Manitoba

Investigator's report suggests Lake St. Martin ballots sold for up to $300

A federal investigation into a complaint about election fraud in a flooded-out Manitoba First Nation alleges that some candidates bought mail-in ballots from community members.

Chief, council dispute findings of probe launched by opponent in June election

A federal probe investigating alleged election fraud in Lake St. Martin is detailed in 90 pages. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

A federal investigation into a complaint about election fraud in a flooded-out Manitoba First Nation alleges that some candidates bought mail-in ballots from community members. 

The 90-page report, obtained by CBC News on Friday, says an investigation into the June 2016 Lake St. Martin election has concluded some candidates were "corrupt in that they purchased mail-in ballots ... and may have committed perjury in addressing the appeal."

The report stems from an election appeal filed by Lake St. Martin band member Roseanne Beardy, who ran unsuccessfully for chief last June.

'Serial witnesses'

​Soon after, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada hired private investigator Bob Norton, a retired RCMP officer, to look into the allegations.

His investigation, relying on interviews and sworn affidavits from band members, concluded ballots were sold for as much as $300 each to Chief Adrian Sinclair and councillors Christopher and Gregory Traverse.

"I have no doubt that mail-in ballots were purchased by successful candidates and submitted to the polling station," Norton wrote. 

The investigation also found there were nine "serial witnesses" who together signed a total of 115 voting documents.

A large number of mail-in ballots were requested and ended up being witnessed at the band office by band office staff on election day, the report states, noting that many members are living on tight Canadian Red Cross allowances.

"There is no other explanation for band members bringing their ballots to the band office other than to sell them and have them completed," Norton wrote. 

Social-media screen grabs included in the report showed band members offering to sell ballots. 

Norton also investigated an allegation that Sinclair had 90 ballots in his possession during the election — an allegation he found couldn't be proven.

'Unfounded allegations'

Sinclair disputed Norton's findings when reached by phone Friday.

"I'm very disappointed. We won by a landslide and that's it," he said before hanging up.

Christopher Traverse said the report's findings are false and the band's lawyer is working on creating a response to the government. "Those are all unfounded allegations," he said.

Chief Adrian Sinclair says allegations of vote-buying are unfounded. (CBC)

CBC was unable to reach Gregory Traverse Friday for comment, but Robyn Gervais, a Vancouver lawyer hired by the Lake St. Martin band, said she's working on creating a response to the government. She wouldn't discuss the allegations.

Norton's report names 38 different people he talked to, including witnesses and the band's seven councillors and chief. 

Vote-buying 'routine' 

Valerie Beardy, one of the witnesses quoted in the report, said she saw a ballot sold for $300 during a barbecue at the makeshift Lake St. Martin School on Ness Avenue in Winnipeg. Beardy told Norton vote-buying is a "routine thing" in her community.

"I have also sold my ballot a few years back," she's quoted as saying in the report. 

Lucy Irene Bruce, a band member who unsuccessfully ran as a candidate in the election, told Norton over the phone that ballots in Lake St. Martin can be sold for as much as $3,000.

The people of Lake St. Martin have been away from their homes since their reserve flooded in May 2011. Above, community members at a February 2017 band meeting in Winnipeg. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

'Need money to run'

Beardy said she wants the federal government to order a re-election so she can run for chief again. "This corruption has to stop, this vote-buying has to stop," Beardy said.

"I was told by other candidates that you're going to need money to run and I knew what they meant — that I would have to buy ballots, but I refused."

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada spokesperson Shawn Jackson said the report was provided to all candidates and the electoral officer, and they have until March 7 to prepare a response. The submissions will be reviewed "to determine whether the election should stand or be set aside," Jackson wrote in an email.

"As in all cases where an election appeal under the Indian Act remains under review, until a decision is made to set aside an election, those declared elected at that election hold office."

The Lake St. Martin First Nation was flooded in 2011. More than five years later, the community remains displaced. Band members are living in Winnipeg in apartments and hotels as they wait for a new reserve to be built.

Allegations of vote-buying in the community have emerged in previous years, including in 2012, which also prompted a report from INAC.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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