The truth, it seems, is not an easy thing to find.
Harry Snowboy found that out in an all too painful way after being brought along with the proverbial carrot on the stick by the Chisasibi band council. After being suspended with pay for 10 months, and then reinstated, the former police chief has now quit the force.
It all started in October 2003, when Assistant Police Chief Larry Ross launched an investigation into allegations of mismanagement of funds by Police Chief Snowboy. During the investigation, according to Snowboy, Ross overstepped his bounds.
“Assistant Police Chief Larry Ross looked into my spending and what he did was he told all the other officers and started spreading it around,” said Snowboy in a lengthy interview with the Nation.
Snowboy said that Ross broke the oath of discretion agreed to by every sworn-in police officer, and left him no choice but to suspend him.
The police officers that supported Ross retaliated by sending an unsigned letter to the band council calling for an investigation. The allegations against Snowboy included mismanagement of funds and excessive absenteeism. Snowboy’s alleged lack of qualifications for the job as Police Chief also came into question.
The charges were taken seriously and the band council suspended Snowboy on October 17, 2003. He received a letter notifying him of the suspension, signed by Clarence Snowboy.
“They didn’t call it an investigation, they called it a management review,” said the former police chief.
By this point, Ross had received a severance package and had hightailed it out of Chisasibi.
Then the real fun began.
On October 21, two officers, Jane Fireman and Nicole Sam went on Chisasibi radio to support Ross and air the grievances against Snowboy. “This was another example of breaking the oath of discretion,” said Snowboy. “They went public before any inquiry could be done. That damaged my credibility.”
Snowboy was in Montreal with his pregnant wife at the time. When he returned he described a scene of suspicious looks from community members and doubt from his own family.
“I was put on trial even before an investigation was done. It put my family through a lot, there was nothing fair about it,” said an angry Snowboy. “When I got back I could see the hurt in my family’s eyes. I talked to my 13-year-old girl and to my grandmother to reassure them that I didn’t do anything wrong. I told them that all they had was allegations – they didn’t prove anything.
“What they did really hurt my family. When I got back I knew right then that people already judged me and I don’t know why this information was made public without a fair inquiry first.”
“As far as I know the officers have never been disciplined or reprimanded. A police officer has to take an oath of discretion not to disclose any information until it’s been investigated. That didn’t happen in my case.”
Then a few months later, when it became known that no charges were to be laid against Snowboy, the same officers went on the air again saying that the band council was protecting Snowboy. “They weren’t satisfied that I was free of all charges,” he said.
Neither Fireman nor Sam would comment on the issue.
Ironically, Snowboy proved prophetic when a few months before, he addressed the issue of going on air without proof. “I had written a letter to the radio station a couple months before that saying any information that is unproven or any names should not be aired on the radio before the truth comes out. It’s ironic that my position was aired,” he said.
Snowboy was originally suspended for 30 days with pay. It wasn’t until last August 11, however – almost 10 months later – that he received a letter saying he was reinstated. Then, on August 20, after weighing his options and a bit of soul-searching, Snowboy resigned. He would not reveal to the Nation whether he received a severance package, as Ross did when he left.
“The suspension kept getting extended because we had not received the report from a Montreal management group,” said band council member Davey Bobbish. “Now that we’ve received the report I can only say that no charges have been laid. We made the recommendation to reinstate him. It was up to him if he wants to go back.”
When asked why they made the allegations in the first place, Snowboy replied, “I don’t know. I don’t wish that on anybody. Even through 10 years of being a police officer and arresting people that I knew committed a crime – I knew that the court would handle that and the truth would come out.”
According to Snowboy, policing in Chisasibi needs to be reformed, and soon. “Right now the police are just there to process people and send them to Amos. Studies show it doesn’t do any good to incarcerate people every time. I had different ideas and the backing of the band council to implement those ideas. They saw the need for change in the community. Now I don’t know what I’ll be doing in the future.”
The tougher part may be clearing his reputation. “Nobody’s apologized to me yet, neither the police nor the band office,” said Snowboy. “I don’t know if the radio even aired a disclaimer.”