Court showdown over First Nations transparency hard to avoid: Sask. scholar

A Saskatchewan academic says the current showdown over financial transparency will not likely get resolved outside of the courtroom.

Ken Coates says complicated business arrangements and confidentiality are important legal questions

Ken Coates is the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Senior Policy Fellow in Aboriginal and Northern Canadian Studies. (CBC)

A Saskatchewan academic who specializes in the relationships between Aboriginal peoples, government and industry, says the current showdown over financial transparency will not likely get resolved outside of the courtroom. 

Ken Coates is the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Senior Policy Fellow in Aboriginal and Northern Canadian Studies.

Coates said the points raised by First Nations who opposed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act are legitimate legal questions.

For First Nations, "a lot of their corporate activity are integrated in with the activities of their economic development corporations and First Nations owned companies," Coates said.  

He said corporate activities are therefore frequently cross-registered and cross-owned. 

Coates said another important issue is confidentiality.

"How do you negotiate confidentially with a mining company if whatever you agree has to be explained in full and released to the government?"

Coates said he believes that there could be an arrangement where the leadership of First Nations communities have to report salaries and benefits to the community. 

"You've got a situation where First Nations say, 'We report back regularly to our communities. And they know how much we get paid, they know the details of these corporate agreements, even though they're confidential, they're confidential to the membership. Why are you telling us we have to tell somebody who lives in Toronto the business of Onion Lake?'"

Coates said a small number of First Nations leaders make large sums of money. Even so, he said it is a concern for the government. He gave a hypothetical example. 

"If the mayor [of Saskatoon] was making a million dollars a year, there would be an uproar in the provincial legislature," Coates said. "Even if they followed all the rules and regulations and even reported it to the public, it would still be a matter of great public anxiety."

The impact of losing federal funding for not handing over financial date will be mixed, Coates said, depending on how financially independent each band is. 

Money for health and education will not be withheld from any First Nation. 

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