Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 78
  Thursday, May 10, 2012
 
Question: Poundmaker Cree Nation

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Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, Poundmaker Cree Nation, located near Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, holds its elections under a community custom code. Poundmaker has exercised its inherent customary laws for many decades and has never been subject to the Indian Act for selection of its chief and council. Their method worked fine for many decades because it was respected and implemented by the electorate.

Recently, however, there has been resistance to abide by the long-standing custom of disciplining and removing elected officials. There have been ongoing problems of governance with the Poundmaker chief and council and, in July 2011, after a six-year investigation by the RCMP, a total of 46 charges for fraud, theft and breach of trust were laid against nine individuals, including the current chief and several councillors.

My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Band members have made numerous calls to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and written to the minister asking for help to resolve the situation over the past 10 years. With criminal charges laid against the chief and several councillors in July 2011, why did the Regional Director General of AANDC not conduct an assessment of the situation?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for the question, however, I am not certain whether or not this matter is before the courts. It is obviously in regard to a legal matter. Therefore, I am not in a position to comment, but I will take the question as notice and seek a written response.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, I have some supplementary questions that perhaps the leader could take as written notice and also follow up on.

Poundmaker has a written election code that states that the removal of a chief and councillor can occur if they abuse their fiduciary obligation to the band membership and are convicted of an indictable offence, such as fraud.

On April 16, 2012, the current chief and several councillors pled guilty to charges of fraud and theft under the Criminal Code of Canada. Despite demands by band members for the guilty parties to resign, they have not. Worse yet, the department continues to recognize the guilty parties as legitimate council members.

Why have the minister and the department continued to recognize the guilty parties as legitimate council members? Why has the minister not taken action to remove the names of the guilty parties as the officially recognized chief and council members?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that additional information. This is a matter specific to one band and I will, of course, include the honourable senator's further questions in my request for a written response.

First Nations Elections

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: These questions are band specific, but they do apply to a number of bands across Canada. When First Nations bands contact AANDC with custom election complaints, why does the department not explain the Custom Election Dispute Resolution Policy to them, or at least give them a copy of it? Why does the minister or the department not outline, as standard procedure, the actions that the community can undertake, instead of telling them the department can do nothing?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Again, the honourable senator is referring to documents specific to what is going on in that particular band. I am not privy to those documents. I doubt that most of my colleagues here in the Senate are even aware of the situation. I appreciate the question and will seek a written response to all of the issues raised.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, the last question is more general in that it applies to all bands that hold custom code elections and that is, if I remember correctly, about 340 First Nations; it is not just one.

It is truly ironic that we passed Bill S-6, the First Nations elections bill, just a few weeks ago. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development insisted on retaining clause 3(1)(b) that allows the minister to order a First Nation having protracted leadership disputes to come under its provisions. Yet, the minister has refused to intervene in the protracted Poundmaker leadership dispute, despite being asked to do so repeatedly. No doubt members of the Poundmaker band feel abandoned by the minister.

How can the department argue that it needs the legislative power within clause 3(1)(b) in Bill S-6 to intervene on the basis that it does not want to abandon First Nations having protracted leadership disputes when it has most certainly abandoned Poundmaker?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, Senator Dyck commented that the minister has refused to meet. I will have to get the other side of the story. We do have a minister who has been very engaged in the various files in his department, and I am quite certain that much of what the honourable senator has asked will receive reasonable responses. I will add the further questions to my inquiry.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that. Also, could the honourable leader ask the department to respond to how many other First Nations have been abandoned by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada when asked for help? How many other First Nations have asked the department for help in resolving protracted leadership disputes, and how many have been turned down?

Senator LeBreton: Again, honourable senators, I think it is unfair to say that any band has been "abandoned." That is perhaps the honourable senator's take on it. I believe that there will be a very serious response to her questions prepared and I do not want to impugn motives on either side until we get that response.