First Nation can require councillors to live in Yukon community: judge

WHITEHORSE -A woman has lost her legal challenge of a rule that requires members of a tiny First Nation in the Arctic Circle to live in the community if they want to serve on its council.

Cindy Dickson asked the Yukon Supreme Court to declare the residency requirement unconstitutional because it means anyone getting elected to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation council must move back to the community within 14 days of winning a seat.

Dickson, who lives 800 kilometres away from Old Crow in Whitehorse, argued the requirement is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lawyers for the First Nation argued the court should have declined to hear the case because it’s a political question in a community of about 260 people that has been governing itself before British sovereignty.

Chief Justice Ron Veale says while the First Nation’s self-government agreement does not override the charter, the band is still within its rights to require an elected official to live in the community.

Veale struck down the 14-day requirement to move to Old Crow, saying it infringed on Dickson’s equality rights but he suspended his decision to give the First Nation 18 months to review the timeline before its next election in 2022.

He says the 14-day requirement “would create a rather draconian time limit that could result in an arbitrary disenfranchisement of a non-resident citizen who has every intention of complying with the residency requirement.”

The court says about 301 members of the First Nation live elsewhere in Canada and primarily in Whitehorse.

“There are many policies, economic, health and education factors that pull Vuntut Gwitchin from their homeland. It is not unreasonable for the Vuntut Gwitchin to promote a policy that enhances and strengthens their homeland,” he says in the ruling issued Monday.

The judge says people in the Vuntut Gwitchin community have suffered displacement and alienation because of colonial laws that were imposed on them, residential schools and resource development without their consent or involvement.

The purpose of the residency requirement is to enhance the community and preserve it for its citizens, he says in the ruling.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.

 

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