The elections appeal committee released the reasons for why it is ordering Acho Dene Koe First Nation (ADKFN) to annul its last election and hold a new one.
Floyd Bertrand, a former ADKFN chief and current member, along with James Duntra, who ran for chief in the latest election, filed the appeals for the election held on April 26.
On June 25, Garth Wallbridge, the sole member of the elections appeal committee, issued a list of orders. ADKFN refused to follow the orders until the reasons were released.
Wallbridge outlined several reasons for his decision, one of which was that there was no established timeline for the election.
Ballots were being received from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., but Wallbridge said this fact was not well publicized.
Without clear timelines set, he wrote it was reasonable to assume the deadline to vote could have been midnight.
According to the report, several votes were invalid as a result of being submitted too late.
“I wish to state that at the minimum, this was sufficient to create reasonable confusion and I place significant weight on the statements by affected members who no doubt wished to express their right to vote and were deprived of this right, without sufficient or meaningful notice,” Wallbridge writes.
Wallbridge said he spoke with the Elections Officer, Mary Beckett, and she told him at least two members were unable to cast ballots because the poll had closed. Three mail-in ballots were also not counted due to being received after election day.
The preliminary results found Eugene Hope re-elected with 148 votes compared to James Duntra’s 145.
Wallbridge writes that he received letters from at least eight members who also had issues with online voting — many of whom said they were unable to contact Beckett.
Bertrand on the ballot
In addition to the voting hours, Wallbridge ruled that Bertrand should be on the ballot for the replacement election.
Wallbridge writes that Bertrand was kept off the ballot due to an alleged debt with the band office. Bertrand has told CKLB he does not owe any money.
ADKFN’s Draft Election Code states that anyone owing the band office an amount of more than $500 is unable to run.
Wallbridge writes ADKFN has not appeared to have made any effort to recover the debt in the past, nor any legal effort to recover it in the future.
Wallbridge also referenced the fact the amount allegedly owed is unclear and therefore it makes its status as debt “questionable at best.”
Wallbridge wrote it should be up to the voters to decide if Bertrand should be chief or not. He also recommended that Beckett no longer serve as elections officer in the next election as she has lost the confidence of several members of ADKFN.
AKDFN Band Manager Boyd Clark told CKLB by email that the council would be reviewing the decisions released by Wallbridge and would not be providing comment at this time.
However, on Thursday ADKFN posted to its Facebook page that it voted to apply to a federal court to have the right to appeal the committee’s decisions. This was before it had received the reasons.
This application doesn’t challenge the decision, but gives the First Nation the ability to challenge it at a later date.
Bertrand’s legal representative Orlagh O’Kelly responded to the news with a memo to ADKFN’s legal representative.
O’Kelly writes that the council has no jurisdiction to challenge the decisions due to ADKFN’s Draft Election Code.
She specifically cited section 49:
“If the Appeal Committee decides that the offence (s) committed are sufficiently serious it may order that the result of the election against which the offence (s) was/were committed to be declared null and void and that a new election be held in its place, in accordance with the provisions of this code.”
O’Kelly’s letter demanded that ADKFN announce an election no later than 3 p.m. on Friday.
Feds drop its appeal
The federal government has dropped an appeal it launched after a judge ruled that ADKFN did not have authority to postpone its latest band election.
On April 1, 2021 Justice Sébastien Grammond of the federal court wrote in his decision, the council of ADKFN did not have the authority to delay the election because the First Nation’s elections are not governed by the Indian Act.
The decision had little impact on the situation in ADKFN, but could set a legal precedent.