Teslin Tlingit Council takes federal government to court over funding agreement

The First Nation says its current financial transfer agreement with the federal government is outdated and inadequate, and that Ottawa has failed to negotiate a new agreement.

First Nation says Ottawa isn't dealing in good faith to renegotiate agreement

The Teslin Tlingit Council filed a petition to Yukon Supreme Court a year ago, seeking declarations that Ottawa is obligated to re-negotiate a financial transfer agreement (FTA) with the First Nation. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

The Teslin Tlingit Council is in Yukon Supreme Court this week, arguing that the federal government has failed for years to negotiate an adequate funding agreement.

The First Nation filed a petition to the court a year ago, seeking declarations that Ottawa is obligated to re-negotiate its financial transfer agreement (FTA). The petition says the federal government has been aware of significant funding shortfalls since 2006, and has been deliberately stalling on renegotiating since then.  

The federal government rejects that, and says declarations from the Yukon court are unnecessary because negotiations are ongoing and Canada has done nothing wrong. 

In its petition, the First Nation claims it hasn't been able to deliver public services to its citizens in a way that is reasonably comparable to the level of services found elsewhere in the territory. Those services, considered essential by TTC, relate to infrastructure and housing, environmental protection, language preservation, education, and heritage. 

The First Nation is also challenging why the FTA is still tied to "Indian status," instead of First Nation citizenship. According to the petition, roughly 25 per cent of TTC's 800 citizens do not have status.

The First Nation says the lack of funding is undermining its constitutionally protected rights and obligations, as set out in its self-government agreements.

Extensions to FTA

TTC has argued that the federal government has offered no meaningful changes to the existing FTA since the agreement was reached in 2010. The FTA was extended in both 2015 and 2018. According to the First Nation, the extensions were seen as necessary to continue receiving money.

The federal government wants to extend the agreement again, into March 2019.

The TTC's counsel challenged that in court, questioning whether any significant changes to the FTA could be made in just a few months.

The federal government's lawyer, Glen Jermyn, argued that TTC's petition is unnecessary, and also potentially disruptive.

He told the court that granting the First Nation's petition would create uncertainty and turmoil in the negotiations not just with TTC, but with all other self-governing Yukon First Nations.

Just because the negotiation process is frustrating, Jermyn said, does not mean that Canada is acting in bad faith. 

The hearing before Justice Ron Veale is expected to continue on Wednesday.

With files from Alexandra Byers