Legality of First Nations transparency act at issue in court hearing

Watch above: A court battle has begun between five First Nations and the government over financial transparency. Meaghan Craig finds out why the group is challenging the law while others have been in compliance.

SASKATOON – Where does parliament’s authority begin and end? That question is at the heart of a federal court hearing currently underway in Saskatoon.

Five of approximately 50 First Nations who have refused to disclose their financial statements were forced into court after drawing a line in the sand against C27 legislation, commonly known as the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

On Wednesday, a team of lawyers descended on Court of Queen’s Bench along with First Nations chiefs and supporters of those challenging the federal government.

READ MORE: Feds in court to force 5 First Nations to disclose finances

Legal representation presented submissions the entire morning for both the Onion Lake Cree Nation of Saskatchewan and Sawridge First Nation of Slave Lake, Alta.

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The three other First Nations involved include the Thunderchild and Ochapowace bands in Saskatchewan and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations of Alberta.

“We have our First Nation entities, they include our corporation which are in competition with other private entities and public corporations, government corporations and so on,” said Assembly of First Nation regional Chief Bill Erasmus for the Northwest Territories and Dene national chief.

“None of the other corporations have to reveal their sources of funding and spending to the extent that our first nations do.”

In court, counsel for the Onion Lake Cree Nation contested there was no consultation with the federal government before the transparency law was introduced, requiring all First Nations to post salaries and financial statements online by November 2014.

READ MORE: Chiefs call for aboriginal community to defend against transparency law

The lawyer for the band submitted the First Nation would gladly hand over the requested documentation as long as it remained confidential.

“Members of our communities have the ability to get the information, all they need to do is go to our band offices ask for it,” added Erasmus.

“What the federal government wants us to do is to publish it to the world and it’s got nothing to do with the rest of the world.”

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Counsel representing the Sawridge First Nation argued public disclosure of financial records for First Nations was discriminatory, unconstitutional and the legislation suggested to the public that First Nations leaders are corrupt.

“When are we going to get to the point where we respect First Nations?” asked AFN regional Chief Mike Smith for the Yukon.

“When are we getting point where First Nations governments are recognized on the same levels provincial government, territorial governments, federal governments and general concepts that are really important to Canada?”

On Thursday, three of the chiefs against C27 will hold a press conference and will provide their thoughts on the court proceedings.

This hearing is expected to last only two days.