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Charges against twin sisters who claimed Inuit status have been withdrawn, with their co-accused and mother pleading guilty to one count of fraud in an Iqaluit courtroom Friday.
Sisters Amira and Nadya Gill were each facing two counts of fraud over $5,000 for allegedly defrauding two Inuit organizations in Nunavut.
Their birth mother Karima Manji — who previously claimed to have been their adopted mother — was facing three counts of fraud over $5,000.
The three women live in “Ontario” but appeared virtually at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on Feb. 9.
Manji’s legal representative J. Scott Cowan and Crown prosecutor Sarah White presented an agreed statement of facts, noting the sisters were unaware that Manji had submitted forms to enrol her children as Inuit beneficiaries with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI).
NTI is the organization responsible for managing commitments made by federal and territorial representatives to Nunavut Inuit under the Nunavut Agreement.
According to the statement, Manji submitted another application seeking enrollment for herself as a beneficiary to NTI in 2018 but was unsuccessful. She also has a past criminal record involving fraud, having been sentenced to one count over $5,000 in 2017 for which she received a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by a one year probation.
Crown and defence confirmed withdrawing the charges against Amira and Nadya Gill, with Cowan stating that “Ms. Manji is taking responsibility for all aspects of this matter before the courts.”
They also agreed to a sentencing date for Manji, which has been scheduled for June 24 at the Nunavut Court of Justice.
NTI released a statement saying the organization “welcomes” the guilty plea from Manji but expressed disappointment that the Gill sisters, who benefited from the fraud, will not face the same ramifications.
“Relying on the fraudulently obtained status, not only did they receive funding specifically set aside to help Nunavut Inuit advance their education, but the Gill sisters also took up space in universities and programs that are designed for Indigenous participants,” said NTI president Aluki Kotierk.
“Colonization consisted largely of the theft of our lands and valuable resources, and this kind of identity theft represents a modern-day iteration of those same colonial practices.”
Nunavut’s RCMP charged the 25-year-old Gill sisters and 59-year-old Manji last September after launching an investigation in April. The charges followed concerns circling on social media about Amira and Nadya’s purported Inuit identity.
Between October 2016 and September 2022, the sisters obtained Inuit beneficiary status and utilized funds “that are only available to Inuit beneficiaries by obtaining grants and scholarships” from the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the RCMP said at the time.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is one of three regional associations in the territory. Kakivak is the association’s community and economic development arm, and responsible for providing student financial aid to Inuit enrolled in education programs.
According to the agreed statement of facts presented in court Friday, the two associations provided the Gill sisters with more than $158,000 in funding between September 2020 and March 2023. An additional $64,413 was on hold for Amira Gill in the spring of 2023, but was not paid out.
A joint statement from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in April 2023 said that applications from Manji had been made in 2016 on behalf of the Gills “relying on information provided in their application that they had an Inuk birth mother.”
“On March 30, 2023, an application was made by the Inuk woman’s legal guardian to remove Amira and Nadya from the enrolment list because the Gills have no biological relationship with her,” the April statement continued. “The Gills were asked by NTI to provide evidence that they have an Inuk birth parent as claimed in their application. No response was received.”
The sisters also received scholarships and financial support from other organizations by claiming Inuit identity. This includes a $4,000 scholarship awarded to Amira from the “Ontario” utility company HydroOne in 2017, according to reporting by APTN.
As well, there was an award for Indigenous students from RBC, one of “Canada’s” largest banks, that Amira won in 2018.
Both sisters were removed from NTI’s enrolment list last April.
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