Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Eddy Tallman didn’t have to have the judge’s decision in his hand yesterday before he started campaigning for chief of the Whitefish Lake First Nation (WLFN).
“It’s a long time coming,” said Tallman, who began legal action following the April 12, 2022, band election when his name was not included as a candidate for chief.
On Oct. 24, 2023, federal court Justice Ann Marie McDonald granted Tallman the “opportunity to be considered in the election for Chief.”
She ordered that the band hold an election for the position of chief in the next 45 to 60 days.
Tallman was disqualified from running in 2022 because the housing director would not issue him a letter of residency.
According to the band’s customary election regulations, all chief and council candidates must reside on the northern Alberta First Nation for 12 months prior to the nomination date.
Tallman’s residency was brought into question as he was residing in a house listed in his daughter’s name on the residency list. The house had previously been listed in his name.
In March 2021, the membership administrator re-added Tallman’s name to the residency list. However, when the housing director updated the list in March 2022, he removed Tallman’s name without visiting the residence to check on Tallman’s claims that he had his possessions in the home and did in fact reside there.
The housing director also did not communicate his decision to remove Tallman’s name from the residency list. Without his name on the residency list, Tallman could not be issued a residency letter which would allow him to run as chief.
It took until Nov. 14, 2022 for Tallman’s appeal to be initially dealt with through the process outlined in the customary election regulations. Those same regulations asserted that Tallman’s appeal should have been heard and decided no later than six weeks after the election.
The November decision by the appeal arbitrator said the housing director’s process to assess Tallman’s residency was flawed. However, the arbitrator did not uphold Tallman’s candidacy. Instead, the arbitrator sent the issue back to the housing director for him to reassess.
On Feb. 28, 2023, the housing director upheld his original decision to keep Tallman off the residency list.
A day later, Tallman filed for a judicial review. The issue was argued in front of the federal court on Oct. 11 and McDonald issued her ruling two weeks later.
Read our story here: https://windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/first-nations-custom-code…
In her 23-page judgement, McDonald wrote, “The additional delay that would result in sending the matter back for another redetermination by the housing director is not in the interests of justice and would effectively deny Mr. Tallman any meaningful remedy in relation to the April 2022 election.”
McDonald directed the housing director to issue the letter of residency to Tallman, saying he had offered “no credible evidence” to refuse for a second time to issue the letter.
“I couldn’t have ever imagined it would take this long,” said Evan Duffy, legal counsel for Tallman.
“When you look at the deadlines in the election code, this was required to have all been decided by May 2022. The appeal was not complex and really dealt with a simple factual issue. The delays were remarkable.”
“Our bylaw was just not followed,” said Tallman. “I mean, our bylaw is really straightforward and there was a turnaround time that was just ignored, neglected and really politically driven.”
Duffy says the delay could not be attributed to a single factor.
“It required a number of different parties to seemingly ignore important provisions of the WLFN election code,” said Duffy.
“I think certain parties believed Mr. Tallman would give up if they dragged it out long enough, but that was never going to happen. I think Mr. Tallman was concerned about the precedent it would set in his community if people could arbitrarily be denied the right to run in the election.”
Tallman says he received a lot of support from the community and people he has spoken to are pleased with the decision.
”While it did take a very long time, I think the Court’s decision sends the message that this type of conduct won’t work in the long run,” said Duffy.
McDonald also ordered Whitefish Lake First Nation to cover Tallman's legal fees of $15,000.
Tallman says he will be busy on the campaign trail meeting with people and listening to their concerns.
The successful candidate will conclude the four-year term for chief which began in April 2022.
The present chief is Albert Thunder.
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