Rachel Saunders has been removed as the Ordinary Member for Hopedale.
Today, March 5, members of the Nunatsiavut Assembly voted 11-4 in a secret ballot to remove her following her refusal to apologize for alleged Code of Conduct violations.
Edward Blake Rudkowski, Speaker of the Nunatsiavut Assembly, was very clear that Saunders was removed not for the alleged violations but for refusing to follow the sanctions imposed upon her by a disciplinary committee.
“The reason we are here this morning, and the reason this is brought forward, is not tied directly to the behaviours, it is tied to the fact that the sanctions imposed by the ad hoc committee were not honoured and they were not abided by,” he told the assembly. “That is the reason why this motion was brought forward.”
Blake Rudkowski was the chair of the ad hoc committee. He said they met on several occasions to determine the appropriate sanctions for Saunders and decided that a number of apologies had to be made by her.
Saunders was stripped of her title as Minister of Education and Economic Development on Nov. 13, 2018, when the committee was investigating allegations of improper conduct.
On Nov. 28 NG said she had been found guilty of three Code of Conduct breaches and was the subject of two formal complaints.
She was ordered by the ad hoc committee to apologize to the Hopedale Housing Committee, the Nunatsiavut Assembly, her constituents, and staff. She was also given a one-week suspension as an Ordinary Member.
Today Saunders spoke before the assembly prior to the vote.
“I am an honest person, I’m firm in my beliefs, and I have very high integrity,” Saunders said. “My morals and my values are that of my ancestors. To me this process was not fair and I stand proud in saying I will fight for what I believe is right to me.”
She told the assembly she has retained a lawyer because she feels her rights have been violated and she would not apologize for something she didn’t do. She indicated her lawyer had sent a letter to the assembly the previous day and she had hopes it would have been tabled.
“There are certain things that I did do under the code of conduct and, yes, I own up to that but to me this process was not fair,” she said. “I look forward to hearing your response to the letter my lawyer has drafted and sent to you.”
Previously the Nunatsiavut Government (NG) said that Saunders had become angry and verbally abusive at a meeting with members of the Hopedale Housing Committee (HHC).
Saunders told the Labradorian in a previous interview it was over a dispute regarding a family home that was located in Hopedale, which she attended as a private individual, not as a member of the Nunatsiavut Assembly or as a minister in NG, as she was at the time.
NG said following that meeting with HHC Saunders was called in to speak to members of the assembly and she allegedly acted improperly then as well.
When she was ordered to apologize she told the Labradorian she would not and was not sure what the consequences would be but expected this outcome.
Prior to the vote today on whether to remove Saunders, Angajukĸâk Joe Dicker of Nain asked whether a public meeting had been held in Hopedale to ask the people what they thought of the alleged improper conduct.
“From what I understand there is still a lot of support for the individual member that we’re talking about here now,” he said. “They’re the ones that elected this person into office and I was wondering if they were consulted with, with regards to the charges and the alleged incidents that did happen and how they felt. Was that considered?”
Blake Rudkowski responded to Dickers question by saying that a public meeting is not part of the process. He said they interviewed six individuals, witnesses to the alleged incidents.
“When there is a Code of Conduct complaint there is no process by which we canvass the constituency of each individual member. The Code of Conduct complaint simply examines what each member is alleged to have done and compares that alleged behaviours against what the code says we can and cannot do.”
NG sent out a press release following the vote that the code of conduct is an Inuit law that applies to elected officials and the expectation is that elected officials will be leaders who will set a good example by their own behavior.
A date for a by-election to fill the seat vacated by Saunders has yet to be determined.