North

Victory for Teslin Tlingit Council in funding dispute with feds

The Yukon Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has failed to negotiate an adequate funding agreement with the First Nation.

Ottawa to provide funding on a per capita basis that includes all First Nation citizens, court rules

Wooden totems represent the different clans of the Teslin Tlingit Council. In a news release, Chief Richard Sidney said the Yukon Supreme Court ruling issued this week brings clarity to the negotiating process. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon Supreme Court has handed a significant victory to Yukon's Teslin Tlingit Council.

The court ruled Tuesday that the federal government has failed to negotiate an adequate funding agreement with the First Nation.

It has ordered Ottawa to negotiate a new funding transfer agreement by March 31.

Teslin Tlingit Chief Richard Sidney welcomed the ruling, saying it brings clarity to the negotiating process and sets a firm timetable for completion.

"The courts have clarified for us, and for the government, what's required from here on with respect to bringing closure to the outstanding issue of the financial transfer agreement," he said.

"The work begins. We're here to negotiate a financial transfer agreement looking into the future, and the courts essentially clairifed how we should approach that issue. So I was pretty pleased." 

The ruling also instructs the federal government to provide funding on a per capita basis that includes all First Nations citizens, rather than just for those with "Indian status."

The council says roughly 25 per cent of its 800 citizens don't have status. 

In its petition to the court, the First Nation argued that funding formula meant it wasn't 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 the First Nation, relate to infrastructure, housing, environmental protection, language preservation, education and heritage. 

Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale's ruling instructs the federal government to provide funding on a per capita basis that includes all First Nations citizens, rather than just for those with 'Indian status.' (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

The First Nation's petition to the court was filed more than a year ago.

It argued the federal government has been aware of significant funding shortfalls since 2006, and has been deliberately stalling on re-negotiating since then. It also argued Ottawa has offered no meaningful changes to the existing funding agreement since it was reached in 2010. 

The agreement was extended in both 2015 and 2018. The First Nation said it had little choice but to agree. It says the extensions were seen as necessary in order to continue receiving money.

Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale heard the case December.

At the time, the federal government's lawyer Glen Jermyn told the court the petition wasn't necessary, and potentially disruptive. Jermyn argued that granting it would create uncertainty and turmoil in the negotiations, not just with the Teslin Tlingit Council but with all other self-governing Yukon First Nations.

Jermyn declined to comment on the ruling when contacted by CBC Wednesday.

The federal government has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.