Custom elections challenge charter rights

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

Custom band elections on First Nations are difficult for many Canadians to understand.

Recently, the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba adopted new election rules that prevent anyone under the age of 50 from running for chief, and anyone under the age of 40 from running for band councillor.

Also, anyone in a common law relationship is not allowed to run for office.

It means that 80% of the Garden Hill community is not eligible to run for chief or councillor.

As a custom band, Garden Hill is not covered by the Indian Act rules on elections and has been allowed to develop its own election code.

However, they are still obliged to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s constitution.

The Charter does not allow discrimination based on age or marital status.

But Ottawa’s hands are tied, and any band member who feels that their charter rights have been violated must take their case to court.

Custom elections offer a degree of self-government, but they can also generate problems.

A possible solution might be to establish an independent First Nations electoral commission to develop custom codes that satisfy the Charter.

If election codes complied with the Charter, more Canadians would accept custom band elections because they would be more fair.

I’m Roger Currie. Join us again next week for more thoughts on the Frontier.

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