An Indigenous youth who spent years in government care is concerned that former Kamloops lawyer Seanna McKinley is managing a housing facility for Indigenous youth and elders in the city, despite being disbarred in February 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 on Singh Street in Brocklehurst, which opened in November 2020 as a home for Indigenous youth who have been through the child welfare system and elders. The housing project was developed by Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services (LMO) of Kamloops and includes 31 units for Indigenous youth who are between the ages of 16 and 27.
According to BC Housing, the housing development received $4.7 million from the province, while the City of Kamloops contributed a 60-year term land lease to support the project.
McKinley, who is now known as Seanna Proulx, has been managing Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging since before it was built, according to interviews with Kamloops This Week as the project grew from the planning stages to opening last November.
Indigenous youth jaye simpson (the name is spelled all lowercase), who is Oji Cree Sauteux, first heard of Proulx through “the whisper network.”
“I used to live in Kamloops. I have a lot of relations in Kamloops,” simpson said. “I’ve got kinship who are, like, street-based youth and stuff, and word gets out.”
After hearing rumours about Proulx, simpson Googled her.
Simpson 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 has never been in LMO’s care.
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,” the decision states. “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 states.
McKinley also failed to pay her Society membership fees, the decision notes.
“It was a sense of such huge betrayal,” simpson said. “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 executive director of Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services.
“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. 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. From our perspective, this matter is closed.”
Lucier added that LMO has “full confidence” in Proulx’s “ability to perform her duties as a housing manager with no risk to the tenants.”
Proulx was asked 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,” said simpson, who would 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,” simpson said. “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. 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.”
On Dec. 22, simpson shared on Twitter concerns about Proulx’s role as a manager of the Kamloops Indigenous youth housing facility. In a second email to IndigiNews, sent on Feb. 17, Lucier questioned 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,” Lucier wrote. “I find it concerning, when individuals make such statements on social media without bringing their concerns directly to management. I question the motivation.”
In the past, simpson said, there were attempts 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. 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.”
Lucier stands by the hiring of 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,” Lucier said.