APTN National News
OTTAWA–Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says the department will immediately cut funding and begin court action against any First Nation that refuses to comply with his government’s transparency law.
Valcourt told reporters his department would be withholding funding for non-essential services like chief and council salaries, administrative costs and economic development projects. He also said the department would begin preparing the groundwork for court action against the non-compliant First Nation to force them to reveal their audited financial statements online. The deadline for complying passed Thursday at midnight.
“First thing we are going to do is withhold funding; the process starts today,” said Valcourt. “The court order is a legal matter. In the next few days we will take steps to seek court orders against those who willfully refuse to follow the law.”
Valcourt said funding for social services, health and education would not be impacted by the cuts.
“We will not penalize the membership of the First Nation whose leadership refuses to comply with the law,” he said.
The department released numbers on Thursday showing 52 First Nations had refused to comply with the law. The department said 529 First Nations have submitted their financial reports for posting by the department.
Thunderchild Chief Delbert Wapass said his Saskatchewan community would not be complying with the law.
“We are refusing to submit as well,” said Wapass.
Onion Lake Cree Nation filed a $50 million court action against Ottawa Wednesday over the law. The oil-rich Saskatchewan First Nation’s statement of claim provides a glimpse at the department’s planned punitive steps against non-compliant First Nations.
The document said the department planned to initiate two rounds of cuts to non-essential service, the first scheduled for Thursday and the second for Dec. 12. The document also alleges the department plans to terminate Onion Lake’s contribution on agreement also on Dec. 12. The contribution agreement includes funding for essential services.
Valcourt would not comment on Onion Lake’s claim on termination of the funding agreement, saying the matter was before the courts.