A petition to overturn the Tk'emlups band election was dismissed on Tuesday by a judge who said it did not meet the band's regulatory requirements.
Judge Christopher Cleaveley said band member Marie Baptiste's petition was not filed within the 15-day time frame specified by the band's custom election regulations.
He agreed, however, to her request for the return of a $500 deposit, accepting that her challenge was made in the community's interest.
"The reality was, this was a clerical error that unfortunately could be made again, regardless of this court case," Cleaveley said after delivering his decision.
Baptiste filed her petition on Nov. 27, 2012, two days after the 15-day time limit lapsed. At the time, she thought that band election packages mailed to 377 off-reserve voters contained erroneous election dates, which could have unduly influenced the ballot outcome. As it turned out, only 50 of the packages contained the wrong dates.
Cleaveley noted that electoral officer Marcus Hadley, an independent contractor working for the band, pinpointed the source of the error. An assistant contacted Hadley while he was out of town to report that they were short one batch of election packages. He e-mailed a voter instruction sheet and instructed her to take steps to make up for the shortfall, which led to the mistaken date.
When an off-reserve voter called to point out the discrepancy, it was too late in the process to rectify the error in time for the election.
Baptiste knew of the error as early as Nov. 21 and could have filed a petition in time, Cleaveley said. She also erred in the wording of her petition by not providing a relief allowed under the custom election regulations. She petitioned for the election of chief and council to be set aside and new elections to be held, but the regulations do not grant that authority to the court, Cleaveley ruled.
"I do not fault Ms. Baptiste with the less than perfect wording of the petition," he said.
Baptiste represented herself throughout the proceedings with former band councillor Evelyn Camille at her side.
Lawyer David Paul, acting for the band, argued that Baptiste should have to pay the band's costs as well.
"We're asking for costs in this case," Paul said, citing a figure of $3,500. "The band has been put to great expense, your honour, and not only for that, but with the stress of something like this hanging over their heads."
"But you can't blame Ms. Baptiste for that, can you?," the judge responded. "This was a substantive issue …. I think Ms. Baptiste did the band and the community a great service."
Outside court, Baptiste and Camille said they intend to press for a review and update of the election regulations.
"This has been brought up in every election," Camille said. "It's an old issue. Every time chief and council get in, it's just shoved aside."
Chief Shane Gottfriedson indicated that might occur in the course of other bylaw revisions.
"When you challenge our governance laws, that's something that's always worrisome," he said of the petition process.