Kátł'odeeche First Nation to hold byelection after ruling declares chief's 2021 acclamation 'void'

·3 min read
April Martel's acclamation as Kátł'odeeche First Nation chief in 2021 has been declared null and void by an adjudicator who says an election rule that barred another candidate from running against her was discriminatory. (Loren McGinnis/CBC - image credit)
April Martel's acclamation as Kátł'odeeche First Nation chief in 2021 has been declared null and void by an adjudicator who says an election rule that barred another candidate from running against her was discriminatory. (Loren McGinnis/CBC - image credit)

The Kátł'odeeche First Nation has been ordered to hold another election for chief after an election appeals adjudicator ruled the First Nation's residency requirement for candidates for chief were discriminatory.

Elaine Auger was declared ineligible to run for Kátł'odeeche First Nation (KFN) chief last November after Heather Coakwell, the electoral officer, determined she did not meet an election code requirement because she was not a reserve resident for two years leading up to the election.

With no one else to run against her, April Martel was acclaimed as chief for another three-year term.

Auger appealed the decision, believing the rule to be discriminatory under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On May 25, Michael Hansen, the election appeals adjudicator, ruled that the First Nation was wrong to exclude Auger from the ballot, and ruled the "acclamation of the chief in the November 2021 election void and null." The adjudicator also ordered that a new election for chief be held.

Martel did not make herself available for an interview, but on Monday the Kátł'odeeche First Nation posted a notice to members on its Facebook page. The notice announces a band meeting to be held on June 9 where council will update members on "the 2021 election appeals and the upcoming byelection for the position of chief."

No date for the byelection was proposed.

The notice also states that KFN council is proposing changes to the two-year residency requirement that was "struck down by the Election Appeals Adjudicator," so that candidates will only have had to live on the reserve for six months instead of two years. It also proposes a change to allow for online voting.

Reasoning behind decision  

During a third-party adjudication in mid-April, KFN's lawyer, Larry Innes, argued KFN has the inherent right to self-government and self-determination.

He argued the charter does not apply because Section 25 states: "The guarantee in this charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any Aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada".

Innis said those rights include the ability to establish residency requirements for candidates through KFN's own laws.

But, Michael Hansen, the appeals adjudicator, didn't agree.

"To find that the charter doesn't apply to Indigenous governments is to rule that when they are on the reserve, Indigenous people are somehow not worthy of the charter's protections because they are Indigenous."

Hansen ruled that Auger's candidacy was unlawfully rejected and that a two-year residency provision in the KFN Election Regulations is unconstitutional. He also declared Martel's acclamation in 2021 to be null and void.

Hansen said in his decision there was no evidence to show that KFN members who live off-reserve are less adequately connected to the land, to the community or to local issues.

"The limit is overly restrictive and therefore not reasonable," he said.

Auger disappointed by KFN's argument

Auger feels the adjudication hearing was an important step forward.

"It shed light on some of the issues we deal within our political system on a daily basis," she said.

Auger expressed disappointment that KFN argued the charter did not apply to them and that members do not have the benefit of basic human rights protections like every other Canadian.

She's hopeful the ruling will help KFN members feel they have a voice and that it'll become an opportunity for members to have a "real debate" about the community's future.

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