Disbarred lawyer Seanna McKinley is managing Indigenous youth housing in Kamloops 

 Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging   (LMO Photo)

By Chehala Leonard,

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Seanna Proulx was known as Seanna McKinley when she was disbarred by the Law Society of BC.

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.

McKinley, who now goes by Seanna Proulx, has been managing Kikekyelc: A Place of Belonging since before it was built in 2019, according to the CBC.

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 Metis Family Services, one of two child welfare agencies in B.C. delegated by the province to serve Metis 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.”

Chehala Leonard is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Discourse. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

 

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