperite disdain for dissent and avoidance of hard questions. She is not displaying the open and transparent leadership Manitobans need and, despite a suite of indigenous candidates, revealed a coldness towards an indigenous person who demanded transparency. Former PM Harper, it should be noted, was able to ignore real grassroots indigenous concerns while having an indigenous woman for a cabinet minister. A much more serious dialogue with indigenous peoples is needed in Manitoba if there is to be any hope of reconciliation.  

On one final note, while Rana Bokhari has not spoken much about her brother or the allegation he escorted a residential school survivor straight to the bank to cash a cheque for fees, a twitter account with Syed Bokhari's picture is up. As of March 13, 2016 10:00 AM Central Time it is filled with retweets attacking Rana Bokhari opponent in Fort Rouge, Wab Kinew.

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