Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 146
  Wednesday, March 20, 2013
 
Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act (Third Reading)
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Bill. This bill seeks to require First Nation governments to make public their audited consolidated financial statements annually and require that a schedule of chief and council salaries and expenses also be made public through posting both documents on the Internet.

Transparency and accountability through proactive disclosure are important goals for all governments, including First Nation governments, and these are goals that everyone supports. However, from what the witnesses told us at the committee hearings, the passage of Bill C-27 will neither enhance nor provide support for First Nation governments to achieve either of these important goals.

Honourable senators, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, AANDC, and the minister would have us believe that passing Bill C-27 will clamp down on the few First Nations who are perceived as corrupt and who refuse to comply with requests from their band members to see the financial statements that their band sends to AANDC. Instead of believing the unfounded rhetoric that enacting Bill C-27 will clamp down on corrupt First Nations and help their frustrated band members, consider these four facts, which the minister and AANDC did not make clear and did not seem to want us to know during committee study of the bill.

Fact 1: Aboriginal Affairs can already release a band's financial information to its band members. Under existing administrative policies, even those included in the national funding agreements, which are legal contracts, this is doable. One can only wonder why the department does not, especially since refusing to do so only creates more frustration for band members.

Fact 2: Aboriginal Affairs under existing rules cannot release the confidential financial information of a First Nation to the general public. Thus, Aboriginal Affairs cannot release confidential information such as names and information on own-source revenues to the public, such as to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Fact 3: By voting to pass Bill C-27, we will be eliminating the freedom of First Nations to make their own decisions with respect to public disclosure of their private financial information. Under the existing rules and regulations, First Nation bands have a choice. They, not Aboriginal Affairs, get to decide whether or not to release their confidential financial information to the general public.

Fact 4: Enacting Bill C-27 will not clamp down on the few non-compliant First Nations because the bill legislates the same policies and regulations, the exact same tools that Aboriginal Affairs already has. If AANDC cannot make a non-compliant First Nation comply now, it still will not be able to do so because Bill C-27 does not contain any new remedies to do that. Clearly, Bill C-27 is all smoke and mirrors, meant to fool us and the Canadian public.

The government cannot justify eliminating the privacy rights of all First Nation bands using the excuse of protecting and helping band members from a few First Nations because they know that Aboriginal Affairs is partly responsible for creating the problem. Even without Bill C-27, Aboriginal Affairs could help band members by giving them their band's financial information, but they do not. Instead of actually helping frustrated band members, the government seems to have used them as an excuse to put forth this bill.

If that is not bad enough, the government is providing false hope to band members from the few allegedly corrupt First Nations. Aboriginal Affairs knows this bill will not make these non-compliant First Nation leaders comply. There are no new remedies in the bill to do that.

One can only conclude that either the people at Aboriginal Affairs are trying to fool us or they have a hidden agenda. Neither conclusion is flattering. The minister ought to have taken swift action to withdraw Bill C-27 and sit down with First Nation leaders and band members to come up with a piece of legislation that would have actually worked in the manner that everyone wants and will applaud.

Honourable senators, in the end, Bill C-27 will be like the long-gun registry legislation, which did not work and which was recently repealed by this government. It, too, was meant to clamp down on a small subset of gun owners, but instead it punished and angered law-abiding long gun owners such as farmers and hunters. In fact, hunters who deliberately refused to comply were not even prosecuted.

The same fate is in store for Bill C-27. It is meant to target a small subset of First Nation bands, but it too will be ineffective. Similarly, Bill C-27 will penalize and anger law-abiding First Nation bands, the vast majority who, like the hunters, are doing nothing wrong. Perhaps after the bill is enacted they too will refuse to comply. Perhaps they all should refuse to comply.

I know that the government intends to push Bill C-27 through the Senate so that it is passed by the end of March. Honourable senators opposite form the majority in the Senate, but I ask honourable senators to sit back and take a sober second long pause before rushing to pass this bill by voting along party lines.

Honourable senators, those are the essence of my arguments as to why Bill C-27 should have been withdrawn to allow for consultation and revision and should now be defeated at third reading.

I will now go into great detail using quotations from the Aboriginal Peoples Committee hearings. Fact 1, honourable senators will recall, was that Aboriginal Affairs can already release this information to band members under existing rules; this is doable. One can only wonder why the department does not, especially since refusing to do so only creates more frustration for band members.

