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Liard vote results cancelled

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Liard (July 29/05) - The returning officer for the Acho Dene Koe election has concluded that Floyd Bertrand and the previous band council should remain in power until another election is held.

Rita Cazon said she is convinced that intimidation and coercion by one of the candidates influenced the outcome of the July 14 vote in Fort Liard. Bertrand appealed the election result, which saw Harry Deneron win by 54 votes.

Cazon said attempts to form an appeal committee failed because individuals refused to take part for fear of repercussions.

She reviewed several statements - collected by Floyd Bertrand but signed by band members - that she said attest to improper election practices.

Based on that evidence, she declared the vote null and void.

"My decision is final," Cazon said, adding that a lawyer told her she has the authority to make the ruling. She declined to name the attorney.

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development "does not endorse what she (Rita Cazon) is doing," George Cleary, director of Indian and Inuit services, said Tuesday.

"We've never been notified of any official results of the election at all," said Cleary.

He added that DIAND does not get involved in custom elections.

Deneron said he has consulted his lawyer and, as of Tuesday, was awaiting legal advice.

"This is just getting out of hand," he said. "Those sorts of things are just crippling our nation."

He argued that he's being singled out in this affair.

"I think if anybody else had won the election nothing else would have been said," Deneron contended.

The Drum's messages for Floyd Bertrand were not immediately returned on Tuesday.

Deneron works from home

Bertrand may still occupy the band office and have signing authority as chief, but Deneron said he has purchased a calling card to begin conducting band affairs from his home.

Floyd Diamond'C, another candidate for chief, said band members should be the ones to decide the community's leadership, not a returning officer or a judge.

"The people have got to work together instead of working against each other," said Diamond'C.

Death threat

The tension surrounding the election in Fort Liard was palpable, according to Cazon.

She said she heard indirectly of threats being made.

Then on July 22 she took a call at the band office and she said the male voice on the line uttered, "You are dead!"

Fearing for her safety, she immediately called her husband in Fort Simpson to come and pick her up, she said.

"I had no security when this was coming down and it was scary. It was scary," a visibly shaken Cazon said from her dining room table as tears rolled down her cheeks. "Friday when my life was threatened I said enough was enough."

Even after being back at home for a few days she said she is still sick with worry.

"I'm still looking out the window (to see) who's driving by. I'm scared to answer the phone," she said, noting that she has informed the RCMP of the situation.

"Nobody should have to live like that."

The police could not be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Cazon said she is speaking up despite her fear because, "I want people to know this is going on."