The federal government’s new financial transparency law for First Nations is a redundant piece of legislation based on a “complete lie,” according to a lawyer specializing in aboriginal law.
“Every First Nation has to file an audited financial statement with Indian Affairs every year to account for federal funds and it’s 100 per cent accessible by band members either through the band or Indian Affairs," said Ryerson University associate professor Pam Palmater on Power & Politics on Tuesday.
“So it’s a complete lie to say that this legislation is needed at all,” she said.
The new law requires First Nations to post audited financial statements and information about the salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors on a public website.
Appearing on a segment with Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick, Palmater said the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) “violates the constitution because their consent is required.”
“It violates the Privacy Act because it’s third-party information that’s not entitled to be distributed to the Canadian public – and there’s no need for it,” she said.
Host Evan Solomon made reference to controversy some First Nation chiefs have found themselves in following past disclosures. He mentioned some leaders’ salaries have been pegged at nearly $1 million. But the point was refuted by Palmater.
“There is no chief in Canada, ever, in the history of Canada that has earned a million dollars a year off of federal dollars that were transferred to the First Nation,” Palmater explained.
“And if there ever was, it would be completely condoned by the federal government because the federal government goes through it.”
Solomon then made reference to a B.C. chief who earned nearly three times as much as the prime minister last year. Palmater clarified that Kwikwetlem Chief Ron Giesbrecht’s $914,219 in tax-free earnings earnings was comprised of two income streams: federal funding and own-source revenue.
According to a salary disclosure report released by Kwikwetlem First Nation, Giesbrecht earned $84,800 as base pay plus $800,000 as a separate bonus from economic development deals. He also received $16,574 in expense claims.
Wudrick defended the legitimacy of FNFTA, saying it is “no more burdensome than requirements for federal, provincial, and municipal governments.” He explained some taxpayers have been “given the run around” after requests for chiefs’ salary figures.
Despite the controversy over FNFTA, an overwhelming majority of bands have submitted their financial details.
More than 90 per cent of First Nations have complied with the government’s transparency law. Bands who do not submit their numbers by Nov. 26 risk a suspension of non-essential programs and services. Earlier, the government said it would cut off “funding for essential services” if First Nations don't comply by Dec. 12. That threat of action was later revoked.
“I have directed that the sanctions not target essential services that support band members,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt clarified in a statement on Thursday.
Palmater decried the government’s threat as unnecessary retributive action.
“It’s absolutely criminal. Have you ever heard of a modern democratic country threatening any of its people with no food and water if you don’t comply with our legislation?” she said.
Criticism of the government’s new disclosure rules has been strong from Assembly of First Nations (AFN) members.
AFN Alberta regional Chief Cameron Alexis commented on the act in a written statement to HuffPost Canada, calling the government’s “colonial” approach “heavy-handed and onerous” for First Nations “already over-burdened by audit requirements.”
Alexis questioned the why the government is making a priority of FNFTA, adding Ottawa “should stop lecturing First Nations and abide by their own principles of accountability and transparency.”
“MPs and Senators should be held to the same standard, including full public disclosure of all business interests and share holdings; all CEOs and major companies need to fully disclose all business dealings so they're on a level playing field with First Nations,” he said.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: