Judge Says Bellegarde Must Be Reinstated As Chief

Thursday, October 01, 2009 at 14:40



A federal court judge has declared that the former chief of Peepeekisis First Nation must be reinstated.


In a decision rendered earlier this week, Justice Russell Zinn said the community’s Council of Elders — who removed Beverly Bellegarde as chief in March — did not have the authority to do so.


The decision says, “There is nothing in the (Peepeekisis) Election Act that sets out how the Council of Elders is selected or its size.”


It adds the group of elders who removed Bellegarde as chief was not “fair, broad-based, or in compliance with the requirements of Peepeekisis.”


The ruling also says the Council of Elders failed to “observe the principles of natural justice,” and that they did not give Bellegarde an opportunity to “defend herself.”


It says Bellegarde was given no notice at all of the March meeting where the council decided to remove her.


“There is no evidence that this council of elders is the council of elders — so it removes their authority entirely,” says Bellegarde’s lawyer, Jeffrey Rath.


“There is another council of elders in place, but the court also said there’s no evidence that they’re the council of elders. So what it demonstrates is the need for the community to come up with a way of resolving these problems that have been in the courts for six years,” Rath adds.


The decision says Bellegarde will have to be reinstated as chief of Peepeekisis First Nation.


Rath says the case sets a precedent to encourage First Nations to set clear election codes.


He says the decision does not define who is an elder — and adds that that was never the intention of the application.


The lawyer representing the Peepeekisis council of elders could not be reached for comment.