Court challenge could delay Alexander First Nation election

The upcoming election at Alexander First Nation is up in the air as an Alberta judge considers a last-minute injunction that would give off-reserve members the right to cast a ballot, CBC News has learned.

Band members were supposed to return to the polls Monday after results of a July 13 election were overturned.

Instead, a notice issued Friday afternoon advised band members that a federal court is considering a motion to delay the election for 40 days. The decision is expected to come over the weekend.

“Sandra Relling has applied to the courts to give all Alexander members the right to vote, regardless of residency,” reads the notice signed by Relling and lawyer Angela Ashton.

The notice explains that Relling applied for the delay to have “Alexander Tribal Government Customary Election Regulations changed so that where you live does not affect elector eligibility.”

About half of Alexander’s 2,223 members live off-reserve.

In July, Alexander members voted to return chief Kurt Burnstick to power along with three of the six councillors.

The following month, an appeal board ruled that a regulation requiring the unanimous consent of chief and council for an early election call had been violated.

‘Setting people up for failure’

But that wasn’t the only challenge. Band member Rodney Yellowdirt and others argued off-reserve members should be eligible to vote. The appeal board didn’t rule on their challenge.

“What kind of decision is the appeal board making?,” asked Yellowdirt, criticizing officials for going ahead with a new election based on the same rules. “They’re setting people up for failure.”

Yellowdirt, who first challenged voter eligibility rules in 2011, characterized the rules as discriminatory.

He pointed out that many members are forced to leave the reserve due to lack of housing. They also leave the reserve to pursue careers or education, he said.

The election squabbling is just the latest challenge on the reserve, 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Last year, police charged Burnstick with sexual assault, prompting a protest in the community calling for his resignation.

A financial review conducted for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada identified more than $5.3 million in payments lacking sufficient supporting documentation between April 2010 and March 2016.

Shane Arcand tried to vote in July. But a video shows election officials prevented him from casting a ballot because he currently lives in Edmonton.

“It’s one of my rights that I’ve always been able to vote, that I’ve always had a say in what was happening in the community and that’s been taken away from me,” said Arcand, adding he has voted in every election since he was 21.

Arcand said he tried to clarify whether he was eligible to vote prior to his trip to the ballot box, but couldn’t reach election officials.                  @andreahuncar

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