As outlined in the legislative summary on Bill C-27 prepared by the Library of Parliament, under the Year-end Financial Reporting Handbook, First Nations must submit to AANDC annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials. The latter includes unelected positions such as those of executive director, band manager, senior program director, and manager. First Nations are also required to release these statements to their membership. In particular, section 6.4.1 requires First Nations to disclose, both to their members and to Aboriginal Affairs, "compensation earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials and by unelected senior officials; and section 6.4.2 stipulates that the amounts of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials to be disclosed "must be from all sources within the recipient's financial reporting entity including amounts from, but not limited to, economic development and other types of business corporations."

Additionally, Aboriginal Affairs can also release the information to band members through the comprehensive funding agreements, such as in 2010 and 2011, that all First Nations signed. In particular, section 3.1 provides that council must make available the consolidated audited financial statements, including the auditor's report, to First Nation members upon their request. Section 4.4 provides that where a council fails to make its audited financial statement available to its members, the minister may do so.

It should be noted that because of the Sawridge decision, these financial statements are not confidential vis--vis the members of the First Nations band, and band members can review their own band's financial statements under the Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations. As such, the government may disclose financial statements to band members.

Mr. Bradley Regehr, from the Canadian Bar Association, stated before the committee:

It is fairly easy in that the minister can provide that information directly to the member, and my understanding is that they do that under the current contribution agreements.... The minister can already provide that information to the member who is not receiving it directly from the First Nation.

In response to my question about the differences between the bill and current policies, he said:

One difference is that if the First Nations do not comply with the legislation, the federal government can apply to a superior court for an order compelling them to do so, as can any member.

He said:

Under the bill, they would have to go to a superior court. I just do not understand the point of it. The minister can already provide that information to the member who is not receiving it directly from the First Nation. If the First Nation is refusing to do that, the minister already has remedies under the contribution agreements imposing conditions, clawing back funding, appointing third-party managers or co-managers. I hate to phrase it this way, but what is the point?

At committee, we heard from three band members from three reserves where the leadership refuses to give them the financial information they are supposed to provide to their members. The members' stories were heartbreaking. We could feel their anger and their frustration, and we were impressed by their courage to stand up despite intimidation and fear of backlash. I have great sympathy and empathy for the band members who appeared as witnesses; and, of course, we all want to help them. However, enacting Bill C-27 will not help them. The remedies in the bill to make their leadership provide financial information to them are already in place in departmental policies and regulations. As I will outline later, these policies are also part of the legally binding contract the funding agreement entered into by the band and Canada.

In response to my comment that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada can release financial information to band members, Ms. Phyllis Sutherland, from the Peguis Accountability Coalition, said:

That is true, and I do not know how to correct that. The minister puts these rules in place and then does not follow through with them, either, so we are left in the same predicament. It is very frustrating. We brought these concerns up time and time again.

Mr. Michael Benedict, from the Coalition of Abenaki Citizens for a Just, Transparent and Accountable Abenaki Government, said:

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, formerly known as INAC, has a track record of wilfully turning away from clear abuses of financial, electoral and environmental mismanagement amongst First Nation governments, despite cries for help by the latter's citizens,...

He also said:

... requests for information to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada by First Nations citizens about their respective First Nation are generally redirected to that First Nation government, which has refused information in the first place, even if that information is supposed to be legally and publicly available.

Ms. Beverly Brown, from the Squamish First Nation, said:

I also requested that information from the B.C. region AANDC and received no response. I was stonewalled and told to go back to chief and council for that information.

Mr. Colin Craig, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said:

The feedback that we have heard overwhelmingly from many different band members is they cannot get it from their communities, so then they go to the federal government. In the past, they have been denied the information from local Aboriginal and Northern Affairs offices. They have been told, "No, no, go get this from your band," so they are getting caught in a loop.

Honourable senators, it is clear from these statements that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is creating or exacerbating the problem by not releasing a band's financial information to its members.

The second fact is that Aboriginal Affairs, under existing rules, cannot release the confidential financial information of a First Nation to the general public. Thus, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada cannot release confidential information, such as names and information on own-source revenues, to the public or public groups, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Under the court ruling in Sutherland, 1994, the Federal Court ruled that the names of persons who had provided credit to or received a loan from a First Nations band and the job descriptions or salaries of certain band positions are "personal information" as defined under the Privacy Act. As such, access to information requests for chief and council salaries and remuneration under the Access to Information Act prohibit the government from disclosing such information.

