Redfern loses fight to change QIA community director election practice
Nunavut judge rules QIA is a public organization
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association was never obligated to make community director ballots available in Ottawa during its Dec. 8, 2014 election for an Iqaluit community director position, Justice Susan Cooper has ruled.
That brings to an end a four-year legal dispute that began after Madeleine Redfern, now the mayor of Iqaluit, lost that QIA community director election to Simon Nattaq by a margin of one vote, 396 to 395.
The election for a QIA community director for Iqaluit was held on the same date as elections for a QIA president and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. vice-president.
At two Ottawa polling stations, eligible beneficiary voters could find ballots that let them vote in the two presidential elections, but not in community director elections.
Redfern filed for a judicial review of the Iqaluit community director election result one month after the Dec. 8 election, on Jan. 7, 2015.
Redfern said the Baffin Inuit organization should have made community director ballots available in Ottawa out of fairness to voters and candidates, and that not making them available to eligible beneficiary voters was discriminatory.
Cooper said in her judgment that the dispute over the election result is now moot, meaning no one’s rights are now affected.
But the issue is still serious enough to make it worthwhile to spend judicial resources on a judgment, Cooper said.
Redfern stopped opposing the community director election result and has now accepted it.
Instead, Redfern asked the court to rule that the QIA make ballot boxes available in Ottawa for all elections, including community directors.
These voters could include Qikiqtani Inuit who are students, or who are staying at medical boarding homes like Baffin Larga.
The QIA, on the other hand, said ballots for community directors are only ever placed in Qikiqtani communities, and that it’s not logistically possible to locate them outside those communities.
Cooper found the community director election was not discriminatory and could not be seen as a breach of natural justice.
“[QIA] regulations are silent on whether community director ballots must be provided at polling stations outside of the Qikiqtani Region,” Cooper said.
Because of this, Cooper said it was up to the QIA’s chief returning officer, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, to interpret the QIA’s rules as she saw fit.
“The evidence is that it would be logistically difficult to provide community director ballots to polling stations in Ottawa as it would not be possible to determine how many voters from a particular community might be in Ottawa on election day,” Cooper said.
Because judicial reviews are done for public bodies, to make that ruling, Cooper first had to decide if the QIA is a public, and not a private body.
She found that the QIA is indeed a public body.
Because Inuit organizations in Nunavut are structured as private organizations, this ruling could create a new legal precedent for the future.
“The nature of the powers exercised by NTI and the QIA are wide in scope and significant in their impact on Inuit collectively and individually,” Cooper said.
“They relate to land, harvesting, employment, finance and economics, social development, and culture. These are many of the same areas that are managed by public governments.”
That Inuit organizations act on behalf of Inuit and not for the public as a whole does not make those organizations any less public in nature, Cooper said.
“The nature of the powers exercised and the fact that they are exercised for the benefit of approximately 85 per cent of the population of Nunavut, as well as many living outside of Nunavut, takes them beyond the scope of functions carried out by a purely private organization,” Cooper said.