A Saskatchewan First Nation is being forced to reveal how it spends its money after a legal battle that’s played out over the last year.
On Monday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal upheld a June 15, 2017, ruling from Court of Queen’s Bench which ordered Onion Lake Cree Nation — situated about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster — to publish basic financial information.
“The court of appeal is very, very clear. Grassroots people in Onion Lake Cree Nation have the right to know what’s happening with the band’s money,” said Todd MacKay, prairie director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).
The CTF helped launch the legal fight with Onion Lake member Charmaine Stick.
“If you don’t have accountability and transparency then all hell breaks loose,” Stick said. “I’ve come to see and know the consequences, the implications on our people, especially our youth, without having the transparency and accountability.”
The court application that was launched required Stick’s leaders to publish audited financial statements, in addition to the salaries and expenses paid to chief and council as set out by The First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
The court of appeal’s ruling is a landmark decision according to MacKay.
“This is a huge precedent for First Nations people across Canada. They have the same right to know what’s going on with their community’s money that all Canadians have,” he said.
As part of the decision, Justice Jacelyn Ryan-Froslie wrote:
“The First Nations Financial Transparency Act has not been found constitutionally invalid and until it is or until there is an order staying its enforcement, Onion Lake has a legal obligation to comply with its terms.”
The CTF said the federal government stopped enforcing the law in 2015, but if Onion Lake decides to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, it must still comply with publishing its documents.
MacKay also recently stood outside Court of Queen’s Bench in Regina to launch a similar court order in partnership with a man from the Thunderchild First Nation who was concerned with his band’s financial transparency.
However, that matter has already been concluded.
“They decided not to fight it,” MacKay revealed.
MacKay said Thunderchild looked at the Onion Lake court case and handed over documents for publishing.
A call has been placed with Onion Lake Cree Nation for comment on the court’s decision.