Under the court ruling in Montana, the Federal Court held that First Nations' financial statements are confidential information within the meaning of section 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act and, therefore, are not subject to public disclosure by the government.

Former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan appeared before the committee and said:

The other thing we have to recognize is that the Privacy Act currently prohibits the department from publishing or from divulging chief and council member salaries and remuneration. The effect of Bill C-27 is that that would then give us the legal authority to do so,...

What the minister did not make clear was that he can release this information to band members but not to the general public.

In committee, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stated:

We are routinely copied on requests to the federal government in cases where band members cannot get the information locally.

This is rather strange. Why does the department do that? They know that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is a public body and cannot get information on chief and council salaries because of the Privacy Act; and they know that the band member can. The situation is illogical. The department is creating more frustration for band members by sending them to a public body that they know cannot help them.

The third fact is that by enacting Bill C-27, the Conservatives will be eliminating the freedom of First Nations to make their own decisions with respect to public disclosure of their private financial information. Under the existing rules and regulations, First Nation bands have a choice: They, not Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, get to decide whether to release their confidential information to the general public.

Section 7 of the Year-end Financial Reporting Handbook states:

7.2 Background

The Government of Canada acknowledges and respects the confidentiality of the Recipient's consolidated audited financial statements.

...

7.3 Disclosure with Consolidated Financial Statements

If a recipient prefers full disclosure to the public of its consolidated financial statements prepared in accordance with the Year-End Financial Reporting Handbook (YEFRH) instead of preparing a separate financial schedule as outlined in 7.4, then the recipient must accompany its financial statements with a signed Band Council Resolution, Chief's Resolution or other similar document authorizing the Government of Canada to disclose the information to the general public.

The information requirements set out in Sections 6.2, 6.3, 6.4 and 6.5 of the YEFRH are not mandatory for public disclosure using this option. The choice to omit this information must be identified through the signed Band Council Resolution, Chief's Resolution or other similar document that is submitted to INAC.

The fourth fact is that enacting Bill C-27 will not clamp down on the few non-compliant First Nations because it legislates the same policies and regulations the exact same tools that AANDC already has. If Aboriginal Affairs cannot make a non-compliant First Nation comply now, it still will not be able to do so because Bill C-27 does not contain any new remedies to do that.

At a departmental technical briefing for our committee members on February 5, it was revealed through questioning that there are no different remedies in the bill. Witnesses who appeared at the committee confirmed this fact.

Michael McKinney, from the Sawridge First Nation, emphatically told the committee that there are no new tools for compliance in Bill C-27. He said:

The regulations, as well as the handbook for accounting for First Nations, require not only the posting of the information but also the provision of the financial information to the minister or the department. The consequence, currently, is that if a First Nation does not provide appropriate audit requirements, the government will refuse to provide funds. I do not know how this bill changes that, other than this bill now makes it public to the whole world and provides for a court order, which is likely possible under the regulations in any event. If there is a regulation that you are not complying with, someone can go to court and seek... some kind of order requiring you to comply. I do not see how this bill fixes that problem. If someone does not want to follow the law, they are not going to follow the law.

This sentiment was reiterated by the Assembly of First Nations, where Jody Wilson-Raybould said:

In its current form, Bill C-27 will do little to practically support true First Nations' accountability or nation rebuilding and will simply further impose federal rules upon our governments.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Patterson, during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, stated:

We are not talking about some radical imposition of new reporting or new disclosure requirements. They are already there....

It is not much different from what is in place now.

Honourable senators, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Bill C-27 is all smoke and mirrors, meant to fool us and the Canadian public.

The government cannot justify eliminating the privacy rights of all First Nation bands, using the excuse of protecting and helping band members from a few First Nations, because they know that Aboriginal Affairs is partly responsible for creating the problem. Even without Bill C-27, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada could help band members by giving them their band's financial information, but they do not. Instead of actually helping frustrated band members, the government seems to have used them as an excuse to put forth this bill.

If that is not bad enough, the government is providing false hope to band members from the few allegedly corrupt First Nations. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development knows this bill will not make those noncompliant First Nation leaders comply. There are no new remedies in this bill.

