Vutunt Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) and the citizen who took it to court over a requirement for chief and councillors to reside on settlement land will both be appealing a Yukon judge’s precedent-setting decision on the issue.
VGFN filed an application July 3 for an extension to file an appeal, while Cindy Dickson filed her notice of appeal July 6.
Dickson filed a petition against her First Nation in 2019 over a requirement in the VGFN constitution that anyone running for chief or council must reside on settlement lands.
Dickson, who lives in Whitehorse, had tried to run in the 2018 election but had her nomination forms rejected due to her location.
While the requirement was later changed to say that anyone elected to council must move to settlement land within 14 days, Dickson’s lawyers argued that it was still unfair to VGFN citizens living outside of Old Crow and prevented them from fully participating in government.
The requirement, they said, was a violation of the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing equality rights for all Canadians.
Lawyers for VGFN argued the First Nation had never agreed to the Charter applying to its governance, and that the Vuntut Gwitchin have the right to determine how to govern themselves.
Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale found in a June 8 decision that the Charter did apply to VGFN, but that the residency requirement, minus the part requiring a relocation within 14 days, was not discriminatory.
The deadline to appeal Veale’s decision was July 8; VGFN is asking for an extension to Aug. 10.
In an affidavit filed with VGFN’s extension application, Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said that council was “disappointed” with Veale’s ruling, and particularly with the finding that the Charter applies to the First Nation’s government and constitution.
“I am advised by VGFN elders and VGFN’s former negotiator that the application of the Charter to VGFN self-government was an area of disagreement between VGFN, Canada and the Yukon in the negotiation of our Final Agreement and Self-Government Agreements,” the affidavit reads.
“… I am aware from my position as Chief, and from my participation in meetings of the VGFN General Assembly that the application of the Charter to VGFN without VGFN’s consent is generally opposed by a majority of the VGFN citizens, and the Reasons are of great significance and concern to VGFN as a collective.”
Tizya-Tramm also said in the affidavit that VGFN had held a teleconference with other Yukon chiefs on June 26 to discuss the decision — particularly, that the Charter applies to self-governing Yukon First Nations — with several chiefs speaking about “their concerns in this particular regard, and their interest in participating in a potential appeal.”
The chiefs, however, agreed that more time was needed to consult with advisors and citizens, according to the affidavit.
For VGFN in particular, the affidavit says, COVID-19 has limited its ability to hold large meetings and therefore it must hold smaller ones to ensure it has informed and consulted with as many citizens as possible on the case.
As well, VGFN is currently in a by-election process to fill vacant seats on council, Tizya-Tramm said in the affidavit, and is adhering to a general policy to refrain from making major decisions until the seats are filled. He said he expected the process to be completed in about 45 days.
Dickson’s notice of appeal, meanwhile, is asking for the Court of Appeal to find that VGFN’s residency requirement does, in fact, violate the Charter, isn’t a reasonable limit on rights and is therefore of no force or effect.
In an email July 7, Dickson wrote that she didn’t agree with parts of Veale’s decision.
“As the matter is before the courts, I will refrain from commenting further at this time, but I am open to sharing information with anyone interested in contacting me to help them understand why I ran for Council and why equality is so important,” she wrote.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org