The Acho Dene Koe First Nation appears to have ignored a last-ditch demand from a lawyer to schedule a new election before a deadline of 3 p.m. on Friday July 23.
April’s election for chief of the First Nation, in the Northwest Territories hamlet of Fort Liard, was annulled by a one-man appeal committee in June.
That committee, comprising lawyer Garth Wallbridge, ordered the staging of a new election as soon as possible, said former chief Floyd Bertrand must be allowed to run should he choose, and instructed that returning officer Mary Beckett be replaced.
The First Nation, which has so far not called a new election, said its council was seeking court approval to potentially challenge Wallbridge’s order once it reviewed the full rationale for his decision. Wallbridge issued that rationale on Friday.
Orlagh O’Kelly, who represents appellants Bertrand and James Duntra – who lost to incumbent Gene Hope by three votes according to April’s preliminary results – on Thursday wrote to the First Nation, accusing its council of unduly interfering in the election process.
While the election for chief remains contested, the councillors elected earlier this year have now been sworn in. That new council, O’Kelly told the First Nation, “has no jurisdiction in this matter” and should remain neutral.
“It is arguably a breach of their fiduciary obligation to expend band resources to fight Gene Hope’s battle,” O’Kelly wrote to the council through its lawyer, Madelaine Mackenzie.
O’Kelly threatened further court action unless councillors “comply with the order” issued by Wallbridge “and call an election immediately and no later than July 23, 2021 at 3 p.m. MST.”
Boyd Clark, the First Nation’s band manager, said he had no comment on both O’Kelly’s letter and the potential of setting a new date for the election.
As of 3:20 p.m. on Friday, the First Nation had made no statement via its usual method of communication, Facebook.
Distributing the full rationale for his decision to order a new election for chief, Wallbridge said Bertrand had been wrongly deprived of the chance to run and restrictions on voting hours had not been made clear.
“This was sufficient to create reasonable confusion,“ said Wallbridge, as members may have tried to vote online beyond the 8pm deadline without knowing such a deadline existed.
Eight members reported problems voting online on polling day and couldn’t reach Beckett, the returning officer, for help, Wallbridge stated.
Wallbridge said Beckett had “lost the confidence of a substantial number of members of the First Nation” and should not oversee the First Nation’s future elections as members may question the “perception of a fair and impartial election.”
Attempts to reach Beckett on Friday were unsuccessful.
Bertrand had previously been told he could not run for chief as he owed the First Nation money. Wallbridge said that decision did not stand up to scrutiny, in part because the amount of the debt had not been established beyond doubt and there was “scant” evidence to prove its existence.