As I said before, honourable senators, in the end, Bill C-27 will be like the long-gun registry legislation that did not work and that was recently repealed by this government. It was meant to clampdown on a small subset of gun owners, but, instead, it punished and angered law-abiding long-gun owners, such as farmers and hunters. In fact, hunters who deliberately refused to comply were not prosecuted.

As I said before, the same fate is in store for Bill C-27. It is meant to target a small subset of First Nation bands, but it, too, will be ineffective. Similarly, Bill C-27 will penalize and anger law-abiding First Nation bands, the vast majority of which, like the hunters, are doing nothing wrong. Perhaps after the bill is enacted, they, too, will refuse to comply. Perhaps they all should refuse to comply.

The point that I am trying to make, honourable senators, is that this bill is a toothless tiger. It does not have the teeth the enforcement power to make those few-and-far-between chiefs who refuse to release financial information to their band members do so because the same ineffective remedies are used.

Importantly, however, the minister and the department never voluntarily pointed that out and, if that is not bad enough, they never admitted that they can, in fact, without passing the bill, provide to the band members the financial information that they want from their chief. Let me repeat that. They never admitted that the minister can provide a copy of the financial information that the band submits to the department. The department can do this already because of the 2006 Sawridge decision.

Let me repeat that again. If a band member cannot get the band's financial information from their chief and council, the minister can give them a copy. Yet, band members told us that the department would not do so. Who is the guilty party here the chief and council, the minister, or both? Obviously, it is both, but it is the minister and the department who created the problem by not enforcing their own rules which require chief and council to give copies of their financial information to their band members. The minister and the department have exacerbated the problem by not giving the information to the band members.

Honourable senators opposite, either you do not understand or you are wilfully ignoring the fact that you are holding out a promise of false hope to the band members who appeared before us as witnesses. They do not want our pity; that would be insulting. They want action. They want their problems to be solved. This bill will not help them. You know it will not. You are misleading them. You are giving them false hope simply to justify your own agenda of legislating away the free choice of First Nations to decide for themselves whether or not to release their financial information to the general public and not just to their own members.

Honourable senators, how can we, in good conscience, legislate away the free choice of First Nation bands whether or not to release their schedules of salaries and expenses and their audited consolidated financial statements, including confidential information protected by the Privacy Act, to the public at large? We ourselves do not have to release the dollar value of our salaries from all sources, nor do we have to release any details of our expenses to the public.

To his credit, the sponsor of the bill stated in a news release that he would release the details of his living expenses if the rules of the Senate were revised to make that a requirement. That is all well and good but, as senators, we have a choice and we get to devise our own set of rules. We can choose to release the details of our expenses, and we can decide among ourselves whether or not to make that a rule. On the contrary, this government and we, as senators, are imposing Bill C-27 on First Nations without their input and consent and, worse yet, we will be eliminating their freedom to choose to release their financial information to the public.

Honourable senators, it is pure hypocrisy for us, as senators, to impose upon First Nation bands a standard of transparency and accountability higher than that to which we ourselves are held.

Honourable senators, let me give you an analogy that might make it clear to you why this bill should have been at least withdrawn at committee for consultation or should even be defeated now.

Currently, the media are having a field day insinuating that all of us all senators are filling our pockets with taxpayers' money by being reimbursed for inappropriate expense claims. While a few senators are alleged to have made inappropriate expense claims, the media has portrayed us all as living high off the hog, and all of us are seen as being corrupt. This over-generalization has even fuelled the calls for Senate reform and Senate abolition. Just because there have been a few senators undergoing investigation of their expense claims, all of us are seen to be guilty of bilking the system and the ensuing public outcry has essentially demanded that we all be terminated. This certainly is not a reasonable or fair demand. Surely only those senators who are found to be guilty of wrongdoing should be subject to punishment or penalties. Surely those of us who have done nothing wrong should not be penalized.

Under the current circumstances, we, as individuals, are experiencing what is happening to First Nation chiefs.

While there are a few chiefs who are alleged to be corrupt and who appear to be collecting exorbitant salaries, these allegations have been generalized to the unwarranted conclusion that all chiefs are corrupt, just like we senators are all seen as being corrupt.

In Bill C-27, because it is assumed that all chiefs are corrupt, all chiefs will be forced to disclose their schedule of salaries and financial statements to the public at large. The more appropriate response should have been to target those few chiefs who have been found guilty of financial wrongdoing.

