A group of Liard First Nation citizens want Canada’s federal court to step in to ensure a regularly-scheduled election will take place.
In a statement of claim filed on Oct. 18 in Vancouver, 11 Liard citizens are asking the court for a declaration that Chief Daniel Morris and his councillors breached their fiduciary duties to Liard citizens by not preparing for the election.
They want the court to order Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to release election funding to an independent election committee they formed.
And they want the court to recognize the legitimacy of the election committee.
Morris has missed several deadlines to prepare for the election, including setting up an election committee to oversee the vote.
And despite the fact that two councillors resigned in 2013, and the deputy chief stepped down in 2016, no byelections were called to fill the vacant seats, the statement of claim says.
Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Governance has emerged as the de-facto opposition to Morris. In September, Kaska Concerned organized a special meeting and formed an independent election committee comprised of six people.
But INAC has refused to say whether it would recognize the committee’s legitimacy and pay for the election.
Six of the plaintiffs are members of the election committee. The five others are Kaska elders, including Alfred Chief, who has been critical of a resource negotiation deal Morris signed in January with the Yukon government.
“In 1992 we held two referendums for the ability to chose our own leader,” Chief told the News on Tuesday. “Looks like we’ll have to do that again.”
LFN citizens at the time were asked whether they agreed to move away from the hereditary chief system, Chief said.
It’s not the first time Liard citizens have taken their own government to court.
Back in 2003, Chief filed a lawsuit against LFN. Morris had stepped down as chief after Yukon territorial court convicted him of beating his former partner.
The deputy chief at the time took over the position of chief and didn’t want to call an election, Chief said.
“This one is going to be a no-brainer,” he said. “What court will fight against people fighting for a democratic process that was agreed upon?”
The group wants the court to force INAC to give election funding to the election committee.
It also needs the list of eligible voters, which it says Morris and the remaining two councillors have refused to provide.
INAC has agreed to give the committee the list in case the current chief and council refuse to provide it.
The group says it will respect timelines set out in the First Nation’s election legislation, but because Morris’ term expires Dec. 16, they want the ability to revise election timing.
If the election takes place after Dec. 16, Kaska Concerned wants the court to declare the office of chief and the two council seats vacant and bar Morris from using the LFN bank account.
When asked whether they would recognize the election committee, INAC ignored the question and stuck to recycled talking points.
“When First Nations select their leadership in accordance with their custom election process, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada cannot intervene to resolve governance disputes nor can it interpret or enforce a custom code’s provisions,” a spokesperson told the News.
The department said it was “committed to working with First Nations leaders to ensure that their elections are fair, open and transparent” though it didn’t specify how it was doing that in the Liard case.
Despite repeated requests for comments Morris didn’t return the News’ calls by press time Wednesday.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org