REGINA - Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government is disappointed with a Federal Court ruling that says it was "unreasonable in all circumstances" to appoint an outside manager to a troubled Ontario First Nation.
The court ruled Wednesday that a third party was the wrong way to address a critical housing shortage last fall in Attawapiskat.
Duncan would not say if it was a mistake to send in someone to take over the books.
"You know that's a very difficult question. I want to think about that a little more," the minister said after a speech Thursday in Regina.
"That was, um, you know there was an emergency situation which we would end up wearing if we didn't get some things done, so we wanted to get some things done.
"The important thing is that the health and safety of the community was looked after. We did get the housing accomplished and we got the people in place.
"In retrospect, that was the most important thing."
The James Bay community of 2,000 declared a state of emergency last October after a severe housing shortage forced more than two dozen families to live in temporary, mouldy shelters, some without insulation or plumbing.
The Conservative government sent in a third-party manager amid suggestions from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the band had been mismanaging federal funds in the face of the housing crisis.
The manager, Jacques Marion, was withdrawn in April. But the Attawapiskat First Nation persisted in its lawsuit against the government, anxious to get the courts to "refute'' Harper's suggestion that the band had been mismanaging federal money and to have Marion's appointment declared unlawful.
Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan said the decision to appoint someone to take over the books was made without any indication that there was a problem with the way the band was being managed.
The court also concluded, however, that there was no political malice in the decision — on the part of either Prime Minister Stephen Harper or members of his cabinet — nor any intent to embarrass the northern Ontario reserve or its members.
The minister could not say if the government will appeal the ruling.
"We have until some time this fall to make that decision, so we're not going to jump to a conclusion," he said.
"We don't know what the consequences might be. We have 11 third-party managers across the country. In some cases, they're quite welcome; in some cases maybe not quite so welcome. But there's a variety of circumstances at work here and it's not a one-size-fits-all situation at all."
Duncan also said the government believes it has a constructive relationship with the Attawapiskat First Nation.
"We've got many plans that we want to carry out and we work with 633 First Nations. Not everything goes smooth every time, but we think that going forward we'll be able to work very well with the chief and counsel."
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Quebec, Saturday September 1, 1990. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)
A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Quebec July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson)
A Quebec Metis places a stick with an eagle feather tied to it into the barrel of a machine gun mounted on an army armored vehicle at Oka Thursday, Aug. 23, 1990. The vehicle was one of two positioned a few metres away from the barricade causing a breakdown in negotiations. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Grimshaw)
A Mohawk Indian winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place on the Khanawake reserve on Montreal's south shore in 1990. The army broke up the fight by shooting into the air. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (CP PHOTO)
Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CP PHOTO)
Ken Wolf, 9, walks away from a graffiti-covered smoldering car near the entrance to the Ipperwash Provincial Park in this September 7, 1995 photo. A group of aboriginal protesters were occupying the park and nearby military base. (CP PHOTO)
Caledonian activist Gary McHale (right) is confronted by a Six Nations Protester as he attempts to lead members of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) in carrying a makeshift monument to Six Nations land in Caledonia, Ont., on Sunday February 27, 2011. CANACE claim inequality in treatment for Caledonian residents from Ontario Provincial Police compared to that of the Six Nation population. They planned to plant a monument of six nation property to demand an apology from the OPP, but were turned back by protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
First Nations people of the Grand River Territory stand with protest signs as they force the redirection of the Vancover 2010 Olympic Torch Relay from entering The Six Nations land Monday, December 21, 2009 near Caledonia, Ontario. The Olympic torch's journey across Canada was forced to take a detour in the face of aboriginal opposition to the Games, with an Ontario First Nation rerouting its relay amid a protest from a splinter group in the community. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)
Six Nations protesters guard the front entrance of a housing development in Hagersville, Ont., just south of the 15-month aboriginal occupation at Caledonia on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The protest was peaceful. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette)
Mohawk protestors block a road near the railway tracks near Marysville, Ont. with a bus and a bonfire Friday April 21, 2006. The natives showed their support to fellow natives in Caledonia, Ont. where they were in a stand off with police regarding land claims.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)