Saskatoon

25 Saskatchewan reserves miss midnight transparency deadline

Saskatchewan reserves face financial penalties if they do not post financial information about their payroll and on-reserve businesses by midnight.

Pelican Lake First Nation filed just before deadline, officials withhold money from non-compliant bands

Chief Wallace Fox, of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, arrives at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon in August, to fight the federal government and its First Nations Transparency Act. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

Reserves across Canada had until before midnight yesterday to show Ottawa the money.

As of yesterday, 26 of 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan had not yet published financial information, including on-reserve business transactions and salaries for elected chiefs, councillors and band office staff.

But that changed Wednesday morning when the number of First Nations that had yet to report their records dropped to 25.

Pelican Lake First Nation waited until the final hour to publish its financial information and made it just in time for the midnight deadline.

It is one of six reserves in Canada that vanished from the list this morning.

Disclosure became mandatory last year under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

"Canadians expect transparency and accountability from their government and we are committed to ensuring that First Nations community members have that same level of transparency and accountability," said Kelly Block, a Saskatchewan Conservative Member of Parliament.

Accountability and transparency'

Conservative Member of Parliament Kelly Block first introduced the First Nations Transparency Act in 2010 as a private member's bill.

Block first brought the law before Parliament five years ago as a private member's bill.

"We'd hope that First Nations chiefs and councils would see this as another tool in their toolbox to keep their community members informed about the business that is going on in their communities," she said.

"Ensure that there is accountability and transparency for their members when making decisions around who they would like to see leading their community as well as the kind of business that is transpiring on their community," Block added.

Block could not say how much money Ottawa has withheld from reserves to date.

Money withheld

Chief Wallace Fox says his reserve is taking the federal government to court over a new law that requires First Nations to post their audited financial statements online. (CBC News)

Several bands, including the Lac La Ronge First Nation and the Buffalo River Dene Nation, were slow to file financial information after mass evacuations due to forest fires earlier this summer. Officials say they'll extend the deadline for them as well as other reserves intending to file.

But Ottawa has already withheld money from the Onion Lake Cree Nation, Ochapowace First Nation and Thunderchild First Nation for refusing to publish financial documents last year.

The matter is now before the courts.

Onion Lake's chief has also written to the United Nations arguing the law violates longstanding treaty rights. Chief Wallace Fox said the Conservative government, "is trying to impose their misguided agenda on our peoples."

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