The former chief of the Yekooche First Nation says a recall petition which removed him from office in January is illegal.
Mathew Joseph was elected chief for a four-year term in January 2018, but on Jan. 31 he was presented a letter by members of the Yekooche council saying there was a successful recall petition against him. A by-election has been scheduled for Feb. 24 to fill the vacant position.
"I've been illegally removed. Two councillors and the financial director have orchestrated a recall petition. There is no basis for a by-election, I am still the chief of the Yekooche," Joseph said during a press conference outside the Yekooche finance office in Prince George on Friday morning. "The (chief) electoral officer and RCMP have been informed of this process."
Under Section 15 of the Yekooche First Nation Election Code, for a recall petition to succeed it must be signed by 40 per cent of the eligible voting members in the First Nation.
"The petition that prompted my recall has just nine signatures of community members," Joseph said.
The First Nation has about 230 total members, including children, he said.
Joseph was joined by current councillor Allan Joseph, former councillor Melissa Joseph and several community members.
Melissa Joseph said she was also subject to a recall petition, but wasn't reelected in January during mid-term elections.
Mathew Joseph said he believes the recall petition started after he and the other councillors voted to have a forensic audit conducted of the First Nation's financial records, after then band manager discovered financial irregularities in the books.
A group of community members called for the band manager to be fired, but he and the other members of council supported the band manager and refused to dismiss them, he said.
However, Yekooche Councillors Partner Schielke and Miranda Joseph said it was Mathew Joseph who was engaged in financial irregularities.
"The person who filed for the petition is my niece," Schielke said. "(Mathew Joseph) been using the band Visa as a personal (credit) card. It's supposed to be used for band business... and emergencies. It's not supposed to be used to buy groceries or be buying lumber (for personal use)."
Schielke provided The Citizen with an image showing the letter presented Mathew Joseph removing him from office.
"This recall petition was verified by Yekooche First Nation Electoral Officer, Susan Barfoot, on January 29, 2020 and a by-election will be called in accordance with Section 11 of the YFN Election Code," the letter said. "In accordance with Section 15.4 of the YFN Election Code, you no longer hold a valid position on Council, and are no longer permitted to represent yourself as the Chief of Yekooche First Nation."
Barfoot told him 64 signatures would be needed to reach the 40 per cent threshold of eligible voting members, Schielke said, and the recall petition had 68 valid signatures.
The eight names on the letter presented to Joseph were simply witnesses who verified the letter had been delivered, Schielke added.
"Signing the petition is supposed to be anonymous," he said.
Joseph has asked to see the list of signatures, but the electoral officer can't provide those names to protect the petition signers from potential intimidation, Schielke said.
The remaining councillors have been trying to conduct the by-election process and council business as openly and transparently as possible, he added, and Yekooche members are welcome to attend council meetings.
"There is nothing for us to be hiding," he said.
Councillor Miranda Joseph said if Mathew Joseph questions the validity of the recall petition, he should challenge it in court.
"We have followed the process," she said. "The electoral officer checked the signatures and said we reached the 40 per cent."