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NAN grand chief suing Onigaming chief for defamation

The $200,000 lawsuit alleges remarks were made in public during the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa
Derek Fox
Derek Fox was first elected as NAN Grand Chief in 2021. (File).

THUNDER BAY — Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox, who was recently suspended pending an internal investigation, has filed a $200,000 defamation lawsuit against the chief of a community in Treaty 3 territory.

A statement of claim filed by Fox earlier this year alleges remarks made by Chief Jeffrey Copenace of Onigaming First Nation during the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Dec. 7, 2022 were defamatory and damaging to his reputation.

The remarks were made in public from the assembly floor over a microphone when Copenace was speaking in support of a resolution.

Copenace opened by saying the issue of women in Winnipeg should be front and centre and he was disheartened to see continued attacks on the National Chief.

“I brought three young women from Onigaming and mostly I want them to see me speak with dignity, but also, I want them to see a man holding other men accountable,” Copenace said during his remarks, which were cited in Fox's statement of claim. “So, I want to take this opportunity to call out some of the men abusers that I’ve seen walking around these very hallways.”

Copenace then directly referenced Fox and allegations against him.

“I see Grand Chief Derek Fox, who you parade around, at all of these press conferences, he used to beat one of our own Treaty #3 women chiefs. Just years ago, two years ago, I saw a text from Grand Chief Derek Fox, from a young 25-year-old girl, begging him to stop harassing her,” Copenace said during the assembly, which was also cited in Fox's statement of claim.

“You still walk around parading him like he’s a great male leader for us. It’s unbelievable. Our Chiefs need to be held accountable.”

According to the statement of claim, Copenace remarks were made in front of more than 1,000 delegates including chiefs from across Canada, government officials, and the media.

“Grand Chief Fox categorically denies the allegations,” the statement of claim reads.

The statement of claim goes on to read that Fox has and will continue to suffer damage to his reputation because of Copenace’s remarks.

“The allegations falsely and maliciously slander Grand Chief Fox. The statements in their natural and ordinary meaning were understood to mean that Grand Chief Fox is a woman abuser,” the statement of claim reads.

“To have Chief Copenace accuse Grand Chief Fox of being a woman abuser is particularly damaging to the reputation he has spent decades building.”

The statement of claim further argues that Copenace knew or ought to have known that the meaning or innuendo of his words were “defamatory and slanderous and that those words, their meaning, and innuendo were not true.”

Fox is seeking $150,000 in general damages and an additional $50,000 in punitive or aggravated damages.

Originally from Bearskin Lake First Nation, Fox previously worked as a lawyer before being elected as a Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief in 2015. In 2021, he was elected grand chief.

The statement of claim was filed on Jan. 12, 2023, came five weeks before NAN announced Fox was suspended as grand chief while an internal investigation is conducted into alleged violations of the executive code of conduct.

Several days following his suspension, Fox said in a social media post he has been “wrongfully and possible defamed by statements that are untrue” and has called for a new NAN election to be held within the next 60 to 90 days.