Alexander First Nation Chief Kurt Burnstick began his three-day trial for sexual assault in Edmonton on Tuesday.
Burnstick is facing charges stemming from allegations of sexual assault that allegedly took place in 1985. On Tuesday, a judge and jury heard about two sexual assault allegations, and one break and enter allegation that took place between Sept. 1 and Sept. 30, 1985.
In January, 2017 Burnstick was acquitted of another sexual assault charge in St. Albert provincial court.
When the sexual assault allegations first came to light, many members of Alexander First Nation held a protest, asking the chief to step down.
In September 2016, a group of women, men, elders and children marched from the community centre to the band office to demand that Burnstick vacate his position.
In a statement issued later that week Burnstick responded, saying he would not step down.
“While I take the issue of sexual assault very seriously, I deny the allegations made against me, and will vigorously defend myself in court,” Burnstick said in the statement.
Burnstick did not step down, and was re-elected by a margin of four votes during the band election in October.
The chief has also been under scrutiny for the management of band finances, and a financial review found more than $5 million in improperly documented expenses.
The review also revealed that Alexander First Nation officials may have used band and federal dollars to pay for groceries, Netflix and cash advances at casinos. The Gazette obtained a copy of a letter in August, 2017 that describes a recent review of the band’s finances by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
The letter, dated July 27, 2017, is from Jean-Marc Lafrenière of INAC’s Audit and Evaluation Sector and addressed to Burnstick. It summarizes a review the department ordered to determine if the band had used federal funds appropriately from April, 2010 to March, 2016.
The review, conducted by Ernst & Young LLP, examined the expenses of 15 members of the band council or the band administration during 2010-2016, including Burnstick.
It found that the 15 people had received approximately $5.3 million in “unsupported” payments during this time period – defined as payments without proper receipts and/or documentation. Of that, some $2.5 million was estimated to have come from INAC funds.