Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt unveiled a First Nations financial transparency law today in Winnipeg, but his announcement was cut short by Idle No More protesters.
Valcourt came to the Manitoba capital to promote the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which was being signed into law on Wednesday.
The legislation makes it mandatory for First Nations to publicly post audited financial statements and the salaries of chiefs and councillors.
"People [are] being intimidated in their home community just for asking [for] that information, which they have a right to get," Valcourt said.
But those speaking at the announcement were soon drowned out by protesters, including a man who identified himself only as "Dancing Bear" who banged a hand drum and yelled at the minister.
The event abruptly ended and Valcourt was escorted into another room by security staff.
Activist clashes with taxpayers federation
Pam Palmater, an Idle No More activist in Manitoba, said there is grassroots opposition to the new law because it gives the federal government too much power over First Nations.
'"If that's [what] the movement is about — shutting down people, their own people — I'm sorry for them.' —Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt on Idle No More
"For something as simple as not having a website, which many First Nations don't have … and failing to post their audited financial statements online because they don't have the funding, all of their funding could be cut to their communities," she said.
Palmater was then interrupted by Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who has expressed support for the legislation and spoken out about the salaries of Manitoba chiefs.
"Don't distract from the issues; stand up for the grassroots! Chief making more than the prime minister, and you're defending that. Shame on you!" Craig said to Palmater, who tried to interrupt him by shouting, "Shame on the prime minister!"
Craig said he, too, has heard from First Nations members who support the transparency legislation.
"We've heard from a lot of people in different communities who can't even find out how much their chief and council are making," he told reporters.
"That's the cases that we can't ignore in this country. We can't ignore the lack of accountability on some reserves."
Valcourt later came out of the room to finish speaking to reporters, and he had something to say to the Idle No More protesters.
"I'm sorry, but if that's [what] the movement is about — shutting down people, their own people — I'm sorry for them," Valcourt said.
Speaking again about the transparency law, Valcourt said, "This is empowering the members of the First Nations, and that's the best way to put it."