An Indigenous youth who spent years in government care is sounding an alarm about Seanna McKinley — a former lawyer who is managing a housing facility for Indigenous youth and Elders despite being disbarred in Feb. 2020 for “intentionally misappropriating clients’ funds” and attempting to “mislead or obstruct the Law Society [of British Columbia].”
Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging is a staffed condo-style building in Kamloops, which opened in Nov. 2020 as a home for Indigenous youth who have been through the child welfare system. The housing project was developed by Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services (LMO) and includes 31 units for Indigenous youth who are between 16 and 27.
According to B.C. Housing, the housing development received $4.7 million from the province, and the City of Kamloops contributed a 60-year term land lease to support the project.
jaye simpson (intentional lower case), who is Oji Cree Sauteux, says they first heard of Proulx through “the whisper network.”
“I used to live in Kamloops. I have a lot of relations in Kamloops,” they say. “I’ve got kinship, who are, like, street-based youth and stuff, and word gets out.”
After hearing rumours about Proulx, simpson says they Googled her.
“I usually Google workers, managers, that kind of thing from time to, you know, when I’m in a mood, specifically when I’m feeling, like, bitter about my own experiences,” they say.
simpson says they spent about 15 years in the care of Métis Family Services — one of two child welfare agencies in B.C. delegated by the province to serve Métis children and families. The other agency is Lii Michif Otipemisiwak (LMO). simpson says they’ve never been in LMO’s care.
simpson’s online search revealed that McKinley was disbarred for misappropriating more than $330,000 in a decision issued by the Law Society of British Columbia on Feb. 14, 2020.
“[McKinley] demonstrated a wanton disregard for the essential duties owed by a lawyer to their clients and to the justice system as a whole. She deliberately and dishonestly flouted a court order and the Law Society Rules,” reads the decision.
“Her repeated misconduct demonstrates a gross and fundamental disrespect for members of the public, lawyers, the Law Society and the overall administration of justice.”
McKinley didn’t participate in the Law Society’s disciplinary process.
“She was not present at the hearings, did not provide an explanation for her absences and has not communicated with the Law Society since January 2018,” the decision adds.
She also failed to pay her Society membership fees, the decision notes.
“It was a sense of such huge betrayal,” says simpson. “I was just so curious at how a disbarred lawyer who got caught embezzling funds is now overseeing an Indigenous youth housing project. To me, it just is such [a] huge red flag.”
Colleen Lucier is the executive director of LMO.
“I can confirm that Seanna Proulx is employed by our agency as the Housing Manager for Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging,” Lucier wrote in an email to IndigiNews on Jan. 6.
“I can also confirm that Ms. Proulx was forthcoming about the process involving the Law Society at the time of her employment,” she writes.
“Upon careful review and thorough consideration of all the facts and information and with the full support of our Board of Directors, our hiring committee felt confident in entering into an employment agreement with Ms. Proulx,” Lucier writes. “From our perspective, this matter is closed.”
She adds that LMO has “full confidence” in Proulx’s “ability to perform her duties as a housing manager with no risk to the tenants.”
IndigiNews also asked Proulx if she would like to respond to simpson’s concerns. Proulx responded via email: “As an employee of LMO, I am not authorized to speak to any media without approval from our Executive Director, whom I understand has already provided you with a response.”
“I think Seanna just needs to step down,” says simpson, adding that they’d like to see a new hiring board put in place that includes youth with lived experience of the system.
“If it’s for us, let it be designed by us also. Let us help decide who’s going to be in charge,” they say.
“We are talking about one of the most disenfranchised populations in the country. We are talking about a population that is so racially discriminated against,” they say. “When we look at the percentage of Indigenous youth in care, the number is so astronomically high, and is not representational of the overall population.”
Due to the ongoing impacts of colonial policies and systemic racism, Indigenous children represent just over two thirds of all kids in care in B.C., despite the fact that Indigenous children only account for about 10 per cent of the total population of children under 14 in B.C.
In a second email to IndigiNews sent Feb. 17, Lucier questions simpsons’ motives for coming forward with complaints about Proulx.
“I don’t know who Jaye Simpson is and [they have] never contacted me or our office to discuss [their] concerns. To my knowledge, I don’t think this individual has any connection to our office or the work we do,” she writes.
“I find it concerning, when individuals make such statements on social media without bringing their concerns directly to management. I question the motivation.”
simpson says that in the past they have tried to “work within multiple systems to try to bring things up and resolve it in that way.”
“It never works out. I have been burned out. I’ve been kicked out. I’ve been ignored,” they say. “So I just don’t deal with it that way. I would rather, you know, march — so they see me coming. And I’m telling them upfront — I’m not liking this,” says simpson.
simpson adds that they would like to hear what the Indigenous youth living at Kikekyelc have to say.
“I would love to see the youth who are in this program asked and interviewed to see what their experiences with Seanna [have been],” simpson says.
“My whole file was full of social workers saying I was doing OK, when in actuality I was not. And I had told them time and time again I was not, so I do not trust them.”
Lucier says she stands by hiring Proulx.
“I remain very proud of the work we are doing and remain confident in Ms. Proulx and in her abilities to carry out her duties within our agency.”
But simpson says it’s not worth the risk when it comes to youth in care.
“I have buried my older siblings, I’ve buried my friends … I’ve lost so many that to me the cost is so high. The risk is so, so, so, so high,” they say. “If anything were to happen, it is on the board and it’s on the executive director. It’s not just on Seanna.”