Burns Lake band chief election being contested in court

Member of Burns Lake band claiming he was unable to vote

  • Sep. 8, 2021 12:00 a.m.

The results of the election for the chief of the Burns Lake Band which was held on Apr. 14, 2021 is being contested in federal court. The election was won by Clayton Charlie with 24 votes, followed by Albert Gerow with 23 votes Ryan Tibbetts with 22 votes and Dan George with four votes.

READ MORE: Burns Lake band elects Clayton Charlie as Chief

Kelsey Lorentz, a member of the Burns Lake Band, filed the claim contesting the results of the election on May. 13, 2021, stating that he hadn’t received his ballot in time for the election.

Because the election was won by a single vote, Lorentz claims that his vote would have changed the outcome. According to federal court files, Lorentz said in his claim that he was unable to vote due to the mistakes made by Electoral Officer Loreen Suhr as well as interference by candidate Charlie and their actions had a direct impact on the outcome of the election.

Lorentz stated in the claim that he had emailed Suhr on Feb. 23, 2021 to request a voting ballot, and after a month without receiving it he sent another request. Suhr allegedly confirmed to Lorentz that another ballot had been sent on Apr. 7, 2021. Lorentz claims that he received another email the following day from Suhr, stating that candidate Charlie would be arranging a courier to drop off and pick up ballots in person.

According to court files, Lorentz’s claim states that Charlie messaged him on Apr. 10, 2021, telling him that he was in possession of his voting package, and the two arranged to meet in Vernon, B.C. on Apr. 12, 2021. During this conversation, Lorentz said that Charlie asked to guarantee his vote in the election, to which he replied that he wasn’t sure who he was voting for. Lorentz stated in the claim that he ended up being busy on the day they were supposed to meet, and asked if his sister could pickup the ballot, but Charlie said that he wasn’t allowed to hand it off to a third party and went to Chilliwack instead to pick up another ballot.

Charlie allegedly told Lorentz that he would try to come back to Vernon to drop off his ballot, but Lorentz never heard from Charlie again and was unable to cast a vote in time for the election because he still hadn’t received a ballot by mail.

Lorentz believes that Charlie being deputized by Suhr to assist in delivering and collecting mail-in ballots is a conflict of interest since he was a candidate. Charlie was also allegedly delivering and collecting marked ballots at the same time and in doing so, requiring electors to vote in his presence or immediate vicinity, which is a violation of the First Nations Elections Act (FNEA).

Furthermore, Lorentz said in his claim that in addition to himself, nine other electors were denied their right to vote due to various issues receiving ballots in the mail in time for the election, and that any one or combination of these electors would have been likely to have affected the result of the election.

Lakes District News spoke to Chief Charlie about the allegations. “I feel confident that the election process was done appropriately and up to the standards of the FNEA. I’m excited about moving forward with this community in a productive and respectful way,” he said.

Lakes District News also reached out to Suhr, who declined to comment on the allegations.

The claim was converted to an application by the federal court on Aug. 10, 2021, and will be heard in court in Vancouver at a time to be fixed by the judicial administrator. No decision has been made yet on the legitimacy of the election, as the case is ongoing.

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Eddie Huband
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Burns Lake Lakes District News