Watch above: The federal court case continues as First Nations band together to fight the feds on a financial transparency law. Meaghan Craig says the case is garnering national support from First Nations leaders.
SASKATOON – Crown prosecutors have made their final pitch to a judge to force five First Nations to publish their audited financial statements. The two-day federal court hearing continued on Thursday in Saskatoon, examining the legalities of Bill C27.
The transparency act was announced in 2013 and has been opposed by many aboriginal leaders ever since, including Chief Wallace Fox of who went off the cuff during a news conference saying in not so many words, what the band does with its money isn’t anyone’s business but it’s own.
“Onion Lake has been transparent all along,” said Fox.
“We have a three day to four day session every March presenting our budgets to our membership for those that are in attendance and have interest to be in attendance.”
Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, all bands in the country were to publish audited statements online by November 2014. This meant the financial records of First Nations and the salaries of their chiefs were made public for the first time for those who compiled.
“We’ve disclosed that to the people in our community because those people elected our counsel and myself. We’re accountable to those people.”
Onion Lake is one of five First Nations the federal government proceeded with court action against and has had monies withheld by the federal government.
“Today, there’s 253 first nations across this land that have not posted their audits,” added Fox.
“What is the federal government going to do with those people?”
In a show of support, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde attended Thursday’s court proceedings as well as the news conference.
“When you have bad law or legislation that doesn’t respect inherent rights or treaty rights or section 35 of Canada’s own constitution, you need to challenge it and it needs to be changed.”
In court, the crown argued First Nations could tailor the requested financial statements so they don’t contain any meaningful, sensitive information that would be harmful to the band.
“We have not done what the crown is suggesting, we aren’t going to. We are going to provide that information to our people and our membership as it always has been.”
Wallace maintained that an audit will be provided to the feds, subject to it remaining confidential.