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Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, December 3, 2014. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, December 3, 2014. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Harper government taking First Nations to Federal Court over finances Add to ...

The federal government is going to court in an effort to force six defiant First Nations to publicly post their financial information online.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says his department will continue to withhold non-essential funding from almost 50 First Nations that failed to meet last month’s government-imposed deadline under a new Conservative transparency law.

But the government is also asking the Federal Court to force six First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to publish audited financial statements and the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and band council members.

“First Nations, like all Canadians, deserve transparency and accountability from their elected leaders,” Valcourt said in a statement Monday.

The targeted bands include the Council of First Nations of Thunderchild, Ochapowace and Onion Lake in Saskatchewan and the Sawridge, Athabasca Chipewayan and Cold Lake First Nations in Alberta.

Leaders of the six bands have flatly stated they will not be complying with the new rules.

The Onion Lake Cree Nation had already launched its own Federal Court bid late last month in an effort to overturn Bill C-27, the Conservatives’ First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Aboriginal leaders call the new rules a breach of their indigenous rights and say they are a sideshow designed to distract attention from chronic government underfunding.

“Not only is C-27 a breach of our historic treaty relationship, it is a denial of our international right of self-determination as indigenous nations,” Western Canadian First Nations from Treaties 4, 6 and 7 said in a news release last month.

“In no other place in Canada do such oppressive conditions exist under the coercive force of the federal government than Indian reserves.”

The Conservative legislation required First Nations to post audited financial statements and information about the salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors on a public website within four months of fiscal year end, March 31, 2014.

As of Monday, 535 of 582 First Nations had complied.

Valcourt’s statement said the transparency law “has made financial information more accessible to First Nation members, which leads to more effective, transparent and accountable governance as well as stronger, more self-sufficient and prosperous communities.”

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