FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – A Federal Court of Canada ruling requires the Blueberry River First Nation council to meet and discuss a petition asking for the Chief’s removal.
The civil claim, filed by three councillors, was discussed over several days this week. Councillors Shelley Gauthier, Robin Ewaskow and Troy Wolf, sued Chief Marvin Yahey, claiming he has broken his fiduciary duties.
The Honourable Mr. Justice Phelan sided with the councillors, requiring Yahey to hold a Band Council meeting within 45 days to address a petition asking for his removal as Chief. In addition, Merlita De Guzma, the Chief Operating Officer, is required to release a report detailing the call for Yahey’s removal.
Under the Blueberry River Custom Code, the Chief will be removed from office if they lose the confidence of its band members. According to court documents, a petition pushing for Yahey’s removal received 217 signatures or around 60 per cent of band members.
Yahey and De Guzma must also hold a regular council meeting to address current affairs within 30 days.
Council must have two meetings a month; however, the last council meeting was held on April 20th, 2020. The court called the refusal to attend scheduled meetings and passed unauthorized Band Council Resolutions by the plaintiffs “wrongheaded”.
De Guzma has also received a court order requiring her to carry out her responsibilities as COO, including enforcing the mandatory meetings and releasing the report. In addition, she is entitled to retain legal counsel to advise her, paid by the First Nation.
The plaintiffs filed the suit against Yahey, De Guzman, and two other councillors, including Sherry Dominic and Yahey’s nephew, Wayne. The councillors released a statement following the ruling on May 14th.
“I am pleased to see the Federal Court acknowledge what it called the “wrongheaded” past conduct of Councillors Ewaskow, Gauthier and Wolf, and uphold the integrity of our Custom Code. I will be calling a general council meeting in the very near future, as there are critically important financial matters to be addressed that the other councillors have been refusing to deal with,” says the joint statement.
“Our Band is facing a financial crisis created by those councillors, and this important ruling should now allow us to move forward in the best interests of all Blueberry members. Further, our Chief Operating Officer, Merli de Guzman, can now do her job, with the help of a lawyer, to properly deal with the Chipesia petition report under our Custom Code.”
According to the custom code, if a council candidate is employed with Blueberry River or a Blueberry River business entity, they must resign or take a leave of office.
In a civil claim filed in December, the plaintiffs argued that Chief Yahey, the president, only officer and director of Yahey Brothers Enterprises Ltd., has not followed the code and has benefited financially from being Chief of the community. The councillors gave one example in the lawsuit that they believe shows the Chief benefited financially when his company worked and benefited from a Gas Link contract in 2017.
However, the May 14th court documents do not mention Yahey’s company and instead focus on the support for his removal as Chief, and the duties of the COO and Chief and council.
The lawsuit will not be revisited until all orders are met.
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed below: