Yukon Supreme Court upholds residency rule for Vuntut Gwitchin chief and councillors

Whitehorse resident Cindy Dickson argued that a residency rule for election to Vuntut Gwitchin chief and council violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Whitehorse resident Cindy Dickson argued the rule violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation changed the residency requirement at its general assembly in 2019. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

A Vuntut Gwitchin citizen has lost her court challenge to the First Nation's requirement that the chief and council members must live in Old Crow, Yukon, to hold office.

Whitehorse resident Cindy Dickson had said the residency rule violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dickson was one of two citizens blocked from running for councillor in the Vuntut Gwitchin 2018 election.

In 2019 the First Nation amended the rule to say non-residents could run, but must move to Old Crow within two weeks of being elected to office.

Dickson challenged the law in court. She said that for a number of reasons, including her son's medical condition, it was necessary for her to live in Whitehorse.

Cindy Dickson challenged the residency requirements for Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation councillors in court. She tried to run for a position in 2018, but her nomination was rejected because she lives in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Cindy Dickson)

Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale heard the case.

In a ruling released this week, he said the Vuntut Gwitchin can require council members to live in Old Crow.

"In my view," Veale said, "it cannot be discriminatory to require a legislator to reside in the Settlement Lands which will be the focus of the legislative function of chief and council."

He said Dickson's right to vote in First Nation elections is not hindered by the residency rule.

However, Veale said the 14 days to move to Old Crow after an election rule was not legal, adding "it would create a rather Draconian time limit that could result in an arbitrary disenfranchisement of a nonresident citizen who has every intention of complying with the residency requirement."

He declared the condition to be of no force and effect and suspended his declaration for 18 months to allow the Vuntut Gwitchin government to review its election rules.

The First Nation is also protected by a section of the Charter that says the Charter cannot be used to detract from or do away with '"other rights or freedoms that pertain to aboriginal peoples of Canada,"' Veale said.

The Vuntut Gwitchin had argued it was not subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms saying its citizens already had rights guaranteed them in its own constitution in matters related to the Vuntut Gwitchin government.

Veale did not accept that argument. He said all citizens of Canada are protected by the Charter.

Dickson said she wants to review the court ruling before making any comments.