Montreal Lake Cree Nation will hold a formal appeals tribunal hearing on Jan. 5 in an effort to break the community’s political deadlock.
On Thursday, the community sent notice of a hearing at the band office in Montreal Lake to help determine a future course of action after disagreements over the legitimacy of a November by-election.
The process has the support of the two men at the centre of the dispute: incumbent chief Ed Henderson, and Frank Roberts, who was elected chief by acclamation in a controversial November by-election.
“It will bring closure to all the uncertainties that are out there,” Roberts said. “It’s the band members who (are) uncertain as to what’s going on and hopefully this will bring closure to the questions that a lot of people are asking.”
“I am confident that this is the best way to go about it,” Henderson said. “The best way to deal with it is to put it back in the membership’s hands.”
The appeals tribunal will be asked to rule on two items. The first is the final eligibility of the candidates in the original March 2017 election, the results of which were tossed out after a different tribunal ruled that Roberts was erroneously prevented from running. The second is the “requirement for a second by-election,” which would be held on Jan. 30.
Henderson called for a second by-election back in December, arguing the community should solve its own problems rather than settle the matter through the Canadian court system.
When reach by telephone on Thursday, Henderson reiterated his support for holding another by-election, and remained optimistic the tribunal would send voters back to the polls.
“I hope it will recognize me as chief (on Friday) and also that we’ll continue on with our general election that will be called for January,” he said.
Roberts was less optimistic than Henderson. He told the Daily Herald he’s not going to assume anything when it comes to the appeals ruling. He did, however, say the process would provide a clear path for the community to move forward and pledged to abide by whatever decision was made.
“Should things go my way (or) should it not go my way, whatever the tribunal decides, I’ll abide by their decision.”
The Montreal Lake election dispute dates back to Sept 11, 2017 when a different appeals tribunal ruled Roberts should have been allowed to run for chief during regular elections earlier in the year. The tribunal added that Roberts could ask for a second by-election, but disagreements developed over whether a 10-day appeal deadline was met in time.
Electoral officer Clifford Bird declared Roberts chief by acclamation after two other candidates pulled out of the by-election. Henderson did not file nomination papers.
The election results were challenged in federal court, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) declined to recognize the election results until the court had ruled. While neither party ruled out legal action during this period, both expressed a desire to resolve the matter without using the court system.
The appeals tribunal is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 5 in Montreal Lake.