'Widespread' vote buying on Key First Nation, judge says as he throws out 2016 election results

A federal court judge is annulling the results of the 2016 chief and council election on the Yorkton, Sask.-area Key First Nation.

Allegations range from cash bribes to job offers

'There is clear evidence of widespread and openly conducted vote buying activity,' said Judge Robert Barnes. (Google maps)

Vote buying and other improprieties took place during and after the 2016 chief and council election on Key First Nation, says a federal court judge.

"The corrupt practices employed … appear to reflect a long-standing tradition and acceptance by some members of vote buying and other dishonest attempts to influence electoral outcomes," federal Judge Robert Barnes said in a written decision on Wednesday.

He has ordered a new election for the east-central Saskatchewan reserve, which is near Norquay. He ruled to annul the October 2016 election on the politically tumultuous First Nation.

"There is clear evidence of widespread and openly conducted vote buying activity," Barnes wrote.

The allegations include passing money to voters, job offers and promises of work contracts.

Chief and 4 councillors responsible, judge says

Barnes said the election "was sufficiently corrupted by the misconduct" of elected chief Rodney Brass and councillors Glen O'Soup, Sidney Keshane and Angela Desjarlais.

These practices appear to be sufficiently entrenched.- Judge Robert Barnes

Former chief Clarence Papequash, Clinton Key and Glenn Papequash launched the federal court challenge of the election against a large number of respondents, including the band itself.

Barnes rejected an appeal of the original court application, and pinpointed Brass, O'Soup, Keshane and Desjarlais as the driving force behind the "corrupt practices."

Judge chides failure to disclose information

Barnes's ruling comes in the absence of evidence from respondents like Brass and the others on council. Barnes wrote that their failure to provide "long outstanding disclosure" in the case means they must now live with the results. He said evidence from those who witnessed the events went unchallenged.

Barnes noted credibility issues for Brass because he attempted to buy off the applicants by "offering each of them substantial sums of money in return for dubious offers of work" to stop them from proceeding with the federal case.

Long-standing issues with vote buying

In his ruling, Barnes stated the corrupt practices that took place during the election appear to reflect a tradition and acceptance on Key First Nation "by some members of vote buying and dishonest attempts to influence electoral outcomes."

"These practices appear to be sufficiently entrenched that, in the election to follow, rigorous efforts will be required to ensure the integrity of the process," Barnes wrote.

He also questioned the respondents for using the same legal counsel as the band.

"The Band should undoubtedly have been represented by separate, independent counsel whose sole mandate would be to advocate for the best interests of the First Nation and its members," Barnes wrote.

CBC has reached out to the parties involved in the court appeal as well as the Key First Nation and has not yet received comment.

CBC has not been able to confirm when a new election would take place.