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Law not broken in Witless Bay fake residency case: RCMP

The Witless Bay municipal building.
The Witless Bay municipal building.

A man found in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to have faked his residency in becoming a candidate, and subsequent winner, of a 2016 byelection for a seat on the Witless Bay town council has been cleared by the RCMP of any wrongdoing under the province’s Municipal Elections Act.

Fraser Paul, who has since built a new home in Witless Bay, is back on the town council, having been one of the seven council members acclaimed recently during the province’s municipal elections.

Witless Bay resident Lorna Yard had challenged Paul’s residency in court after learning Paul’s nomination in the September 2016 byelection was supported by a claim that he had been living in a house close to her on Gallows Cove Road during the required 30-day residency period prior to the nomination date.

Yard said she took it upon herself to take the case to court after the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment failed to properly investigate complaints by her and other residents.

After a three-day trial that saw a number of Witless Bay residents testify, Justice David Orsborn concluded in July that “Fraser Paul was not a resident of Witless Bay for the 30 days preceding nomination day, Sept. 27, 2016.”

As a result of the ruling, Paul, who by then had become deputy mayor, had to vacate his council seat.

Also because of the ruling, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment began looking into whether the Municipal Elections Act had been breached by Paul. The matter was passed over to the RCMP.

A statement released by the department on Wednesday said the RCMP has completed its investigation into the matter and found that, “A complete review of the Municipal Elections Act, Mr. Paul’s nomination papers and Judge Orsborn’s decision in Yard v. Paul, 2017 NLTD (G) 130 was conducted, and it has been determined that insufficient evidence exists to meet the elements of the offence under Section 99(8) of the Municipal Elections Act.”

In the past Yard said she had feared it would turn out this way, because the Municipal Elections Act has too many loopholes and needed to be changed, with more stringent measures put in place to prevent such a situation from occurring again.

Eddie Joyce, minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment, previously told The Telegram the department is limited in what it can do in the Paul situation because of gaps in the Municipalities Act of Newfoundland and Labrador, which hasn’t been updated in 20 years.

Joyce said the department has a person designated to review the act, as well as the Cities Act. He said the process had already been started prior to the Paul issue coming to light.

Joyce said the review will continue with input from Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, councillors and residents of the province to determine what changes should be made.

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