The Innu Nation, a group representing two Innu communities in Labrador, has been deemed a public body for the purposes of elections and therefore subject to judicial review.
Previously the group had argued that as a private association, not a federal board, commission or other tribunal, it was not subject to federal court oversight when it came to elections.
However, in an April 3 decision a federal court judge ruled that in holding an election the Innu Nation was exercising public powers, which made it “properly the subject of judicial review.”
“The election of the Grand Chief and councillors of the Innu Nation is not a private matter akin to membership in a club,” said Justice Donald Rennie. “Band councils cannot circumvent judicial review by delegating their functions to an umbrella corporation.”
The federal court decision was made in response to a motion by the Innu Nation to halt the review of a September 2012 election.
The election had become an issue when Simon Pokue, who ran unsuccessfully for position of Grand Chief in 2012, alleged irregularities and illegal activity during the campaign and demanded the results be overturned.
The content of these allegations has yet to be heard, and the April 3 decision was a ruling on whether the court was even allowed to review the allegations.
Legally the Innu Nation is a not-for-profit corporation under the Canada Corporations Act.
The two nations represented by the group, the Mushuau Innu in Natuashish and the Sheshatshiu Innu in Sheshatshiu, were not recognized by the federal government under the Indian Act until 2002. This meant they had no band council to represent their political interests.
In 1976 the Innu established the not-for-profit Naskapi-Montagnais Indian Association that became the Innu Nation in 1990. The group — still a corporation — continues to be the Innu people’s main political organization, and its website confirms it functions “as the governing body of the Labrador Innu.”
In trying to strike down the election review started by Pokue, however, they argued that their corporate status made the result of the
2012 election “entirely a private matter.”
Rennie’s decision to ignore their request did not revolve around of whether the group was legally a corporation or a band council. It instead was based on “whether or not the power exercised possesses public character, not whether the actor exercising that power is technically public itself.”
Rennie argued that the Innu Nation, for all intents and purposes, acts as a band council.
Its own mandate, he pointed out, says it provides a unified political voice to protect the Innu people, pursues land claims agreements and assists in the delivery of education, health care and social services.
In 2012, the Innu Nation signed a land claim settlement with the provincial government and Newfoundland Power that set aside 5,000 square miles of land for the Innu people and guaranteed an annual revenue stream from the Upper Churchill Project.
“It is difficult to conceive of a power more public in nature,” said Rennie, “than an election of those who will exercise wide and significant powers which directly affect individuals and, for the Innu people, the generations that will follow.”
With corporate elections, Rennie argued, if you don’t like the board that is elected you can always leave the organization. This is not the same with Innu Nation elections.
“The actions of the Innu Nation reach deep into the heart of daily life of band members, and the generations that will follow,” said Rennie. “They cannot simply walk away.”
“Band councils should be free to modify existing structures of governance or to consider innovative models in order to address local needs. However, the communities that they govern should not feel that in making these choices they lose access to justice.”
Following Rennie’s decision, Pokue indicated on Twitter that he would continue pressing for a review of the 2012 elections.