PEI

Injunction puts Abegweit First Nation election on hold

Members of the Abegweit First Nation will not be voting for chief and two councillors Wednesday because of a Federal Court injunction.

Judicial review of voting rules must happen first

The Abegweit First Nation has been without a chief since October 2018 when former chief Brian Francis was named to the Senate. (CBC)

Members of P.E.I.'s  Abegweit First Nation will not be voting as planned for a new chief and two councillors on April 17 because of a Federal Court injunction, according to court documents. 

Abegweit follows a custom election code determined by the community. That code outlines how voting takes place, who can vote and who can run for elected office. 

Off-reserve band members are not allowed to vote in Abegweit band elections, according to the code.

Because of that rule, five band members asked for the injunction to prevent the next election from taking place as scheduled — a judicial review will now have to happen first. 

Two plebiscites, same outcome

Since 2009, Abegweit band councils and some community members have been trying to change the custom rules first established in 1982. 

Abegweit First Nation has been without a chief since Brian Francis was appointed to the Senate last October. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

There have been two plebiscites on the issue. For any change to happen, under the band's custom code there must be 75 per cent support.

The first plebiscite held in 2009 did not result in change.

In a plebiscite on March 25, 2019, in which both off- and on-reserve members voted, 62 per cent supported allowing off-reserve members to vote. That also meant no change.

Judge to weigh custom rules against Charter 

In 2016, the band council requested a judicial review by the Federal Court, believing that not allowing off-reserve members the vote is unconstitutional. But the Federal Court refused to weigh in on the matter at that time. It recommended waiting for the 2019 vote. 

A Federal Court hearing is now set for May 9, which should determine if the custom rules would survive a Charter challenge. 

The Abegweit election will not be held until there is a decision.

In the meantime, the Abegweit First Nation is without a chief. The position has been vacant since October 2018 when former chief Brian Francis was named to the Senate

Court documents list Abegweit's current population at 274 members, with 131 living on-reserve and 143 living off-reserve. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Chapin is an award-winning, multi-platform journalist who works for CBC P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC in Halifax, Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. If you have a story idea to pass on, you can reach her at laura.chapin@cbc.ca.

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