The federal government says withholding non-essential money from five First Nations and forcing them to disclose their private business finances will not harm the bands.
Federal lawyers presented their arguments Thursday in the case of whether the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) should be stayed until its constitutionality is determined by the court. The court will also decide if withheld money should be released to the bands.
The government argued the bands did not prove that withholding non-essential funding is causing the members irreparable harm.
Onion Lake Cree Nation has seen $1.2 million in non-essential funding withheld.
Chief Wallace Fox said the band has pulled money from its own resources to pay for some educational services and teacher’s benefits.
“At the end of the day, where is the harm? It’s the child that is not getting the quality of education from their teacher or staff,” Fox said.
“At the end of the day, where is the harm? It’s the child that is not getting the quality of education from their teacher or staff”- Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox
Ottawa took the First Nations to court after they refused to comply with FNFTA and post their audited financial statements on a public government website. They also withheld all non-essential government funding until the bands comply.
Fox said Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt is setting a double standard.
“Do you Mr. Minister go back to your constituents when you’re going to vote on parliament budget in the house?” he said. “Do you go back to your constituents and ask them line by line before you vote? The answer is no. Now who is accountable and who’s transparent?”
FNFTA also requires all First Nations to release their private business finances, a move Fox said would give an unfair advantage to their business competitors. The Crown argued that bands can have amalgamated consolidated financial statements (ACFS) – where separate financial transactions are not distinguished – which “gives no meaningful information” to competitors.
The judge questioned whether ACFS can still give signals to competing businesses because finances are still categorized.
The federal government said FNFTA was meant to enhance, not create, accountability, and prevent misuse of taxpayer money. However, whether taxpayer money is used it still a hotly contested issue between the government and First Nations.
Assembly of First Nation’s Chief Perry Bellegarde attended the second day of the case. He said the money used does not come from taxpayers.
“They’re Indian monies,” Bellegarde said, adding the money comes from royalties on the land given to the federal government from First Nations under the treaties.
It’s unknown when the judge will make a ruling on whether to stay the FNFTA.