Corn­wal­lis pan­el­list’s sex­ual as­sault con­vic­tion

City hall and Assem­bly of Chiefs quiet on Wil­bert Mar­shall’s past and his po­ten­tial in­volve­ment in ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated com­mit­tee.



of the names put for­ward to judge the ac­tions of Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis has a vi­o­lent history of his own.

Chief Wil­bert Mar­shall, who has been se­lected by the Assem­bly of Nova Sco­tia Mi’kmaq Chiefs to help lead Halifax’s ex­am­i­na­tion of its con­tro­ver­sial founder, was him­self con­victed of sex­ual as­sault 10 years ago.

Mar­shall was sen­tenced in 2008 to three years for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an un­con­scious 20-year-old wo­man in a Dartmouth ho­tel room. The 39-year-old had been vis­it­ing Halifax for a meet­ing in his role as Chief of the Pot­lotek First Na­tion in Cape Bre­ton.

Heather Knock­wood, for­merly of the At­lantic Policy Con­gress of First Na­tion Chiefs, tells The Coast that both she and Mar­shall are on the list of names put for­ward by the Assem­bly of Chiefs to HRM. Other nom­i­nees on that short­list al­legedly in­clude We Were Not The Sav­ages author Daniel Paul, Mi’kmaw lin­guist Bernie Fran­cis and Mi’kmaw Na­tive Friend­ship Cen­tre ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Pam Glode-Desrochers.

Fran­cis could not be reached for com­ment. Both Paul and Glode-Desrochers de­clined to speak about the panel and their in­volve­ment. Re­peated calls to Mar­shall’s home went unan­swered. Crys­tal Dorsey, spokesper­son for the Assem­bly of Chiefs, wouldn’t com­ment on, or con­firm the list of names, which still has to be for­mally ap­proved by Halifax coun­cil.

“We’re still wait­ing to meet with HRM on it, as far as I know,” Dorsey says. “It’s a de­ci­sion that’s with the Chiefs right now.”

Knock­wood says she was sent an email late last year con­firm­ing her nom­i­na­tion and list­ing the other four names. She was un­able to share a copy of that email with The Coast. But a source with knowl­edge of the doc­u­ment con­firms one of the nom­i­nees has pre­vi­ously been con­victed of rape.

Mar­shall’s po­ten­tial in­clu­sion on the panel could ig­nite more de­bate around a de­layed process that’s al­ready been fraught with ten­sion. Mem­bers of the pub­lic and elected coun­cil­lors have lamented the panel’s ne­ces­sity, ques­tioned the im­par­tial­ity of In­dige­nous voices and ut­tered racist com­ments through­out the past sev­eral months when­ever the word Corn­wal­lis is men­tioned.

But his prior con­vic­tion shouldn’t have any im­pact on the com­mit­tee’s work, says Knock­wood. Pot­lotek voted him back into of­fice, “so the peo­ple are OK with it,” she says. He’s paid for his crimes.“He knows what he did and he learned from it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Chief Jus­tice Joseph Kennedy’s de­ci­sion, on the night in question Mar­shall had vis­ited a home where the young wo­man was study­ing and con­vinced her to go to a strip club. Af­ter spend­ing the night buy­ing her liquor, Mar­shall as­saulted the wo­man in his ho­tel room while she was passed out and cov­ered in vomit.

Mar­shall told the court dur­ing sen­tenc­ing that he was sorry, and claimed at the time of the as­sault that he was un­clear about the mean­ing of con­sent. Kennedy called Mar­shall’s be­hav­iour that night “dis­grace­ful” and un­be­com­ing of a “moral com­mu­nity leader.”

“You la­ment sir that your con­vic­tion has cost you your po­si­tion as Chief and I can only say to that sir, I cer­tainly hope so,” said Kennedy. “I surely hope that that is one of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of your be­hav­iour in this mat­ter.”

Un­der the fed­eral In­dian Act, Mar­shall was au­to­mat­i­cally stripped of his ti­tle upon con­vic­tion. But that same leg­is­la­tion doesn’t pro­hibit a per­son, once con­victed, from run­ning for of­fice in the fu­ture.

Two years af­ter his con­vic­tion and one year af­ter be­ing re­leased on pa­role, Mar­shall was re-elected by just five votes. He’s served in that role ever since, while also act­ing as the lead for cul­ture, her­itage and ar­chae­ol­ogy with the Assem­bly of Chiefs.

“If he was, I think, truly guilty, I don’t think the peo­ple would want him back,” says Knock­wood. “[The Chiefs] could have se­lected any­one, so I don’t see how [his con­vic­tion] would have any­thing to do with it.”

Halifax Re­gional Coun­cil ap­proved the non-bind­ing Corn­wal­lis panel last Oc­to­ber af­ter years of pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion re­gard­ing the former mil­i­tary com­man­der’s treat­ment of the area’s In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion. Half of its mem­bers are ap­pointed by HRM with the other half com­ing from the list of nom­i­nees sub­mit­ted by the Assem­bly of Chiefs.

Mu­nic­i­pal spokesper­son Erin Di­Carlo says HRM staff will re­turn to coun­cil to make the fi­nal ap­point­ment of all com­mit­tee mem­bers “in the com­ing weeks.”

But if Mar­shall isn’t wel­comed with an open mind by HRM residents, a de­fen­sive Knock­wood says the com­mit­tee could end up de­railed be­fore it even gets started.

“I’d have to walk out if there was any dis­re­spect [to­wards Mar­shall],” she says. “This will col­lapse if they’re not will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in good faith.”


Pro­test­ers gather around the draped Corn­wal­lis statue last sum­mer.

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