(Onion Lake Chief Wallace Fox was not available to comment on the community’s appeal.)
APTN National News
The Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan is appealing a June court ruling ordering it to release financial information to its band members.
The case was brought by Charmaine Stick, who partnered with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in 2016 to force the band to comply with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act – a law passed by the Stephen Harper Conservatives requiring First Nations to publish salaries and expenses online.
“This is like a bad joke,” said Stick who is a member of the Onion Lake band in a statement released Wednesday. “Because the chief and council can’t seriously think they can convince a judge or anyone else that they should be able to spend our community’s money without being open about what they’re spending it on.”
In November 2014, Onion Lake launched a $50 million court action against Ottawa over damages suffered as a result of “punitive measures” imposed by the federal Aboriginal Affairs department after the Cree community refused to publicly disclose its finances as required by recently passed legislation.
The legal action also seeks to have the Federal Court find that the legislation, known as the First Nation Financial Transparency Act, has no force on Onion Lake Cree Nation and that the legislation breaches the community’s treaty rights. Onion Lake is also seeking a ruling that finds Ottawa has breached its fiduciary duty.
Less than a year later, Federal Court of Canada Justice Robert Barnes ordered the federal government to stop pursuing legal action against several First Nations who have yet to submit their public financial disclosure to the federal Aboriginal Affairs department.
But according to Stick, 90 per cent of First Nations across the country have complied with the law.
“Why are they spending thousands of dollars on legal bills to appeal a court decision in favour of transparency? Grassroots people are demanding transparency and we’ll continue the struggle until we all know what’s happening with the money in First Nations communities,” she said.
In its first few months of being in office, the federal Liberals said they would not enforce the compliance measures in the transparency act and lifted sanctions against communities that refused to abide by the law.
The government said it would bring in measures in a more cooperative way.
An administrator in the Onion Lake band office said officials at the moment have “no comment” about the appeal – but did say the community of 6,200 does have access to the band’s financial records. The administrator would not say if those records included salaries and expenses.
2007-2008 was the last time the community filed an audited statement with Indigenous Affairs.