Canadian woman gets three years’ jail in first ever sentencing for a ‘Pretendian’

Opinion: I am pretty sure the names give out the heritage. But nothing seems to amaze me in the levels of fraud fo government funding and the depths of the losses.

A Canadian woman who fraudulently claimed her daughters were Inuit has been sentenced to three years in jail, in what is believed to be the first ever custodial sentence for a “Pretendian”.

Karima Manji, whose daughters accessed more than C$150,000 in benefits intended for Inuit, was sentenced on Thursday, after pleading guilty to fraud in February.

Nunavut justice Mia Manocchio said the case “must serve as a signal to any future Indigenous pretender that the false appropriation of Indigenous identity in a criminal context will draw a significant penalty”.

In recent years, Canada has grappled with a wave of cases in which people falsely claimed Indigenous identity. Many of those instances featured vague and questionable affirmations of First Nations or Métis ancestry. Instances of Inuit fraud – and ones in which people successfully obtained official identity cards – are rarer.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Toronto resident Karima Manji submitted paperwork for her daughters Amira and Nadya in 2016 to obtain Inuit identity.

Canada’s Inuit population of around 70,000 people mostly lives in Inuit Nunangat, the vast northern homeland that spans more than 3m sq km.

Manji, 59, lived briefly in Iqaluit, the territorial capital, in the 1990s. But her daughters Nadya and Amira were born in Ontario and have no connection to Inuit or to the lands of Nunavut.

To deceive those reviewing the application, Manji claimed that she had adopted the pair, who she said had been born to an Iqaluit woman named Kitty Noah.

Despite going through a vetting review by community members intended to prevent fraudulent enrolment, Manji’s application was approved by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, NTI, which oversees the process.

Amira and Nadya, 18 years old at the time, quickly used their newly acquired Inuit identity to access money from the Kakivak Association, described in court documents as “an organization serving Inuit by … providing sponsorship funding to Baffin Inuit for education-related expenses”.

Between September 2020 and March 2023, Nadya and Amira received C$158,254.05 in benefits from Nunavut organizations, according to the agreed statement of facts. A further C$64,413 was on hold for Amira Gill in the spring of 2023, but was not paid out.

According to a recent feature in Toronto Life, Nadya and Amira were vocal about their Inuit identity while at university. The pair started an online business, Kanata Trade Company, purportedly run by “twin Inuit sisters”.

Their mother, Karima, was the CEO and the business, which sold items designed by Indigenous craftspeople, was certified by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

But questions swirled over the sisters’ past and their non-existent ancestral ties to Nunavut.

On 30 March, NTI put out a public statement that it was “aware of possible fraudulent enrolment of Amira and Nadya Gill” and that Kitty Noah, who Manji had claimed was the birth mother, had “initiated the process to have Amira and Nadya removed from the Inuit enrolment list”.

NTI, which ensures that the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreementare fully implemented, said the case of the Gill sisters was the first of its kind. The organization defended the “robust” enrolment process in which community members review applications “and make each decision carefully, after reviewing relevant supporting evidence of eligibility”.

In September 2023, Iqaluit RCMP charged Manji and her daughters with fraud over $5,000. In February, the crown dropped charges against the twins after Manji pleaded guilty.

In sentencing on Thursday, Manocchio rejected the crown’s recommendation for a suspended sentence, telling the court “only a penitentiary term” would fit the scope of the fraud.

“Ms Manji has victimized her own children … her own daughters who have been severely compromised by her crimes,” Manocchio said.

Manji has returned C$130,000 and still owes C$28,254 to the Kakivak Association.

“NTI is not the true or ultimate victim … the true victim of Ms Manji’s crime are the Inuit of Nunavut,” Manocchio said during sentencing.

“I just feel better, knowing that it’s a message sent to anyone that’s trying to defraud Indigenous, Inuit, First Nations,” Noah Noah, Kitty’s son, told CBC News following the sentencing, adding he was “very pleased” with the outcome. “It’s a good day.”

Manji had previously been convicted of fraud while working for a charity, but had never served a prison sentence before – something that Manocchio said played a role in the sentencing, adding that the sentence should “serve as a signal” to others who pretend to be Indigenous for financial gain.

“Fraudsters pay attention to what happens to other fraudsters.”

What do you think?

Written by Colin

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