Skip to content

Thessalon First Nation taken to Federal Court over election appeal process

Band members have applied for a judicial review after First Nation blocked appointed committee from overseeing election appeals, a direct violation of election code
Stock photo.

A pair of Thessalon First Nation band members have taken their fight with leadership over its refusal to follow its own election appeal process to Federal Court in hopes of finally having their appeals heard.  

Cora-Lee Simon and Sherrie MacDonald have retained the services of Montreal-based law firm Richards Carney S.E.N.C. in order to apply for a judicial review of a decision made by the First Nation to deny their appeals concerning alleged voting irregularities during Nov. 17 band elections for chief and council. 

As previously reported by SooToday, Thessalon First Nation faced criticism last month after members of the appointed election appeal committee were blocked from overseeing the appeal process — a direct violation of the First Nation’s own custom election code.    

“It’s not up to them,” Simon told SooToday during an interview last week. “They have to follow process, but they’re not following process — and I think the new chief and council knows that if the appeals process was followed, there would probably be a re-election of some sort.” 

Simon initially filed an appeal with Thessalon First Nation alleging that only one set of ballots were distributed as opposed to two — one to elect a chief, and another to elect members of council — to voters on election day as specified in Section 5.5 of Thessalon’s custom election code.  

Simon’s appeal, however, was denied in a Dec. 4 letter from Carol Bobiwash  — the recently hired communications director for Thessalon First Nation who was originally brought in by leadership to “facilitate the electoral appeals process in accordance with the First Nation’s custom election code”  — instead of her appeal being handled by the three-member election appeal committee appointed by the outgoing chief and council in accordance with Section 7.2 of the election code. 

MacDonald’s election appeal concerning voters being permitted to vote without showing proper identification was also denied by the band’s communications director last month. She told SooToday last week it should be up to the election appeal committee to make that decision, and not someone hired by the recently elected chief and council. 

MacDonald was an employee at Goganon Gonga, a cannabis dispensary owned by Thessalon First Nation, until chief and council made the decision to abruptly cease operations just before Christmas — just weeks after her election appeal was denied by leadership.   

“They’re not going by their own law — the people's law — and they think they can do whatever they want, and nobody is going to say anything,” MacDonald said. 

Neither Bobiwash nor Thessalon First Nation Chief Joseph Wabigwan responded to messages requesting interviews left by SooToday last week.

Wabigwan was elected chief of his community following the Nov. 17 election, defeating former chief Edward Boulrice by a margin of 64 votes in a four-way race to lead the small First Nation east of Sault Ste. Marie. 

Lisa Boulrice, Roxanne Boulrice, Mary Ann Giguere, Robert Simon Sr. and Robert Simon Jr. were all elected to seats on council. Giguere was the lone member of the previous chief and council to retain her seat at the leadership table. 

Wabigwan initially pledged to "remove any staff members who have not followed" the First Nation's election code as part of his electoral platform. It remains unclear how many election appeals were handled — and subsequently denied — by Thessalon First Nation after the new chief and council were elected this past November.  

Simon has told SooToday that she’s willing to launch a GoFundMe campaign to continue the legal battle against Thessalon First Nation in the name of transparency and accountability.   

“I think it’s very wrong,” she said. “They have to answer to the community, the band membership — and they‘re not. Anytime anybody calls them, they do not  answer. Anytime somebody sends an email, they do not answer. 

“And there’s no recourse for us, but this.”

What's next?

If you would like to apply to become a Verified reader Verified Commenter, please fill out this form.

James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
Read more