A federal judge has overturned a Saskatchewan First Nations’ election.
Justice Henry S. Brown has decided to annul the 2020 election of Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Clinton Wuttunee and Coun. Gary Nicotine due to allegations of serious electoral fraud. The community is located roughly 40 kilometers south of North Battleford.
Chief Wuttunee disputes this and said there is a strong likelihood that the March 30 decision will be appealed due to what he calls factual errors.
“The most unfortunate thing is all of the misinformation shared in the community surrounding the appeal and this decision,” Chief Wuttunee said in a statement posted to Red Pheasant Cree Nation’s social media.
“However, because there are ongoing legal proceedings, we are only able to make very limited comments to discuss and clarify everyone’s concerns.”
The case names Chief Wuttunee and all eight councillors, along with band administration and family members of the chief and council.
It was brought forward by Red Pheasant band members Mary Linda Whitford and Alicia Moosomin who allege those named in the case bought votes, forged requests for mail-in ballots, paid electors to request their mail-in ballots, forged mail-in ballot voter declaration forms, forged identity documents and ultimately deceived the community’s electoral officer.
According to court documents, the chief and councilors used “Band Member Assistance,” which provides financial assistance to band members throughout the year, as a defence, saying their needs did not stop during the election.
“The Chief and Councilors therefore should not be faulted for giving money to First Nation members during the Election, provided it seems such assistance is provided as a coincidence and did not entail the purchase of votes,” Brown said.
In his decision, Brown argued that Chief Wuttunee “seriously corroded and compromised” the integrity of the March 20, 2020 election by participating in five instances of serious electoral fraud related to buying votes.
“A First Nation Chief should be expected to be one of the bulwarks of First Nation democracy. Here Chief Wuttunee was not, ”Brown said in his decision.
“I also note Chief Wuttunee authorized the use of band money to pay for the votes of not one but two band members … which in my view are particularly serious electoral frauds.”
Brown also decided to overturn Coun. Nicotine’s election after determining he committed seven instances of serious electoral fraud related to vote-buying.
“Councillors, in addition to First Nation Chiefs are expected to be bulwarks of First Nation democracy. Here Councillor Gary Nicotine failed in this important role, ”Brown said in his decision.
“Councillor Gary Nicotine’s conduct was on a par and only slightly less egregious than that of Chief Wuttunee.”
Based on the balance of probabilities, the judge dismissed the case against Couns. Lux Benson, Jason Chakita, Mandy Cuthand, Dana Falcon, Henry Gardipy, Samuel Wuttunee and Shawn Wuttunee after determining they engaged in “serious electoral fraud, but on a lesser scale.”
Brown also found that, based on the balance of probabilities, supporters of Couns. Leroy Nicotine Jr. and Shelley Wuttunee took part in “multiple instances of serious electoral fraud,” but the First Nations Election Act gives no legal remedy.
In the statement posted to social media, Chief Wuttunee calls the decision a “temporary setback” and said leadership still in office will continue to work on important Red Pheasant Cree Nation business matters.
CTV News reached out to Red Pheasant Cree Nation for further comment, but was told they are unable to provide additional information at this time.