Woman who lied to get twin daughters Inuit status sentenced to 3 years in prison

A woman who admitted to defrauding Inuit organizations of more than $158,000 for her twin daughters' education has been sentenced to three years in a federal prison.

Karima Manji was sentenced in an Iqaluit courtroom Thursday morning.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Manji filled out forms in 2016 to enrol her daughters as Inuit children so they could become beneficiaries of the Nunavut land claim through Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI). In the forms, Manji said her daughters were born to the late Kitty Noah from Iqaluit. Manji claimed to be their adoptive mother.

Those applications were approved, granting the twins Inuit status and giving them access to organizations like Kakivak Association, which offers scholarships and business opportunities meant for Inuit.

Nunavut Justice Mia Manocchio rejected the 18-month to two-year sentence recommended by the Crown, saying "only a penitentiary term" will suffice.

Manocchio said Manji "victimized the Inuit of Nunavut by stealing their identity" and said her crime was "premeditated."

NTI investigated and removed Manji's twin daughers from the enrolment list in April 2023.

In his submissions earlier this week, Manji's lawyer Scott Cowan said Manji takes care of her three children, and makes minimum wage while working odd jobs.

Cowan had submitted that there were several mitigating factors in Manji's case, including the fact that she pleaded guilty and that she paid back a portion of the money.

Manocchio rejected that, saying the sole mitigating factor in Manji's case was her guilty plea.

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

Manji has paid back $130,000. Manocchio said she would also have to pay back the remaining $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," she said.

Manocchio said in considering Manji's sentence, she had to be mindful of the fact that she'd never served a prison sentence before.

Despite that, she said Manji's 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," she said.

Noah Noah, the late Kitty Noah's son, speaks to media outside the Iqaluit courthouse on June 27, 2024.
Noah Noah, the late Kitty Noah's son, speaks to media outside the Iqaluit courthouse on Thursday. (Tj Dhir/CBC)

'I just feel better'

Noah Noah, Kitty Noah's son, said he was "surprised" by the sentence.

"I didn't think she would get anything longer than two years less a day, so I'm very pleased with the outcome," Noah told CBC.

But it doesn't erase the pain he still feels, Noah said.

"I just feel better, knowing that it's a message sent to anyone that's trying to defraud Indigenous, Inuit, First Nations. It's a good day."

Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president, said she thinks the sentence fits the crime, but the damage runs deeper.

"I know that there's been a lot of focus on the financial gains of this person and her daughters, but I think the concerns as a community, as Inuit, that we have, is that having an NTI card does not make us Inuk. Being an Inuk is based on our culture, our kinship, our community, our language."

Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president, said the damage done by Karima Manji to Inuit is "irreparable."
Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president, said the damage done by Karima Manji to Inuit is 'irreparable.' (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada )

Kotierk said as a result of the case, NTI has strengthened its enrolment process.

Now, additional paperwork is required for out of territory residents and families new to the system to get an NTI card.

Kotierk said the damage done by Manji to Inuit is "irreparable."

"It's terrible, because it creates a suspicion," Kotierk said.

Anne Crawford is a civil lawyer based in Iqaluit.
Anne Crawford is a civil lawyer based in Iqaluit. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Precedent-setting case

Anne Crawford, a longtime Iqaluit lawyer, said Manji's case could be the first of its kind in Canada.

"I think it's something we're going to have to start to talk about as a country. Inuit have a very distinct identity and we have very distinct processes in Nunavut for identifying Indigenous or Inuit citizens," Crawford said.

"The rest of Canada, it's not always that clear."

Manji's lawyer Scott Cowan told CBC outside the courthouse that the sentence was "much higher than most similarly situated people."

"The unique factors in this case led the judge to make this an exemplary sentence," Cowan said. "The only answer, based on the totality of the judgment, is that it was to make an example."