Federal judge reverses ouster of Thunderchild First Nation councillor

By Nick Pearce

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A federal judge has reversed a decision turfing Thunderchild First Nation Coun. Michael Linklater.

A Thunderchild appeal tribunal panel ousted Linklater for failing to live on the reserve,  a move he said violated his Charter rights.

In a Wednesday decision, Justice Sebastien Grammond revoked the tribunal panel’s call because it didn’t consider Charter concerns over Linklater’s residency requirements.

Applying the Charter to a First Nation’s laws is “controversial,” but the two also aren’t in “complete isolation” from each other, Grammond said. Instead of making any “general pronouncements” on the issue, he aimed to send the matter back to the panel.

He said it will have to consider the case again, if the residents who initially raised concerns want to pursue the matter.

He also didn’t grant Linklater’s request to have the court order a vote on residency requirements, because the court doesn’t “have a general power to call elections or referenda in (a) First Nation,”

his decision stated.

Linklater said he is unaware of when another tribunal panel will be held, and called the decision “a win.”

He said the issues raised over his residency were valid, but the matter continues to be an ongoing question in other First Nations.

Thunderchild’s chief of operations, Winston Walkingbear, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Grammond’s decision noted the First Nation’s government supported Linklater’s position.

Linklater filed an application for judicial review in August after the tribunal panel pushed him off council for failing to meet residency requirements. In an interview at the time, he also suggested creating a council position to represent off-reserve members.

Linklater, who lives in Saskatoon, argued a lack of housing on the First Nation prevents him from living there. In his decision, Grammond noted there’s a 400-person wait list for a home on the First Nation.

Jonathan Jimmy was one of two band members to raise concerns over the issue to the panel. In August, he said Linklater violated a rule requiring any councillors to move to the First Nation within 30 days of being elected.

“If you want to be a leader of Thunderchild, you need to live in Thunderchild,” Jimmy said at the time.

In September, the First Nation almost held a vote replacing Linklater, but a federal judge halted the process a few days before it went ahead.

Linklater was formerly a basketball player with the Saskatchewan Rattlers until he retired in 2019. He was elected to office in 2018 and said he looks forward continuing the role at the First Nation’s next council meeting.

“I’ve spoken to the rest of the leadership and there’s no hard feelings.”

Nick Pearce is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the StarPhoenix. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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