Saskatchewan’s most prominent First Nations leader should have been disqualified from running in the last election, other chiefs, a rival candidate and others say.
Breaking: has obtained documents outlining the criminal record of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) chief Bobby Cameron, which includes a 1993 conviction for burglary and robbery.
The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. FSIN electoral rules prohibit candidates with a conviction for fraud or theft from running for office. In a series of interviews, these critics say it is now clear that Cameron should not have been on the 2021 ballot, which he won.
The former FSIN electoral director says she tried to raise the issue two weeks before the vote, but was silenced.
Cameron’s criminal record is the latest, but not the only, controversy to arise around the 2021 election. Breaking: has also examined internal emails, affidavits, lawsuits and other materials alleging vote manipulation, conflicts of interests and other irregularities in the elections to elect Cameron and four vice presidents of the FSIN.
“He was corrupt,” said former Flying Dust First Nation Chief Bob Merasty, who finished second to Cameron.
“That election was controlled by … certain people to make sure they could keep their jobs and their salaries.”
Cadmus Delorme, who was president of the FSIN Indigenous Governance Commission, said he was already concerned about the other electoral irregularities. After Breaking: outlined Cameron’s criminal record this week, Delorme said he is more concerned than ever.
“Are you asking me, ‘Is Boss Bobby the boss?’ Well, you know what? The FSIN has made progress, but was good governance followed? It wasn’t,” said Delorme, former chief of the Cowessess First Nation.
Details contained in the lawsuit
Much of this information (including Cameron’s criminal record) is only coming to light thanks to a lawsuit filed by Cameron and other FSIN officials against former electoral director Myrna O’Soup-Bushie.
“After the election, Myrna was still bound by confidentiality, right? When she was sued, that changed the equation,” said O’Soup-Bushie’s attorney, Orlagh O’Kelly.
The lawsuit against O’Soup-Bushie was filed by the FSIN and its former executive director, Dawn Walker. She alleges that O’Soup-Bushie violated his contract and defamed them by sending letters and speaking to bosses and others about alleged election irregularities.
It claims O’Soup-Bushie spread rumors “knowing they were false, or without regard to whether they were true or not.”
Neither Cameron nor Walker responded to multiple interview requests sent by email, text message and phone.
Last month, O’Soup-Bushie filed her 16-page defense statement in the Court of King’s Bench in Saskatoon. In it, O’Soup-Boushie describes how he learned of Cameron’s previous criminal convictions.
O’Soup-Bushie was named to a three-member “credentials committee” assigned to determine the eligibility of candidates in fall 2021.
Concerns about conflicts of interest immediately arose because one of the committee members used to work for Cameron, according to the lawsuit. Those concerns “were not answered,” according to the statement.
The committee disqualified four candidates because of their criminal records, including one of Cameron’s rivals, O’Soup-Bushie said.
O’Soup-Bushie said Cameron submitted documentation of his convictions in his nomination package, but left it to the committee’s attorney to examine criminal background checks.
“Unbeknownst to O’Soup[-Bushie] That day, Cameron had a criminal record for robbery,” the statement reads.
With two weeks left before the vote, some of the four candidates appealed their own disqualifications. Another attorney was brought in to re-examine the applications. It was then that O’Soup-Bushie realized that Cameron should also be disqualified.
“He told me that the legal counsel for the deposition date made a mistake. And he said Bobby Cameron shouldn’t have made the cut,” O’Soup-Bushie said in an interview.
“So it was at that point that I said, ‘We’re still two weeks away from the election. Can I go back and fix it? I’m the election official. I should be able to fix that.'”
O’Soup-Bushie said she was told to “just leave it at that.” She said she felt bound by her confidentiality agreement and she dropped the matter.
Disqualified candidates lost their appeals. Cameron and other incumbents emerged victorious.
oath of office
Cameron and the four vice chiefs were sworn in at the FSIN offices in Saskatoon on November 2, 2021. After a song by the drum group, an elderly woman was pushed in her wheelchair to the front of the room to say a prayer and administer the oaths.
“I, Bobby Cameron, declare and testify that, under the laws of the FSIN, I am qualified to be elected as a member of the executive of the FSIN,” Cameron said, holding up an eagle feather.
“I will do nothing that will disqualify me from holding this position. If I fail to honor this commitment, I hereby forfeit any benefits to which I may otherwise be entitled.”
Cameron signed the oath and then his supporters wrapped him in a blanket.
According to the FSIN Electoral Law, candidates can run if their convictions are more than five years old.
However, there is no expiration date for three specific types of crimes.
“A person shall not be eligible as a candidate for executive office if… he has been convicted of fraud, theft or breach of trust,” states Section 44(b) of the Act.
The actual document listing Cameron’s 1993 convictions for home invasion and robbery is not included in the lawsuit, but Breaking: obtained it through other sources.
“CAMERON, ROBERT KEITH. 1993-03-31. BE & THEFT. NORTH BATTLEFORD,” the form states.
According to the sheet, Cameron was sentenced to 25 hours of community service, unspecified restitution and six months of probation. All of these details were confirmed over the phone last week by a staff member at North Battleford Provincial Court.
“Everyone should be treated fairly”
O’Soup-Bushie, Merasty and others agree that Cameron’s decades-old nonviolent conviction could be considered a misdemeanor. However, they said the rules are clear on robbery convictions, and Cameron is the only candidate who appears to have been granted leniency.
Bosses who voted in the election say they are outraged to learn of Cameron’s criminal record.
“Oh my gosh. I had no idea,” said Lynn Acoose, chief of the Zagime Anishinabek First Nation. “Everyone should be treated fairly. The rules should be applied equally to everyone. It is difficult to build trust in the organization if the rules are applied unequally.”
Delorme said he asked O’Soup-Bushie for a report after the election.
Delorme said he was concerned about his own community’s efforts to identify remains found in 751 unmarked graves that summer. But he said he was concerned enough about apparent electoral conflicts of interest and irregularities in electronic voting that he brought them to the commission. No action was taken, but Delorme said he was not aware of Cameron’s criminal record at the time.
Delorme said he has great respect for O’Soup-Bushie. She said she had no choice but to defend herself after the FSIN and Walker sued her.
“I think Ms. O’Soup should be treated with more respect and fairness. She is neutral. She is an election official,” he said.
Merasty said that if the election had been fair, Cameron would have been banned from running and Merasty would be boss. When asked if he is considering any legal or political action, Merasty said he is considering all options.
He said he witnessed a series of other campaign violations.
He said incumbents have access to voter lists, travel budgets, vehicles and other benefits denied to other candidates. Incumbents ran for chief and three of the four vice chief positions. Everyone was victorious.
Merasty said he is also saddened that the FSIN Senate, made up of veterans, elders and former leaders, has been completely sidelined by Cameron and the executive. The senators sent a letter to the interim leadership of the FSIN on the eve of the 2021 elections demanding its suspension until an investigation could be carried out.
“If we must remind you, the Senate must be respected and is a crucial part of the FSIN investigation and governance process,” said the letter sent just days before the vote and obtained by Breaking:.
The vote took place as planned.
Two of the vice chief positions will be up for election next month. The election for chief and the other two vice chief positions is scheduled for fall 2024.
Merasty said FSIN has strayed from the original vision of John B. Tootoosis and other founders of the 77-year-old organization.
“I ran in 2021 thinking I could change things. I ran based on our traditional principles of honesty, integrity and respect, but those no longer have anything to do with the FSIN,” Merasty said.
“I think people are getting tired of what’s going on. That can’t continue. I think we have to come together and just say it’s time to make that change. It’s time to go back to what FSIN was.”