Former Kluane chief tells court his eviction was spurred by political vendetta

Wilfred Sheldon and his brother Derek Johnson were back in court on May 29 in a case against the Kluane First Nation, which evicted the brothers from their homes in February.

Wilfred Sheldon and his brother Derek Johnson were back in court on May 29 in a case against the Kluane First Nation, which evicted the brothers from their homes in February.

The two brothers were sentenced in January for the forcible confinement of Collin Johnson in the summer of 2013. Collin Johnson later committed suicide.

Kluane First Nation council sent to the sentencing hearing a resolution it had passed, stating it wouldn’t be wise to allow the brothers back into the community.

On February 18, KFN changed the locks to Sheldon and Johnson’s homes.

The brothers are now arguing the eviction is part of a bigger political agenda, saying the community is split between two big families: their’s and the chief’s.

They had applied through KFN to enter into a home ownership program. But the program was never completed and neither Sheldon nor Johnson own their respective homes, said Graham Lang, KFN’s council.

Once an application is filed, it has to be approved and a formal contract had to be signed, he said.

“You can’t be half pregnant. Same, you can’t be half homeowner,” he said.

As of today, KFN pays the mortgages for the home as well as insurance and taxes.

“What’s clear is something happened that derailed intention to ownership,” Lang said.

Since they weren’t owners of the house, they had to be under a tenancy agreement, he said.

In 2014, KFN adopted a rental and housing policy, but the Yukon’s Landlord and Tenant Act still applies, Lang said.

The act allows a landlord to terminate a lease if the tenants have vacated the premises, as Sheldon and Johnson did, Lang said.

If the court were to find they hadn’t vacated it, KFN still notified the brothers 30 days in advance that they were terminating the tenancy – a power available under the new housing policy.

“The First Nation disputes the fact it is the result of a political vendetta,” said Lang.

“The situation is unfortunate, but is the result of court action and actions of the brothers,” he said.

A court order currently prevents them from coming back to Burwash Landing.

Sheldon and Johnson are representing themselves in court, with the assistance of Ken Hodgins, who was the executive director of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation for two years.

Hodgins told the court that home ownership is not as black-and-white as Lang makes it sound.

He pointed to problems with the new rental policy adopted by KFN council.

The policy was not adopted during the 2014 annual general assembly, and was instead sent back to council. In the end, council adopted it without consulting its members again, he said.

“The chief can evict somebody without cause – people are only starting to realize that clause,” said Hodgins.

“It invites political abuse,” he said. “This is extraordinary unconventional.”

Citing a newsletter sent out to the community, Hodgins also disputed that the First Nation faces a housing shortage – one of the rationales offered for evicting the brothers. “It has been determined there are enough housing, none will be built in 2015,” he read.

It all comes back to 2008, according to Hodgins, when Sheldon defeated the incumbent chief.

He also denied the home had been vacated, since Sheldon’s family had been sleeping at his house on occasions. Johnson’s family couldn’t do the same due to a break-in that put their safety at risk, he said.

The brothers’ mother, Agnes Johnson, told the court there was a “big line” between both families.

“It will take four generations to heal,” she said.

“My daughter Kathleen Johnson was evicted from her home too,” saying the tension was so high she was afraid to go pick up the mail.

More importantly, KFN is breaching Johnson and Sheldon’s aboriginal rights, Hodgins said.

“They can’t stay in the community they’ve lived in and (they can’t) exercise their traditions,” he said.

The Yukon Human Rights commission also prohibits discrimination on numerous grounds, including criminal records.

“The lead reason (of this) is because they’re bad boys, they’re criminals,” said Hodgins about KFN’s arguments.

Justice Peter Chisholm will render his decision June 26 at 2 p.m.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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