First Nations have until midnight to file their financial information or risk losing a portion of federal government funding, according to Aboriginal Affairs.
Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which came into effect last year, First Nations must submit their audited financial statements for the past fiscal year to the government, including salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors.
Aboriginal Affairs says there are 617 First Nations in Canada but the act only applies to 581. The remaining First Nations have self-government agreements and are exempt.
As of today, the Aboriginal Affairs website shows that 197 First Nations, or roughly 33 per cent, of the bands required to file had not yet complied. That is significantly higher than the number that missed the deadline last year, when 98 per cent of bands complied with the new law.
"Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld," Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Non-essential services does not include things like health, housing or education.
But an official from Aboriginal Affairs said First Nations still have until midnight tonight to comply with the law before the process to withhold funding starts — a process that could take days.
It takes up to 48 hours for the department to evaluate financial information and post it online, which means the list of First Nations not in compliance could shrink in the coming days.
Aboriginal Affairs has sent warnings to some communities in the Northwest Territories, including the Jean Marie River First Nation, which received a letter saying the information had to be submitted by Aug. 29 or non-essential services would be cut Sept. 1.
"Our auditor had sent in the audit report, the same way as he did last year, before the cutoff date," said Chief Gladys Norwegian.
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Valcourt, who is running for re-election in the riding of Madawaska–Restigouche, said that communities that wilfully don't comply could be taken to court.
Not for public view
The federal government has taken some First Nations bands to court in a bid to force them to comply with the law.
After two days of hearings earlier this month, a Federal Court justice reserved his decision.
Onion Lake Cree Nation, which covers territory in Alberta and Saskatchewan, is one of those bands awaiting a decision. Chief Wallace Fox said making that information public would hurt businesses owned by the band.
"There would be a breakdown of company A in terms of expenses, revenue and all audits," he said.
While some First Nations said they have no problem sharing some financial information publicly, they don't believe they should have to make that information available to the general public.
"The monies that we're talking about are not public funds, they're not taxpayers' dollars," said Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, who was in Saskatoon for the hearings. "This is why we're adamant that this relationship is between the federal government, ourselves and our own citizens."
In Manitoba, 44 of 63 First Nations have yet to post their financial information online. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it's too early to tell what effect the withheld funds will have on those communities.
"The real story starts with asking why the Harper government felt it needed to create and unilaterally push a transparency law on indigenous communities who are already encumbered by the most punitive and stringent reporting requirements and standards of accountability under Canadian fiscal policy," Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in an email.
A previous version of this story said First Nations had until midnight Aug. 28, 2015, to file their financial information. In fact, they have until midnight Sept. 1.Sep 01, 2015 12:56 PM ET