Saskatoon

Federal transparency law court case wraps in Saskatoon

In day two of a court case in Saskatoon, federal lawyers argued that First Nations are overstating the impact of publishing details of financial operations.

Several First Nations argued they should not have to comply with new law

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)

A federal court justice overseeing a case involving the First Nations Financial Transparency Act has reserved his decision. 

Ottawa is trying to force eight First Nations from across the country to comply with the act. The legislation would post First Nations' financial information online, including salaries for chiefs and councillors.

This week, First Nations from Saskatchewan and Alberta were in a Saskatoon court asking for an order that would stop Ottawa from imposing sanctions while the constitutionality of the law is being challenged.

Ottawa plans to withhold funding for non-essential services if the bands don't fall into line.

While much of the legal arguments from the First Nations' have centred around the constitutionality of the overall act, the federal lawyers narrowed the focus to whether enforcement should be stayed.

 A number of the First Nations have argued that posting the financial statements online would cause 'irreparable harm,' especially when it comes to businesses owned by First Nations.

However, the crown argued the information would not be as revealing as First Nations suggest.

"Financial performance of an investment is compressed into one single figure," crown lawyer Daniel Kuhlen said.

A band could provide more detailed information to members who request it, he added.

While the First Nations said they have no problem sharing public financial information, 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. "This is why we're adamant that this relationship is between the federal government, ourselves, and our own citizens." 

In a news conference held this afternoon, Chief Wallace Fox of the Onion Lake Cree Nation reiterated why he believes bands would hurt if the financial information requested is made public.

"There would be a breakdown of company A in terms of expenses, revenue and all audits," Wallace said, referring to a theoretical example.

"And over here would be a cash balance, and over here would be the assets and liabilities. And if our community, our business were going to go compete outside the community and bid, well all the competitors have to do is look at is Onion Lake statement, boom, 'they have x number of dollars, they can only bid up to here', or 'they can't afford to bid this low.'"


CBC's Dan Zakreski was tweeting live from court. View his tweets below. 

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