TORONTO – First Nations across the country have until midnight to file their financial information or have their federal funding cut under a controversial piece of transparency legislation.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act brought into force by the Conservative government requires First Nations bands to submit audited financial statements for the past fiscal year to the government, including salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors.
According to Aboriginal Affairs there are 617 First Nations in Canada but the act only applies to 581, as the remaining First Nations are exempt under self-government agreements.
As of Tuesday night, the Aboriginal Affairs website shows that nearly 200 First Nations of the bands required to file had not yet complied.
The number of First Nations who have yet to file breaks down by region as follows:
- Atlantic Canada: 10
- Quebec: 5
- Ontario: 43
- Manitoba: 43
- Saskatchewan: 26
- Alberta: 10
- British Columbia: 38
- Yukon: 5
- Northwest Territories: 18
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, who is running as the Conservative candidate in the New Brunswick riding of Madawaska-Restigouche, issued a statement Tuesday on the First Nations bands who have not complied.
“Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld,” Valcourt said in a statement.
“Our government will continue to stand firm for accountability and transparency for all Canadians, and we urge all band leadership to file the appropriate documents in accordance with the law.”
Some First Nations in provinces affected by forest fires, such as communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta, are being granted an exception due to the exceptional circumstances.
The non-compliance rate is dramatically higher than last year when 98 per cent of bands complied with the new law.
Onion Lake Cree Nation, which covers territory in Alberta and Saskatchewan, is currently challenging the federal legislation and has appealed to the United Nations for help.
The First Nation’s case against the transparency law was heard in Saskatoon Federal Court last month, and a decision has yet to be reached.
Chief Okimaw Wallace Fox says has sent a letter to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva seeking help. He said the legislation is a violation of treaty rights and is a heavy-handed approach by the government against indigenous peoples.
*With a file from the Canadian Press