ALBERTA

First Nations Don't Have To Disclose Reserves' Finances, Rules Judge

10/27/2015 11:58 EDT | Updated 10/27/2015 11:59 EDT
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

SASKATOON — A federal court judge has ruled five First Nations don't have to open their books to the public pending a challenge to a federal law.

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, passed in 2013, requires all reserves to post salaries and audited financial statements online.

The reserves challenging the law say it is unconstitutional based on their treaty and aboriginal rights.

Ottawa took the five bands — Sawridge and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations in Alberta and Thunderchild, Ochapowace and Onion Lake bands in Saskatchewan — to court earlier this year for not filing their information.

Court cases are also pending against another three reserves: Roseau River Anishinabe in Manitoba, Liard First Nation in Yukon and Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Que.

Judge Robert Barnes wrote in his decision, released Friday, that the government has the right to enforce its law until the challenge is heard.

But "the greater public interest favours the respondent First Nations and their right to move forward with their litigation in the absence of the encumbrance of the attorney general's competing application.''

The judge also ruled against the Onion Lake band's request to have the government return so-called "non-essential'' funding it has withheld since November 2014, when the reserve stopped releasing its financial information.

The government has withheld funding from dozens of reserves that haven't released their information by a set deadline.

Chief Wallace Fox said in an affidavit that the government has kept slightly more than $1 million in funding from Onion Lake, money that is supposed to pay band employee benefits and fund 15 housing units on the reserve.

Barnes said in his decision that there wasn't enough evidence to prove the reserve has suffered ``irreparable harm.'' The judge did say that the band has the right to ask for repayment again in the future.

Fox said in a news release that he's encouraged by the judge's decision.

He said he wants the new Liberal government to release the funding as soon as possible.

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