Attawapiskat chief threatens court action

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she will use the courts if necessary to resist the imposition of a third-party manager.

Aboriginal Affairs minister agrees to meet with band chief

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence leaves a crowded press conference as media representatives continue to ask questions in Ottawa on Dec. 6. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she will use the courts if necessary to resist the imposition of a third-party manager.

Spence told CBC News that she has invited federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and his team to come to the troubled community themselves to look at the books. Duncan later confirmed he was preparing to meet with Spence face-to-face to try to clear the air following a tense back-and-forth that involved two sharply-worded letters from Spence. The letters blasted the minister for "misleading" the public about her apparent welcoming of third-party management.

Duncan's office staff said they are planning a time and place for a meeting with Spence, but have not said whether Duncan will travel to the northern Ontario community.

Spence and Duncan met last week in Ottawa, but they parted on shaky terms over the issue of imposing a third-party manager to review the band's accounts.

"What's there to hide? We said come look at our books, but no third party," Spence said Monday, adding that she feels bringing in private-sector consultant Jacques Marion would do more harm than good.

Spence said the costs to the band would be enormous. Marion, with BDO Canada LLP, would receive $1,300 a day to a maximum of $180,000 between now and the end of June, but Spence said the money would be better spent on band programs.

Greg Rickford, who works for Aboriginal Affairs, says third-party management was put in place two weeks ago. He said that wasn't a negotiable element to the process. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Over the weekend, Duncan said the chief had agreed to accept an independent manager. But Spence said she agreed to nothing.

Earlier Greg Rickford, Duncan's parliamentary secretary, told CBC News that "third-party management was put in place two weeks ago." He said that wasn't a negotiable element to the process.

Still Rickford did concede that there was no agreement with the band.

"The chief may not have agreed to a third-party manager, but a third-party manager is in place," he said. "And that's something that we're going to maintain."

Spence has argued that if the government were a true partner in resolving the Attawapiskat crisis, it would open up options beyond simply taking control of the band's finances.

Consultant 'getting results,' Duncan claims

Marion is already controlling the purse strings and making a positive difference, Duncan said Monday, praising the consultant's work.

"The third-party manager is already getting results for the community," Duncan said. "He purchased 22 modular homes using federal funds. He is ensuring that services and social services are delivered."

NDP MP Charlie Angus begged to differ, saying Marion wasn't involved in an agreement between the community and the department to acquire the homes.

John Saunders, the Ontario director of disaster management for the Canadian Red Cross, said he's never spoken with Marion.

"Most of the items that we've purchase have been as a result of the donations from Canadians," Saunders said.

The funds donated to the Red Cross have so far amounted to $300,000, and have gone towards providing space heaters, sleeping bags, winter clothing, insulation materials, fire extinguishers and first aid kits. Wood stoves were also purchased by Emergency Management Ontario.

The federal government is responsible for fixing up the community's Healing Lodge in an effort to provide short-term housing.

Saunders, who is in Attawapiskat, said the Red Cross is trying to figure out what it will take — and how much it will cost — to make that space habitable as soon as possible.

With files from CBC's Karina Roman