By Greg Higgins, battlefordsNOW
Lawyers representing the chief and council of the Red Pheasant First Nation had their turn in court Thursday as they tried to disprove allegations of corruption during the band’s 2016 election.
Michelle Good, a lawyer and Red Pheasant band member, is behind the appeal of the election results. She argued Wednesday the election should be declared void due to widespread vote-buying.
Thursday saw lawyers Darren Winegarden and Nicholas Stooshinoff present arguments on behalf of Red Pheasant Chief Clint Wuttunee and several current band councillors.
They claimed Good had no evidence of Wuttunee or councillors specifically offering money for votes.
Winegarden said there was evidence of people looking to sell votes, but no evidence of anyone offering to buy them.
The lawyers claimed records showing Wuttunee and various councillors e-transferred money to band members weren’t proof of vote-buying.
Rather, they argued the money was transferred to band members to cover everyday needs such as food and fuel.
Winegarden said the chief and council are inundated with requests for money all the time, often covering them out of their own pockets. He called it a “grind” to try and balance the requests with avoiding the appearance of corruption.
Band councillor Lux Benson submitted an affidavit in which he wrote leaders in his grandparents’ day would hunt and provide for the rest of the band. Winegarden claimed band members still had a mentality of needing to be provided for by their leaders, with meat from the hunt now replaced with money.
Winegarden then accused Good of colluding with band members in an effort to take down Wuttunee and the rest of council.
He pointed to social media posts by one of Good’s witnesses.
Winegarden pulled up a Facebook post in which the man advised others not to be afraid to come forward. He ended the post with “#setthemup.” According to Winegarden, Good had commented “lol” on the post.
According to Winegarden, someone afraid of repercussions wouldn’t make that post.
Winegarden then turned the court’s attention to the testimony of a man who claimed Wuttunee gave him a 1.75-litre bottle of Captain Morgan rum and some money in exchange for him recanting an affidavit.
Transcripts of text messages between Wuttunee and the man showed the chief asking him what he was drinking that night, to which he replied: “Captain Morgan’s.” Winegarden argued the messages showed the man was already in possession of the bottle as there was no evidence Wuttunee asked if he needed anything or said he would provide any alcohol.
Winegarden then addressed a claim from former band councillor Sandra Arias. Arias had said she was approached during the election by other candidates who offered her 80 ballots to join them. Winegarden said it didn’t seem likely candidates would ever tell someone about the ballots if they didn’t know she was on their side.
The lawyers for the chief and council also attacked Good’s credibility by pointing out how rare it was for an applicant to be their own lawyer in hearings like these. They claimed she was leading witnesses during cross-examination, telling them when it was OK to answer. Counsel said this made it seem like the witnesses had something to hide and were looking to Good for what they were allowed to say.
Good claimed in her reply that she only prompted witnesses to answer a question when they paused for too long, which she said was from 30 seconds to a minute at times.
Winegarden ended his arguments by claiming Good had failed to provide enough indisputable evidence to meet the burden of proof in the case.
Before closing the hearing, McVeigh said it could take upwards of four months to render a decision.