Cocaine, marijuana and tens of thousands of dollars in cash were used to bribe voters in a recent Saskatchewan First Nation election, says a report commissioned by the federal government.
In a 19-page report obtained by CBC News, former RCMP officer Bob Norton concluded there is “no doubt” vote-buying occurred during the April 20 election at Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation.
Although Norton didn’t pinpoint a total amount, witness statements pegged it at more than $70,000.
“I am also satisfied, based on what I was told, that marijuana and cocaine was used to purchase ballots in this election,” stated the report.
Indigenous Services Canada, a federal government department, commissioned the report after Mosquito band members appealed the election results.
No time frame
An Indigenous Services Canada official confirmed the report’s authenticity in an email to CBC News. The department will evaluate the report and any other evidence, then decide on any possible action, said the email. There is no time frame for a final decision.
Approximately 650 people inhabit the First Nation located approximately 120 kilometres west of Saskatoon, with another 650 voting band members living off-reserve.
Mosquito has been plagued by frequent election and governance problems. Vote-buying was discovered in its 2013 and 2015 elections, and several Mosquito officials have been convicted of fraud related to band funds.
This appears to be the first time drugs have been linked to the vote buying.
The report said victorious council candidate Joel Starchief gave marijuana to three band members in exchange for their votes.
Drugs for votes
One voter described Starchief giving him $80 and a “20 chunk” of marijuana wrapped in tin foil on two occasions.
“I want you to vote for me. I will give you weed to vote for me,” Starchief said, according to the voter’s account.
The voter replied, “I just went, I said yes. And I volunteered, ya, … I guess I got the weed.”
The report stated Starchief has denied all allegations. Norton did not find him to be forthright, unlike the other witnesses.
A receptionist said Starchief and other councillors were in a meeting Tuesday. Neither he nor Chief Daniel Starchief returned an interview request Tuesday. None of the voters who filed the appeal could be reached Tuesday.
Norton’s report doesn’t cite any other Mosquito candidates by name for violations, but he made it clear the problem runs much deeper.
Afraid to speak out
He talked to nearly a dozen band members, including three elders. They were too afraid to give official statements, but shared details of the election and their lives in the region, he said.
“I understand their reluctance, as they fear for their well being and worry about being refused band benefits for not supporting the incumbents,” Norton said.
According to the report, Norton is president of Norton Security Consulting in Manitoba. He has 25 years of experience as a member of the RCMP and 15 years as a private investigator, including more than a decade overseeing and investigating First Nations elections.