Edmonton

Fort McMurray First Nation councillor reinstated by federal court

A federal judge has reinstated a Fort McMurray First Nation councillor, ruling the council did not have the authority to suspend her.

Samantha Whalen was suspended with pay for 'wrongful conduct' in January

Fort McMurray First Nation councillor Samantha Whalen was suspended by her colleagues following a protest in January. (David Thurton/ CBC)

A federal judge has reinstated a Fort McMurray First Nation councillor, ruling the council did not have the authority to suspend her.

Coun. Samantha Whalen was suspended with pay in January for "wrongful conduct," following a protest which blocked access to the First Nation's office.

The protesters were demanding a new election, arguing the leadership of the First Nation, with the exception of Whalen, had failed members on fiscal and transparency issues.

Whalen said she is relieved the court process is over, but frustrated it got as far as it did.

"We don't get to suspend a councillor because we can't agree on a set of facts ... or there's rumours, gossip and speculation," Whalen said Monday. "It has to be fact-driven."

The decision shows that as a councillor, she is not in an "employee and employer" relationship, but rather is working for the people, she said. 

In his decision Friday, Federal Court Justice Sébastien Grammond stated the First Nation's election regulations only allow for the suspension of a councillor in limited circumstances and those circumstances "do not apply in this case."

Grammond stated the judgment, however, should not be taken as an opinion on a separate legal action relating to a  lawsuit Whalen filed in Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench over expenses and bonuses paid to the chief, several councillors and other band staff.

Whalen has alleged the misappropriation of more than $1 million of the band's funds.

The defendants deny the allegations, none of which have been proven in court.

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