The MoCreebec Council of the Cree Nation is demanding a new Grand Council election, based on the failure to provide voting stations in northern Ontario for the estimated 500-700 eligible Quebec Cree beneficiaries living there.
In a letter to Chief Returning Officer John Henry Wapachee signed by seven members of the council, the organization says the Supreme Court of Canada’s Corbiere decision entitled them to a vote in the hotly contested Aug. 28 election.
“We acknowledge that fellow beneficiaries were able to participate in the elections in locations such as North Bay, Ottawa, among other locations, yet no effort was made to allow for our participation here in Cree territory, effectively denying our right to participate in this election,” the MoCreebec council wrote Sept. 9. “As a result, we contest the lack of a notice of an election; the absence of a voting station; all of which results in the violation of our rights, affirmed by the Supreme Court in Corbiere, to participate in the elections of the GCCEI/CRA.” “We register with you our strongest objection to such a gross violation of our rights and therefore ask you to call for a new election.” The letter is signed by MoCreebec chief Randy Kapashesit, Archie Hester, Allan Jolly, Michael Morrison, George Small Jr., Clifford Trapper and Dorothy Winne.
According to an Assembly of First Nations factsheet, the 1999 Corbiere decision ruled that treating people differently based on where they live is discrimination. “Denying the vote to members because they live off the reserve is a form of discrimination,” says the factsheet. “Corbiere determined that voting rights could not be discriminatory.” But Chief Returning Officer John Henry Wapachee says the case is closed. “It all comes down to one thing: I have already certified the elections, on the 29th and the recount,” he told the Nation. “As far as my mandate is concerned, it is pretty much completed; what I was asked to do.
But Wapachee maintains the elections were conducted openly and fairly. “It’s fair for me to say that these people [the MoCreebec Council] never indicated to me their preoccupation with the process,” he noted. “From my standpoint, I believe the elections were carried out in a manner consistent with the current legal and administrative requirements, as they were consistently carried out in the past.” Wapachee said he had already declared the election closed prior to receiving the letter from MoCreebec. “And it’s not within my mandate to entertain a request for new elections…. Again, they never indicated to me their preoccupation with this process. But it was never clear to me what exactly their preoccupation is.” Grand Council executive director Bill Namagoose echos the sentiment. “Voters have an obligation to be proactive,” he said. “They should have notified us when the election notices were posted.”
Nonetheless, Namagoose held out hope that the Grand Council bylaws may be changed in the future, calling the lack of a voting station for the MoCreebec people an “oversight.” In this case, however, Namagoose said the Grand Council must stand by the returning officer’s decision, though he noted Wapachee does not have the authority to call for a new election.
Finally, he questions whether the MoCreebec Council is acting on a “political motive.” “The fact is they were not proactive and they waited for the results,” he said.