Amidst long-standing community divisions, four councillors have been reinstated to the Adams Lake Band council by the Federal Court of Appeal.
Chief Paul Michel held a press conference July 13 to provide his view of the ruling and to talk about next steps.
He explained the appeal court rejected the decisions of the band’s community panel completely, including its prohibiting of the councillors from running for office in 2018. If the petition to remove the councillors were to be pursued further, the panel would have to adhere to stipulations outlined by the court.
Seated at the board table in the band’s administration building in Chase with Chief Michel were Brandy Jules and Ronnie Jules, two of the councillors in question. Absent were Gina Johnny and Doris Johnny, the other two people reinstated.
Most years the band council would be made up of five councillors, and Michel expressed how difficult it’s been to operate band affairs without a quorum.
All four were removed from office by the community panel, a group of five band members who decide, under the band’s elections rules, on all appeals and petitions to dispute an election or remove a band member from office. Petitions must have 10 signatures.
Doris Johnny was elected in February 2015 and removed in December 2015 by the panel, who agreed with a petition alleging she had breached her oath of office. Her challenge of the decision through the Federal Court was rejected. A byelection was held for her position, which Gina Johnny won.
Gina Johnny, along with the two Jules councillors, was removed from office in October 2016 for alleged breach of oath of office.
They, too, unsuccessfully challenged the decision in the Federal Court. Then they went to the Federal Court of Appeal, as did Doris Johnny, which ruled that they be reinstated.
Michel said more communication will have to take place, as the position Doris was to be reinstated to is now occupied by Gina.
At the start of the judges’ reasons for their decision, they made note that “it is important to record the position of the respondent Adams Lake Indian Band on this appeal.”
They point out that when the ousted councillors told the court they were going to appeal, the band stated the appeal should be dismissed, ie: the band opposed the appeal/reinstatement of the councillors.
“However, shortly before the appeal was argued, a notice of change of solicitors was filed,” stated the judges. The new lawyers said the band did not take any position on the appeal, ie: it was no longer opposing the councillors’ position.
The judges considered Doris Johnny’s appeal separately from the other three councillors.
Regarding the three, the judges pointed out that particularly when evidence conflicts, it’s important that every community panel member hear every witness. That did not happen.
They also stated that if a panel member excuses themselves due to a conflict of interest on a matter, they should not be able to rule on other issues related to it. And the judges also stated that the panel’s reasons for a ruling should be spelled out with enough detail that a court can tell if the decision is reasonable.
Regarding Doris Johnny, the judges stated the panel gave no explanation why the comments Johnny had made at a meeting merited her removal. As a result, the judges considered the decision unreasonable.
Asked about the costs of the legal battles and whether the band has been paying for both the band and the formerly ousted councillors, Michel said the costs are still in the hands of the lawyers. He also said: “Some aspects we were paying both sides and some we were not.”
Regarding the future of the community panel, Michel referred the question to Shirley Kine, the band’s executive director, who works with the panel. She said: “We’re working as a committee to address the election rules; there is no provision to remove them currently…”
Michel did say, “there’s almost been 100 per cent approval that our community panel and our customs elections rule is severely flawed and there’s a commitment from our community to amend or eliminate sections that our community has agreed have been the source and foundation of this disunity and chaos…”
Kine added she is “very hopeful of the mending and healing that can come out of this. I think we’ve learned about some of our policies and processes that need to be fixed and I am one of those people who would like to address some of those things that are systemic as opposed to personal…”