Sask. court orders Onion Lake Cree Nation to disclose finances

Saskatchewan's Court of Queen's Bench is ordering Onion Lake Cree Nation to disclosure its finances within 30 days after dismissing its request to have the matter stayed.

'This is a victory for all First Nations people,' says band member behind action

Charmaine Stick has spent years pushing the leadership of Onion Lake First Nation to comply with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act and disclose its finances. (CBC)

Charmaine Stick says she can't stop smiling.

The member of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, said she recently learned the provincial Court of Queen's Bench has ordered the First Nation to follow federal legislation saying it must disclose its basic financial records. 

"This is a victory for all First Nations people out there who've been fighting for transparency and accountability from their leadership," said Stick. 

"In our culture, you know transparency and accountability is first and foremost, especially when you're in leadership."

Back in 2014, Stick went on a 13-day hunger strike in order to push the band for better financial transparency.

30 days to comply

The recent ruling stems from a court application Stick launched in 2016 alongside the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation.

Onion Lake has refused to disclose its finances, despite the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. 

Under the act, First Nations have to publicly disclose the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors as well as consolidated financial statements. 

"Look, most of us can find out how much our mayor or premier or Prime Minister makes with a Google search, and yet Onion Lake Cree Nation refused to provide that kind of disclosure," Todd MacKay, the federation's director for the prairie region, on Friday.

"This ruling says that Onion Lake has to provide that basic level of transparency within the next 30 days."

MacKay said court action had to be taken because the federal government is not enforcing the law for First Nations that do not comply.

Back in 2015, soon after coming into power, the Liberals announced it was clawing back on compliance measures for the legislation, which was introduced under the former Stephen Harper Conservative government.

Request for stay dismissed

In his decision, Justice Brian Barrington-Foote cited one band councillor's position that because Onion Lake is already involved in court against Ottawa over the transparency law, that the matter with Stick should be stayed.  

Barrington-Foote ultimately dismissed that request, however.

"There is no evidence before me as to the political or economic reasons why Onion Lake has refused to provide and post specified information. There is, for example, no evidence that Onion Lake's commercial interests would be negatively affected," he wrote.

A band councillor would not provide comment to CBC when contacted on Friday.

6 First Nations still breaking the rules

According to MacKay, six First Nations in the province besides Onion Lake are still not following the law. 

They are:

  • Algonquins of Barriere Lake
  • Dakota Tipi
  • Thunderchild First Nation
  • Ochapowace
  • Sawridge First Nation
  • Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation