The one-man appeals committee for the Acho Dene Koe First Nation’s election took the unusual step of issuing a statement on Thursday with the identity of the chief still undecided.
Preliminary results suggest Chief Gene Hope retained his position by three votes over nearest challenger James Duntra. However, Duntra has appealed regarding alleged problems related to online and mail-in voting, while former chief Floyd Bertrand appealed as he believes the election was not properly held.
The matter will not be decided until June 5 at the earliest. On that date, the appeals committee – which consists only of Yellowknife lawyer Garth Wallbridge – will hear those appeals after adjourning the hearing for two weeks from May 22.
In a news release on Thursday, Wallbridge said he adjourned the hearing as he had “not provided reasonable notice to Chief Hope about the allegations against him.” Duntra, according to Wallbridge, has raised concerns about Hope’s actions during the election period. The detail of that complaint was not provided.
The adjournment allows time for Hope to seek legal advice, Wallbridge said.
The delay has caused further confusion in Fort Liard after the First Nation’s election was already delayed for a year – itself the subject of recent legal action that found the First Nation had no right to postpone its election, despite relying on federal legislation at the time.
Acho Dene Koe First Nation elections rely on a custom election code that appears never to have been ratified by the First Nation’s members. This week, a difference in how that code should be interpreted seems to be emerging.
After Wallbridge decided to adjourn the appeals hearing for two weeks, chief electoral officer Mary Beckett announced that the swearing-in of both chief and council would be delayed until after June 5 to allow those appeals to conclude.
Yet Wallbridge issued a set of recommendations suggesting the swearing-in of councillors should go ahead this week “to remove/reduce any gap in governance.”
The conflicting advice has left some residents struggling to follow what is happening. One wrote to Cabin Radio to ask who decides what happens in this situation: the appeals committee (which recommended councillors be sworn in on May 25) or the chief electoral officer (who ordered the swearing-in be delayed until at least June 8)?
Beckett declined to be interviewed for this report but said she had taken care to apply the First Nation’s election code. She said that as one appeal mentions the council election as well as the election for chief, neither a new chief nor a new council can be sworn in until the appeals conclude.
Boyd Clark, the First Nation’s band manager, confirmed this week that Beckett’s instruction to delay both swearing-in ceremonies had been followed.
“No oath of office was given as no directive was given to do so. No meeting of council was called,” Clark said by email.
“The authority of declaring the results final for the election rests with the election officer. At this time the election officer has not declared the election results final for the April election of ADKFN.
“While the appeals officer provided the recommendation to ratify the results of council at the initial hearing of May 25, the election officer in the interpretation of the election code has determined that council can’t take the oath of office until all appeals have concluded.”
Wallbridge, in his statement, acknowledged he and Beckett differed in their interpretation and application of the code. He said he would not comment further beyond the contents of the statement.
He said the June 5 hearing could result in the preliminary election’s results either being confirmed or overturned. It is possible, said Wallbridge, that a new election for chief could be ordered.
Correction: May 27, 2021 – 15:12 MT. While the appeals committee’s statement set out that former chief Floyd Bertrand’s appeal in part related to his being ruled ineligible to stand, Bertrand contacted Cabin Radio after this report was published to state his appeal is solely related to how the election was conducted. This report has been updated to reflect his definition of his own appeal.