Regina (CBC) – More than a third of First Nation communities across the country will have some of their federal funding withheld, starting today, because they haven’t publicly posted their financial information online.
Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which came into effect last year, First Nations have to submit their audited financial statements for the past fiscal year to the Canadian government, including the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.
That information is then published on an Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website.
This year, 210 First Nations, or roughly 36 per cent, have not posted their financial information online, a significantly higher number than last year when 98 per cent of bands complied with the new law.
Ottawa plans to withhold funding for non-essential services if the bands don’t fall into line.
“Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said at the end of July, less than a week before the federal election was called.
“Further actions may include seeking court orders to compel compliance,” he said.
The federal government took some of the First Nations bands to court in a bid to force them to comply with the law.
After two days of hearings earlier this month, a Federal Court justice reserved his decision.
Onion Lake Cree Nation, which covers territory in Alberta and Saskatchewan, is one of those bands affected by the ruling. Chief Wallace Fox said making that information public would hurt businesses owned by the band.
“There would be a breakdown of company A in terms of expenses, revenue and all audits,” Wallace said, citing a theoretical example.
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, who was in Saskatoon for the hearings. “This is why we’re adamant that this relationship is between the federal government, ourselves\ and our own citizens.”
CBC News has asked Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to comment on this story but has yet to receive a response.