Do honourable senators opposite understand this analogy? I sincerely hope so. Please take it to heart and mind, and reconsider how to vote when it comes to passing this bill.

There is no doubt that this bill is ill-conceived. Terry Goodtrack from the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada and Bradley Regehr from the Canadian Bar Association were crystal clear in their opposition to this bill. Furthermore, Harold Calla from the First Nations Financial Management Board stated that the bill should be subject to the applicable privacy laws. It is important to note that the First Nations chiefs who appeared as witnesses, and the Assembly of First Nations, were opposed.

At committee, our side introduced a motion to withdraw Bill C-27, to consult and accommodate First Nations, but the side opposite voted it down. That was somewhat surprising. It was as if the chiefs' protest on the Hill in December the Idle No More protests and Chief Spence's hunger strike and the recommitment to the respectful Crown-First Nations relationship on January 11 did not happen.

Furthermore, at committee we were told by the Grand Chief of the Treaty 6 Confederacy that they had requested urgent action from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to combat the "tsunami of legislation" affecting First Nations.

For all of these reasons, Conservative senators on the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples should have voted to withdraw Bill C-27 so that First Nations could have had a chance to be consulted. Instead, they voted to send Bill C-27 unchanged to this chamber for third reading.

For the record, I will repeat the comments I made on March 6 on my motion to withdraw Bill C-27 at committee:

Yesterday at our committee meeting, Regional Chief Jody Wilson Raybould of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, supported withdrawal of Bill C-27. I will quote from the transcript. She stated:

... I want to make it clear that the Assembly of First Nations and First Nations' governments had no involvement in the development of this bill. There are obligations on Canada for consultation, and it is unfortunate that we do not have a clear process or agreed to mechanism to ensure First Nations' involvement. The AFN welcomes calls from honourable senators and previous witnesses for this bill to be withdrawn. In its current form, Bill C-27 will do little to practically support true First Nations accountability or nation rebuilding and will simply further impose federal rules upon our governments. In addition, there is the real potential for legal challenge if Canada continues to impose legislation on First Nations without meaningful consultation.

It will not increase accountability and transparency. This bill has been considered quite substantially. There is an opportunity with the new Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Minister Valcourt, to reflect on the evidence before the committees and to reflect on Bill C-27 and consider, given all the policy discussions and rationales, whether or not the purpose of Bill C-27 is in fact actually achieved. I think that is an opportunity for the new minister.

Continuing with what I said at committee:

I agree that Minister Valcourt should be given the opportunity to review the deliberations that have taken place in this committee and come to his own conclusions about the important issues of consultation and effectiveness of the bill. In addition, last week the Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 Nations said:

We have just returned from Geneva where we made two urgent action appeals before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. One appeal was to complain about the current tsunami of legislation that has been launched contrary to our treaty relationship and in fact causing great damage to that relationship. As treaty peoples we have the right to be involved in decisions related to our rights, especially as it relates to decisions on our lands and resources.

We believe this committee should obtain legal advice from Parliament's own legal advisors as to whether Parliament has satisfied its own obligations to ensure that Bill C-27, if passed, will not interfere with the inherent right, guaranteed by treaty, of First Nations self-government. It cannot rely upon the government lawyers to provide this advice.

Later, I said:

Recently, when sections of the budget implementation Bill C-45 were in front of this very same committee, our committee unanimously agreed that simply sending a letter to First Nations after the legislation had been tabled did not meet any requirement for consultation. I will read from the observation that we unanimously supported less than four months ago. Our committee observed:

The committee further notes with extreme concern that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development sent a letter informing First Nation Chiefs and Councils of these amendments only after the bill had been introduced. This, in the opinion of your committee, is insulting to First Nations and is unacceptable. The committee is very concerned that the manner in which these amendments were introduced represents a missed opportunity to meaningfully engage with First Nations people and to achieve consensus on an issue of importance to all First Nations with reserve lands governed by the Indian Act.

Honourable senators, if we are parliamentarians of our word, we cannot let this insulting and unacceptable pattern of non-consultation continue. It is clear from the testimony from witnesses that First Nations were not consulted on Bill C-27. This committee has worked to achieve great things for First Nations people over the years; and there is some precedent on the issue of withdrawal due to lack of consultation. Some honourable senators will remember that when the first iteration of Bill S-11, the safe drinking water for First Nations, was introduced, this committee passed a motion to withdraw the bill so that consultation with First Nations could be achieved.

