Widespread ‘fraud and vote buying’ found in 2017 Manitoba First Nation election

A federal review has concluded fraud and vote buying was widespread in the 2017 election at Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba, and might have affected the results for election of chief and council.

However, the review has failed to determine who was responsible.

Marc Miller, the minister of Indigenous Services Canada, “is satisfied that testimonies have concluded that there has been vote buying and ballot exchange,” according to an order in council dated Nov. 20, 2020.

https://orders-in-council.canada.ca/attachment.php?attach=39920&lang=en 

“I’ve always maintained that I was speaking the truth,” said council candidate Clarence Sumner, who filed the appeal. “This vindicates, this validates, what I was talking about,” he said. 

The results of the Oct. 28, 2017 election for chief and six councillors at Pinaymootang, in the Interlake region about 220 km north of Winnipeg, was appealed under the federal Indian Band Election Regulations.

No blame assigned 

While the order in council refers to widespread fraud and vote buying, it says the investigative process did not determine who was to blame.  

Instead, it says, “the findings have been inconclusive in assigning or associating responsibility for voting fraud and corrupt practice to a person, individual, faction or group of candidates and supporters.”

The order in council said that because it wasn’t determined what impact the corrupt practice had on the results of the 2017 election, that “made it impossible to set aside the election.”

Sumner says he got emotional when he received a  letter in the mail last week containing the decision.

“It’s not any more ‘Clarence cried wolf,’ he said. “It says in black and white that the appeal set forth in 2017 was in our favour,” Sumner said. 

It’s not the only time Sumner has appealed the election results in his community. He also appealed the election results for Pinaymootang council in 2019 and 2011, and assisted with an appeal in 2009.

Pinaymootang chief, council blame ‘single person’

A statement released Friday on behalf of Chief Garnet Woodhouse and council for Pinaymootang First Nation gives a different version of events, saying a single person was at fault. The employee is not named in the release.

“After consulting with persons knowledgeable of the events in 2017, current Chief and Council have been able to confirm that the allegations investigated concerned a solitary employee of the then outgoing 2015-2017 band administration, claiming that the employee had ‘bought’ 3 votes,” the release said.

“None of the successful candidates elected into office in 2017 were implicated as being involved in any wrongdoing,” it said.

Woodhouse was declared the winner in the 2017, and he won again two years later in the 2019 council election, which was also appealed by Sumner.

“As the Minister has subsequently confirmed, the current Pinaymootang Chief and Council were elected in 2019 in a process that was untainted by any wrongdoing,” the council statement said. 

“This was due to the efforts made by the 2017 administration to ensure processes were in place to guarantee that the election results would represent the will of the electors.”

The council says the current administration will be reviewing “how it may further improve and enhance an already robust electoral process, all with a view to ensuring that Pinaymootang First Nation members will continue to enjoy the benefits of a lawfully elected Chief and Council,” the release said.

Forensic audit sought

Sumner sees it differently. He says he’d like to see a forensic audit done for Pinaymootang’s finances in the years 2017 to 2019.

“I will always keep my eyes open,” he said. “And if I see fraudulent activity taking place, rest assured I’ll always be there to make sure that I hold those who are running for office accountable for what they’re trying to do to lead our people. Our people should be led in a direction with truth and honesty.” 

Sumner says it cost thousands of dollars in expenses, including legal fees, to challenge the election results in his community, and he acknowledges he had help from friends and a law firm.

“Vindication, to me, would have meant that the government would reimburse me for all my money that I incurred during that two year period that I rightfully sought for the truth,” he said.

Sumner has now made a complaint to RCMP asking for police to investigate the voting fraud identified in the 2017 election appeal. 

RCMP Sgt. Jeremy Wilson at Gypsumville detachment told CBC News he cannot yet confirm whether they will be investigating.