Justice: Elections 'Serious problems' in Smith vote
But judge declines to overrule governments

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (OCT 30/96) - A Supreme Court judge says last fall's territorial election in the Fort Smith-based Thebacha riding was fraught with problems.

But Justice John Vertes won't lay charges against four individuals suspected of soliciting proxy votes because the federal and territorial governments and police refuse to take similar action.

"The RCMP recommended against any criminal prosecution," said Vertes in his Oct. 16 ruling, released last Friday.

"I note as well that ... both the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories have been advised by the Chief Electoral Officer that offences to Section 122 (1) of the Elections Act may have been committed. Both levels of government stated that no action would be taken by them."

Vertes said that anyone convicted of such an offence is liable to a fine of up to $1,000 or a year in jail or both.

"There was obviously a widespread use of proxy voting that could not have been contemplated by the Legislature when it enacted the proxy-voting provisions of the Act," said Vertes.

"I will say no more on that since these issues will no doubt form part of the broader case on this trial."

His ruling followed a hearing in Fort Smith, at which 15 witnesses testified on Elections Act violations alleged to have taken place during last fall's election.

"This does not mean that the evidence has not disclosed serious problems," said Vertes.

Last November, 56 Thebacha residents signed a petition asking the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the election and order a new one.

Michael Miltenberger received 607 votes, narrowly defeating incumbent Jeannie Marie-Jewel, who received 571 votes. Two other candidates contested the seat.

In the petition, the Thebacha residents allege that a number of irregular and illegal acts may have taken place at election polling station.

Last December Mounties seized sealed election documents and turned them over to the court.

Vertes said he will send a copy of his ruling to the territorial deputy minister of justice for consideration if the NWT Elections Act is amended in the future.

The petition trial - which will determine whether or not a new riding election will be ordered - is scheduled to begin in a Fort Smith sitting of the Supreme Court Dec. 9.