Complaint dismissed in its entirety. A Cree woman and member of Cold Lake First Nations, submitted a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission that she was discriminated against contrary to her race, national or ethnic origin and family status in rejection of her band council nomination. Further, she submitted that the Nation retaliated due to her filing this complaint, by reassigning her daughter’s future house to another member of the Nation.
In 2016, Bonnie West, a First Nations Cree woman and member of Cold Lake First Nations [“CLFN”], attempted to stand for election as councillor to sit on the CLFN band council. Her nomination was rejected by the elections officer, and Ms. West filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which was referred to the Tribunal in 2019. She alleged that she was discriminated against contrary to section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act [“CHRA”] in the provision of services by the Nation on the grounds of her race, her national or ethnic origin, and her family status. Ms. West has also amended her complaint, adding an allegation of retaliation by CLFN, contrary to section 14.1 of the CHRA. Her daughter was not given access to a new house in the community, in contrast to what had been planned. Ms. West believes that CLFN acted in this manner in retaliation against her filing her complaint.
CLFN is a First Nations community in Alberta with a population of about 3,000 members both on and off the reserve. In 1986, CLFN adopted the Cold Lake First Nations Election Law [“1986 Election Law”], which was approved by order of the former Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. In the 2016 election for CLFN’s chief and band council, a member of the Nation nominated Ms. West to run for election as a councillor on the band council. After she was nominated, another member of the Nation protested Ms. West’s nomination. The protest alleged that Ms. West was not a direct descendant of original treaty citizens, contrary to the 1986 Election Law. The elections officer at the time had to consider the matter and determine whether Ms. West fulfilled the requirements.
Even though the 1986 Election Law does not clearly stipulate what is meant by “original treaty citizens”, the evidence establishes on a balance of probabilities that this expression refers to the signatories of Treaty No. 6. He asked Ms. West to provide him with a document, specifically an affidavit supporting her nomination, within 48 hours. Ms. West filed a short sworn statement with the elections officer, in which she declared before a commissioner of oaths that she was eligible to stand as councillor given that she was a direct descendant of original treaty citizens. The evidence reveals that no other documents were submitted, such as Ms. West’s family tree or the document confirming her North American Indian Blood Quantum as she did at the hearing. The elections officer found that Ms. West did not fulfill the requirements. After receiving the elections officer’s decision by email, she asked him which additional documents were needed to establish that she could stand as a candidate for election. The evidence reveals that Mr. Adam did not answer her question.
Ms. West is challenging the rejection of her nomination, which resulted from the verification of whether she met the eligibility criteria set out in the 1986 Election Law. In applying the 1986 Election Law and the candidate eligibility criteria, the officer was merely ensuring that Ms. West met or complied with the criteria established by the Nation when it created and passed its own election law. Therefore, it appears that Ms. West’s challenge is more an issue with the 1986 Election Law itself and its selection criteria (Forward v Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2008 CHRT 5).
In this matter, the band council exercised its authority by enacting its own 1986 Election Law within its jurisdiction, which falls within the federal sphere (Francis v Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, 2003 FCT 115 (CanLII)). The fact that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development allowed CLFN, by order in council, to adopt its own election law does not render the 1986 Election Law immune from scrutiny under the Charter (Ratt v Matchewan, 2010 FC 160 [“Ratt”]; Taypotat v Taypotat, 2013 FCA 192). The type of challenge Ms. West has brought should have been brought in the right forum, the Federal Court. The Federal Court has jurisdiction over the officer’s actions as well as over matters relating to the Nation’s elections (Ratt; Ballantyne v Nasikapow, 2000 CanLII 16594 (FC)). This jurisdiction of the Federal Court also extends to reviews relating to the application of the Charter and section 15, regarding equality rights.
Ms. West alleged that she was a victim of retaliation under section 14.1 of the CHRA. The preponderance of evidence does not support Ms. West’s claims. Her daughter lives in the CLFN community and she was informed by a consultant for the Nation that she was to receive a house to replace the one she was living in. Reasons for reassigning the house to another member of the community were provided and were credible.