RCMP charge former Liberal candidate over use of proxy ballots

The RCMP have charged a former Liberal candidate in the 2016 territorial election with violating the Yukon Elections Act.

The RCMP have charged a former Liberal candidate in the 2016 territorial election with violating the Yukon Elections Act.

Tamara Goeppel is charged with two counts of aiding or abetting someone to make proxy applications that were not in accordance with the act and one count of inducing someone to falsely declare on proxy applications that they would be absent from the Yukon during the hours fixed for voting.

Goeppel is scheduled to make her first appearance in Yukon territorial court on Feb. 28.

Her lawyer, Richard Fowler, said she is presumed innocent and “intends to fight the charges. She does not believe she has done anything wrong.”

Meanwhile the Yukon Department of Justice is putting some distance between itself and the situation by asking a federal Crown prosecutor to oversee the case, which would normally be handled by a territorial Crown lawyer.

Goeppel made news during the lead-up to last November’s election for helping 10 homeless people apply for proxy ballots.

Those allow voters to pick someone else to cast ballots on their behalf.

Goeppel said she believed this was a way to help people exercise their right to vote.

Proxy ballots are supposed to be for voters who have reason to believe that they won’t be able to vote “because of absence from the Yukon,” according to the act.

At the time Goeppel said she had spoken to homeless people who didn’t know where they were going to be on election day. The process made it too difficult for them to go and vote for themselves, she said.

“A lot of them just chimed in and said, ‘We’re survivors here, we might be in our makeshift shelter somewhere down the highway, we don’t know where we are going to be,’” she told the News ahead of the election.

The Yukon’s chief electoral officer had concerns and an investigation was initiated by Whitehorse RCMP’s general investigation section, which led to the charges. Fowler said his client received her summons to appear in court Feb. 15.

A conviction under the Elections Act comes with a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to a year in jail.

The decision to have a federal Crown prosecutor manage the case was made by the deputy minister of justice, according to a statement from the department.

“In cases which may give rise to an appearance of bias, prosecution matters may be turned over to a prosecutor independent from territorial prosecutions, as was done in this case,” it said.

The department was quick to point out that Liberal Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee has not been involved in the case.

“Ministers are not involved in any of the decision-making on individual prosecutions by government under territorial law and neither the minister of justice nor any other minister or staff was involved in the decision to refer this matter to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to act as prosecutor.”

Goeppel ended up losing the Whitehorse Centre riding to the incumbent, NDP Leader Liz Hanson, by 55 votes.

On Jan. 1 Goeppel was appointed chair of the Central Yukon Assessment Review Board for a one-year term.

The board is one of a handful that adjudicate property assessment complaints made by Yukon property owners.

In a statement Hanson said she hopes the Liberal government will rescind Goeppel’s appointment “until such time as this matter is resolved.”

For now, Premier Sandy Silver is not saying much.

A statement from his office said, “We are aware that the Whitehorse RCMP has concluded its investigation, and that this matter will now proceed through Yukon territorial court. This is a very serious matter. It is important that the Yukon Elections Act is upheld and that the rights of voters are protected.”

When reached by the News Feb. 16 Silver refused to say whether Goeppel would be removed from her position on the review board.

Interim Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said Silver should have removed Goeppel from the election campaign as soon as the allegations came forward.

“I think it reflects badly on the party and politics in general when you have that type of thing going on. It’s damning on everyone.”

The section of the act that Goeppel is accused of breaking is no longer valid in the territory. Amendments approved in 2015 mean the 2016 territorial election was the last one to allow proxy ballots.

From now on only special ballots, which can be cast any time, but must be cast by the voter, will be available to people who will be away on election day.

-With files from Maura Forrest

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com