Iqaluit Centre now has three candidates as disqualified campaigner 'weighs her options'

Okalik Eegeesiak removed from ballot

By JOHN BIRD

"My name is on the ballot. It's up to the voters," Okalik Eegeesiak told Nunatsiaq News last week.

It's not on the ballot any longer.

Eegeesiak has been disqualified as a candidate in Iqaluit Centre for the Oct. 27 territorial election.

Voters now have three candidates to choose from in that riding: Madeleine Redfern, Joe Sageaktook and incumbent Hunter Tootoo.

Sandy Kusugak, Nuna­vut's chief elections officer, disqualified Eegeesiak and removed her name from the ballot after an RCMP investigation showed Eegeesiak did not meet the eligibility requirement of 12 months' continuous residency prior to the election.

The RCMP investigation showed that Eegeesiak "had moved back to Nunavut in December 2007," and "is therefore ineligible to be a candidate in this election," Kusugak said in an Oct. 17 news release.

Kusugak said she is using powers available to her under the Nunavut Elections Act.

Ballots already cast for Eegeesiak at advance voting polls at the local returning office "will not be considered valid and will not be counted in the final tabulation of votes for Iqaluit Centre," she added.

Elections Nunavut confirmed that new ballots have been ordered with Eegeesiak's name removed. They will be available on election day, Oct. 27.

In the meantime, during advanced voting, voters will be informed individually that Eegeesiak is no longer considered a candidate.

But "what about the people who already voted for me?" Eegeesiak demanded in an interview with Nunatsiaq News. "What about their rights?"

The chief elections officer is "all over the place," said Eegeesiak. "Why is she so quick to disqualify me when there is a pending court case with Jack Anawak as well?"

Kusugak also disqualified Anawak from running in Akulliq riding because he had not lived in Nunavut during the 12 months preceding the election date.

But his candidacy was never accepted, while Eegeesiak's was, then rejected after a complaint was filed and the RCMP investigated.

The courts upheld Kusugak's ruling in Anawak's case, but he is now appealing on the grounds it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights. That ruling is still pending.

Eegeesiak feels the validity of the residency requirement under the Elections Act is on hold while the Anawak appeal awaits a verdict. "As any experienced lawyer will attest," she said, "every law is open to interpretation."

As of Nunatsiaq News press-time this week, Eegeesiak said she was weighing her options, and waiting to see what happened at a teleconference hearing with Elections Nunavut scheduled for Wednesday.

Joe Sageaktook echoes Eegeesiak's concerns about voters' rights. He believes Elections Nunavut should call a by-election for Iqaluit Centre.

"If people cast their ballots for [Eegeesiak], now their votes are useless," he said. How could they know she would not be allowed to run? I believe Elections Nunavut did a bad job."

Sageaktook's rivals in Iqaluit Centre are not calling for a by-election, however. In fact, Madeleine Redfern would not be eligible to run in one.

Redfern lives in Iqaluit West, not Iqaluit Centre, and the Nunavut Elections Act says that in by-elections the candidates must have lived the previous 12 months in the particular riding where the by-election is held.

In a general election, candidates are required to have lived in Nunavut, but not necessarily in the riding where they are running.

It was Redfern's father, Colin Alexander, who made the complaint leading to the RCMP investigation, an action that would mean his daughter's disqualification in a by-election.

Hunter Tootoo doesn't live in the riding either, but as the incumbent, he can still run in the riding he already held.

Tootoo says that in Eegeesiak's case he is satisfied "the process was followed and a determination made."

"That's what the law is," he says. "And the law should be followed."

The law also says that a person who contravenes the act may face criminal charges, a possibility that still hangs over Eegeesiak.

Kusugak's statement notes that "the decision about whether or not to lay a charge lies with the RCMP."

But the RCMP must consult the Nunavut Integrity Commissioner, says Staff-Sgt. Harold Trupish.

Trupish says that process is underway, and that he's hoping to get an answer soon.

Redfern still feels the whole thing needn't have become a police matter.

"The chief electoral officer could have used her discretion under sections 75 and 190 of the Nunavut Elections Act, without having involved the RCMP," she says.

She notes that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association election regulations, modeled after the Nunavut Elections Act, allow for two days to verify candidates' applications after the deadline for receiving them.

This gives officials time to check the candidates' credentials and ensure eligibility.

In the Nunavut election procedures, the grace period for verification is only three hours.

Building in a longer period for checking eligibility is "common sense," says Redfern.

"You don't treat people as quasi-criminals, you don't cause embarrassment to people who tried to run in good faith, and you don't embarrass Elections Nunavut," Redfern said.

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