Canada’s Federal Court has ordered the chief of the Blueberry River First Nation to retable a report that seeks to remove him office.
In a June 29 decision, Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagne stayed a June 10 resolution that purported to remove Chief Marvin Yahey, ruling the band’s election bylaw was not properly followed when the report, along with a petition signed by more than 60% of band members, were first presented on June 10.
Gagne ruled the special emergency meeting could only have been convened on a day's notice by the Chief, and that a proper quorum of four was required to meet. That quorum was also required for a second meeting June 17 that removed Yahey as a signing authority for the band and suspended its director of operations.
Gagne ruled the petition was not properly presented, and wrote there would be "irreparable harm" to the band if an injunction against the two resolutions was not granted.
"The balance of convenience favours maintaining the status quo as that is in the best interest of the BRFN who, along with third parties who interact with it, need certainty and predictability in their governance," Gagne wrote.
But Gagne also noted serious allegations of misconduct that band members have made against their chief. The ruling noted an ongoing police investigation into Yahey's alleged misconduct, and that of the band’s director of operations, Merli de Guzman.
As such, Gagne has ordered Yahey to schedule a new meeting within 30 days, and to put the member's report back on the agenda. All councillors have been ordered to attend.
Only three attended the emergency meeting called for June 10, including councillors Robin Ewaskow, Troy Wolf, and Shelley Gauthier, which was said to be quorum, and who received the petition and report from 40 band members in attendance.
Yahey did not attend that meeting, nor did councillors Sherry Dominic and Wayne Yahey. The resolution to remove Yahey passed 3-0.
A date for the new council meeting has yet to be scheduled.
A statement released on behalf of Yahey, and councillors Dominic and Yahey, called the effort to remove Yahey as "unlawful," and said Gagne's ruling "upholds the integrity" of its election bylaw and community code.
A copy of the petition hasn't been produced for verification, and must be done before a meeting can be held, the statement said.
"To be clear, Chief Yahey remains in office, and will continue to work hard to serve the needs of the community during this challenging time," the statement reads.
Gagne has ordered the council not to threaten or intimidate band members who have signed the petition. Many petitioners have spent the last two weeks protesting Yahey outside the band's office in Fort St. John, though that has been temporarily suspended due to the death of an elder.
A change in governance would have major implications for Blueberry River, for both outstanding litigation against the province, and in its treaty land entitlement negotiations, where parcels at Charlie Lake and Red Creek have drawn objections by both residents and band members.
The federal government says it has no hand in a band's community election code, other than to review and record results given to it. Codes are individual to First Nations that do not operate under Indian Act election rules.
The government says disputes must be resolved by provisions in those codes, or by the courts, and that it can provide funding to help settle disputes.
Read the ruling below:
Read the latest statement from Chief Yahey and Couns. Dominic and Yahey:
Read the report to remove Chief Marvin Yahey from office:
Read the petition to remove Chief Marvin Yahey from office:
Read more: Blueberry River votes to remove chief
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.