Metansinine v. Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishnaabek First Nation et al., 2011 FC 17
Federal Court, January 10, 2011
On January 10, 2011, the Federal Court found in favour of the applicant, Yvette Metansinine, and set aside a decision removing her as the Chief of the Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek First Nation (AZA) as well as the concomitant election of the Respondent, Theresa Nelson.
AZA is presently governed under the terms of its Master Policy, setting out the terms and conditions of membership, band elections and financial management. The Policy provides that a position on Council becomes vacant when the official is absent from three consecutive Council meetings without authorization from a quorum of Council. When the position of Chief is vacated, the Band Administrator must convene an emergency community meeting to fill the position. The Band Administrator must give notice of the emergency meeting where nominations will be accepted and a by-election held.
Chief Metansinine was elected as Chief 1997 and has continuously held office since then. She was most recently re-elected in a March 6, 2010 general Band election where she defeated her opponent, Theresa Nelson, by a margin of 100 votes to 83 votes.
At a Band meeting in April 2010, Theresa Nelson made a number of accusations about the conduct of Chief Metansinine. As a result of the allegations made at the meeting, Chief Metansinine sought medical attention and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In May, Chief Metansinine provided a medical note stating that she would be off work indefinitely because of severe, acute anxiety and depression. She did not seek authorization from her political colleagues for any absences from Council meetings.
During the Chief’s absence, three Band Council meetings took place for which the Chief received no notice. Then, during a open forum discussion with band members, the Chief’s absences were discussed. As a result of the comments of some band members, the Band meeting was recessed in order for the Band Council to deliberate. When the open forum resumed, the Band Council announced that they had decided to vacate the position of Chief due to Chief Metansinine’s unauthorized absences from its three previous meetings. It also authorized an immediate emergency community meeting for the purpose of holding a by-election.
The Band meeting was then adjourned, followed immediately by the convening of an “emergency meeting for the purposes of filling our leadership position here today”. Theresa Nelson and another candidate were nominated and in the ensuing vote Ms. Nelson was elected by a margin of 49 to 41. Chief Metansinine was never notified that her position as Chief was in jeopardy during any of the band meetings.
The Federal Court found that the Band Council’s decision to remove Chief Metansinine from elected office and to conduct a Band by-election was not carried out in conformity with the principles of procedural fairness, it was also not keeping with the election provisions of the AZA Master Policy, or any prevailing customary practices.
The Court held that the requirement for explicit notice to a person whose rights are in jeopardy is a fundamental component of the duty of fairness. The requirement to give notice of an election to all eligible voters is equally fundamental to the proper exercise of the rights of the electorate in any democratic institution. The Court found that what took place in this instance was a profound breach both of Chief Metansinine’s right to argue against her removal by the Band Council and of the rights of those members of the Band who were effectively disenfranchised by the failure to give them notice of the resulting by-election.
Therefore, the Court set aside both the Band Council Resolution purporting to remove Chief Metansinine from office dated June 5th, 2010 as well as the resulting election of Theresa Nelson as Chief of AZA. The Court declared that Chief Metansinine continues to be the lawfully elected Chief of AZA.