Linklater v Thunderchild First Nation, 2020 FC 899

The Thunderchild First Nation Government is enjoined from continuing with and holding a by-election for Headman in order to fill the vacant position left by the removal of the Applicant, until the determination of his application for judicial review or further Order of the Court.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

The Applicant, Mr. Linklater, was elected Headman on the Thunderchild First Nation Council in late 2018. He was required to reside on Thunderchild First Nation reserve lands or Treaty Land Entitlement lands, or to move there within 30 days of the election (Thunderchild First Nation Election Act [“Election Act”]). Mr. Linklater considers this residency requirement to be contrary to s 15 of the Charter since it represents an unjustified violation of his right to equality as a citizen of a First Nation living off reserve. He also considers it to be a remnant of colonial structures, and of similar discriminatory provisions once in force in provisions of the Indian Act that were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada (Corbiere v Canada (Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs), [1999] 2 SCR 203 [“Corbiere”]).

In 2019, a citizen of Thunderchild First Nation, asked the Thunderchild First Nation Government to remove Mr. Linklater from his position for failure to meet the residency requirement. It responded that it had no authority to do so because it also considered the residency requirement to be contrary to the Charter. Along with another citizen of Thunderchild First Nation, applications were brought to the Thunderchild First Nation Appeal Tribunal [“Tribunal”] to have Mr. Linklater removed from his position. Among other arguments, it was noted that a 2019 referendum in Thunderchild First Nation proposing various amendments to the Election Act, including the removal of the residency restriction, had not passed.

In 2020, the Tribunal issued a decision removing Mr. Linklater from his position for failure to meet the residency requirement. In its decision, the Tribunal decided it did not have jurisdiction under the Thunderchild First Nation Appeal Tribunal Act [“Tribunal Act”] to strike sections of the Election Act because they violate the Charter. It therefore did not address Mr. Linklater’s Charter arguments. The Tribunal ordered that a by-election be held as soon as possible to fill the position vacated by its removal of Mr. Linklater. Mr. Linklater has challenged the Tribunal’s decision on the application for judicial review. He alleges that the Tribunal did have jurisdiction to decide his Charter arguments, and that it should have decided that the residency requirement was unconstitutional. In this motion, Mr. Linklater seeks an injunction stopping the by-election until his application for judicial review can be heard and decided.

This Court orders that the by-election to fill the vacant seat for Headman on the Thunderchild First Nation Council be halted while Mr. Linklater’s Charter challenge to his removal from that seat is before the Court. This Court should not lightly interfere with elections directed by First Nations governments and tribunals. There is significant consideration given, however, to the fact that Mr. Linklater’s request is not opposed by either the Thunderchild First Nation Government or those who requested his removal. There is no other Thunderchild First Nation decision-maker who can grant the relief sought. This order does not grant Mr. Linklater’s challenge to his removal, nor does it reinstate him in his role as Headman, either temporarily or permanently. This order only seeks to avoid the harm that would arise from someone else being elected Headman while the question of Mr. Linklater’s removal remains outstanding.

This Court has confirmed that the Applicant has met the three-part test that applies to injunctions seeking to halt Indigenous elections (RJR-MacDonald Inc v Canada (AG), [1994] 1 SCR 311; Awashish v Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan, 2019 FC 1131). Mr. Linklater has already lost his seat. He does not on this motion seek reinstatement; he seeks that remedy among others on the underlying application for judicial review. However, if another Headman is elected to that seat, Mr. Linklater may be excluded from acting as Headman until the next election in late 2022, regardless of the outcome of this application. This would amount to irreparable harm resulting from the by-election itself, over and above any harm already incurred as a result of the order removing him from his seat as Headman.

The balance of convenience favours granting the requested injunction. The particular harm to Mr. Linklater if the injunction is not granted is significant. The broader interests of self-governance and democratic principles are of fundamental importance, but are attenuated in the particular circumstances of this case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.