Kicking a television crew out of the native community of Attawapiskat is a troubling move by the band led by Chief Theresa Spence, one that is aggravated by the fact that the expulsion comes on the heels of Ms. Spence’s casual dismissal of an audit of her band’s bookkeeping that found many troubling disparities. Ms. Spence and her supporters need to concede that, in their historic and legitimate grievances with the federal government, they are in effect making demands of the people of Canada. Transparency will only enhance their cause.
Since reserves like Attawapiskat are the property of native bands, the local police were probably technically within their rights to expel a television crew that flew into the remote community on Tuesday. But reserves aren’t exempt from the Charter of Freedoms, and this isn’t just about the rights of the media. It appears that some Attawapiskat residents wanted to tell their story and were looking forward to meeting with the reporter. Their right to express themselves wasn’t respected.
The instructions to expel the reporter and her crew came from the chief and the council, according to the acting chief. It is asking a lot of Canadians to trust the legitimacy of a band chief who dismisses the importance of proper accounting practices and won’t let her people talk to reporters. You can’t lament Third World conditions and then act like a Third World despot.
Of course, Ms. Spence does not represent the broader native communities, and she is not officially part of Idle No More. But, at present, she is the most public face of a surging movement to settle long-outstanding issues, one that has resulted in Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreeing to meet with national first nations leaders on Friday. When he does so, it will be as the representative of the taxpayers of Canada, and they will want some questions answered.