Natuashish to appeal decision overturning election

The Innu band council of Natuashish, Labrador, says it will appeal a court ruling that overturned the results of a 2010 band election that the council argues was conducted fairly.

Innu band council argues it was elected fairly

The Innu band council of Natuashish, Labrador, says it will appeal a court ruling that overturned the results of a 2010 band election that the council argues was conducted fairly.

On Monday, the Mushuau Innu First Nation council said in a news release that its members dispute the Federal Court judge's conclusions.

In a court decision released on Jan. 3, Justice Douglas Rennie said the elections had not been conducted properly and should be held again.

Rennie said problems with the election held on March 5, 2010, included a short notice period, the late appointment of a returning officer and the inclusion of dead people on the voters list.

The band council's release said:

  • Rennie stated that vote counting did not commence immediately, and there were not any scrutineers appointed. This is a clear misapprehension of the facts.
  • The decision suggests that the ballot box was not secured after the election and was somehow left in the possession of newly elected Chief [Simeon] Tshakapesh. This misrepresents the facts.
  • Rennie's comments regarding the inclusion of any deceased persons on the voting list is inaccurate and not supported by evidence.

Tshakapesh narrowly defeated the incumbent chief, Prote Poker, by 20 votes.

Poker was among those who filed the court action contesting the results.

The court ordered that the March 2010 election results be set aside and a new election called and conducted within three months.

Rennie ruled that the current band chief and councillors will remain in place until the new vote takes place.

Booze ban controversy

The 2010 Natuashish election was controversial from the outset, largely turning into a referendum on the community's booze ban.

Soon after his victory, Tshakapesh ordered the RCMP in the community to stop enforcing liquor bylaws that came into effect in 2008. Poker, the previous chief, had championed the liquor ban.

A subsequent plebiscite ultimately saw Natuashish residents vote to keep the prohibition in effect.

In court documents, Poker alleged that alcohol was used to buy votes and said the Mushuau Innu First Nation declined to investigate alleged corruption related the 2010 election.

While the judge acknowledged in his decision that "there is also evidence that alcohol was used by candidates on both sides, to influence the outcome," he made no findings with regard to the allegation.

The judge considered arguments that the incumbent chief Poker was involved with some of the decisions that precipitated the unfair election, and should be denied relief by the courts as a result. But Rennie rejected those claims.

"There is an overarching public interest in ensuring that band confidence in band elections is merited, as it strengthens band governance," the judge noted. "In consequence, given the importance of the electoral process, relief will not be withheld."