Saskatoon

Onion Lake Cree Nation ordered again by judge to post financial statements

A Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench judge has ordered the Onion Lake Cree Nation to post its financial documents online.

Judge writes First Nation is in 'civil contempt' of court order

Charmaine Stick launched an application to force the Onion Lake Cree Nation to release its financial documents. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

A Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench judge has ordered the Onion Lake Cree Nation to post its financial documents online.

Last fall, band member Charmaine Stick asked the band to provide its most recent audited financial statements on the internet. When Onion Lake refused, she took the matter to court.

In her decision, Justice Megan McCreary ordered the First Nation to comply with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, or face a $10,000 fine.

"The evidence demonstrates that the First Nation has not complied with its obligation to provide and publish disclosure for the 2017 and 2018 financial years," wrote McCreary. 

"I am therefore convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Onion Lake Cree Nation is in civil contempt of an order of this court."

Stick and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) have been battling Onion Lake for years over access to financial documents.

In 2016, Stick launched legal action after she was denied access to her band's financial records and successfully took the First Nation to court.

While Onion Lake eventually posted its 2015 and 2016 statements, it refused to post any further information.

"It is clear from the language of the June 15, 2017 order that the respondents' obligation to comply with the requirements of the Act is ongoing," wrote McCreary.

"The order does not specify a time limitation, nor does it specify that only specific financial years must be disclosed."

Initially, Onion Lake and a handful of other First Nations refused to follow the act, saying that it infringed on their sovereignty.

"We all talk about reconciliation so let's work together to make reconciliation a reality, not only for ourselves, but for all future generations yet to be born," said Stick in a news release. "Transparency allows us to walk together in equality."

Meanwhile, the CTF was also pleased with the decision.

"It's great to see the court upholding [Stick's] right to see what's happening with her community's money," said Todd McKay, the group's prairies director. "And it's great to see the court enforcing the law."

Information from the financial documents led to a CBC investigation that showed Onion Lake planned to build a now-cancelled $10.5 million embassy, as well as an investment in a New Zealand tech company that was the subject of "rumours of kickbacks," according to a leaked letter from the band's auditor to its chief and council. 

The First Nation must post the documents by Aug. 24, 2019 to avoid a fine.

Calls to Onion Lake Cree Nation were not immediately returned.

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