That motion was introduced by Senator Dallaire, who used to sit on this committee. The motion passed with support from both sides.

Therefore, I urge all honourable senators to be consistent with our past actions of withdrawing Bill S-11 and our strong words in our Bill C-45 observations regarding lack of consultation. I ask for your support to pass my motion to withdraw Bill C-27 so that Minister Valcourt can study what our witnesses have recommended and undertake any necessary actions deemed appropriate in the spirit of this year's recently renewed Crown First Nation relationship. By passing this motion, we will provide Minister Valcourt and the department the opportunity to meaningfully engage with First Nations people and to achieve consensus on the issue of importance to all First Nations with reserve lands governed by the Indian Act.

Honourable senators, as I stated yesterday during debate, First Nations peoples are concerned about the implementation of Bill C-27 on April 1 of this year. Aboriginal Affairs officials have the 2013-14 funding agreements and amending agreements in hand and are asking First Nations to sign on, but First Nation bands are concerned about being asked to comply with legislation into which they have had no input: Bill C-38, Bill C-45 and now Bill C-27.

Senator Patterson confirmed yesterday that if we pass this bill by the end of March, it will come into effect on April 1, 2013. First Nations will have this bill imposed upon them without their consent and without being consulted. There is no reason to impose this bill on the vast majority of First Nations. They have done nothing wrong, just like most, if not all, of us senators.

Honourable senators, if you look at the 2012-13 funding agreement that I referred to yesterday, you will see all the policies that a First Nation has to comply with in order to get and maintain band funding. Under section 6, there are numerous policies to provide transparency and redress, and to provide disclosure of financial information, including personal information, to band members.

Honourable senators, this bill is ill-conceived, ill-informed and unnecessary. The funding agreement process wherein Aboriginal Affairs exerts overwhelming power contains all the provisions necessary for a First Nation band to be accountable to its members. Furthermore, these agreements are not just administrivia; they are legal contracts that require bands to be accountable and transparent to the members. If they contravene these provisions, Aboriginal Affairs can take remedial action. It is listed in the contract and it can even terminate all funding, as listed in the contract, the same remedy included in clause 13 of Bill C-27.

As I stated yesterday, over the last few weeks officials from Aboriginal Affairs were criss-crossing the country with the 2013-14 funding agreements and the 2013-14 amending agreements. However, this year there is a heightened, significant concern about the imposition of unwanted legislation through signing these agreements.

Yesterday, for example, a news article stated:

One of the poorest aboriginal communities in Canada is considering signing a $16 million funding agreement with Ottawa despite worries the document will compromise their rights.

The Burnt Church First Nation in New Brunswick will hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss entering into an annual funding agreement with Aboriginal Affairs despite having reservations about major changes to the agreement.

The community is worried the document could compromise their treaty rights and jeopardize an upcoming lawsuit against the federal government, a community official said.

"On Friday we voted pretty well unanimously not to sign it, but after a few days of letting it sink in I'm almost certain that some of the council and the chief they see it and we've got a gun to our head and what do we do? It's almost no choice," he said, adding the federal government is "basically saying to us, 'sign the agreement or your people are going to starve."'

Bartibogue [a councilor of that First Nation] said meetings with regional Aboriginal Affairs officials Friday were unsuccessful and the community's attempt to sign the agreement under duress as a way to protest the contents of the document were shot down.

Bartibogue said the community voiced their concerns to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt during a meeting in Miramichi, N.B., on March 13 two days after the group received the document and two days before the deadline to sign. He said leaders complained about a lack of consultation on the changes and asked for an explanation on why the agreement appeared to hold them to welfare changes they opposed in Bill C-38.

Valcourt told the community not to worry, Bartibogue said, and assured the community that the agreement would not negatively affect their case.

He said officials threatened to impose third-party management on the First Nation if they didn't sign the agreement.

Bartibogue said at least five other First Nations groups in New Brunswick and several in western Canada may also be holding off on signing agreements over similar changes to their contracts.

"It's not just us, but it's across the country," Bartibogue said. "They changed it so drastically."

"They are talking about a new funding agreement that is not going to work for the people."

Honourable senators, there can be no worse time than now to be imposing yet another unwanted, unnecessary bill on First Nations.

Motion in Amendment

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, therefore, I move:

That Bill C-27 be not now read a third time but be read a third time this day six months hence.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.