The Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench made an order pursuant to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, S.C. 2013, c. 7 requiring the Onion Lake Cree Nation to comply with financial disclosure obligations under the Act.
The applicants in this proceeding were Ms. Stick, a member of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). They relied upon the provisions of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act imposing an obligation on First Nations to prepare consolidated financial statements dealing with the assets, liabilities, equity, income, expenses and cash flows of the First Nation. Section 6 of the Act requires the preparation of a Schedule of Remuneration and Expenses setting out the remuneration paid, and expenses reimbursed to, the chief and councillors. Such documents, and related auditors' documents, must be provided to members of the First Nation and posted on the First Nation's internet site within 120 days after the end of each financial year.
The Onion Lake Cree Nation refused to comply with the obligations imposed by the Act. No explanation was provided to the Court, such as concerns about commercial interests. In ongoing Federal Court proceedings, the Onion Lake has taken the position that it is legally entitled to refuse to comply, and has raised various constitutional arguments.
The respondent Onion Lake Cree Nation did not defend this application on constitutional grounds, but applied for a stay on the basis that this proceeding raises issues that are already before the Federal Court. The stay application was dismissed. Justice Barrington-Foote held that access to the court must not be lightly refused. This was not a situation of multiplicity of proceedings such that a stay was needed to avoid conflicting results. The Federal Court proceeding involved different parties. Barrington-Foote J. rejected the argument that the applicants Stick and CTF should have applied for intervenor status in the Federal Court matter, rather than bring this proceeding. He held:
Sections 10 and 11 of the Act provide that an application may be made to this Court. These applicants are not parties to any other action relating to the Act, in any court. They were not obliged to follow Onion Lake's lead as to the appropriate forum, the nature of the action, or the issues which should be engaged. They were not obliged to join an action driven by other parties which may have no interest in the expeditious resolution of the issues, which has proceeded at anything but breakneck speed, and which may never be concluded. Nor were they obliged to be intervenors, rather than full parties.
The applicants are entitled to pursue this application regardless of the Federal Court proceeding. A justice of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench would not be bound by a declaration made in the Federal Court matter about the constitutionality of the Act. Accordingly, a stay would merely postpone, but not resolve, the potential for inconsistent verdicts.
The Court held that the Onion Lake Cree Nation's offer to provide Ms. Stick with access to consolidated financial statements "falls far short of providing the copies and public internet posting required by the Act".
The respondent's application for a stay was therefore dismissed, and the Court ordered the Onion Lake Cree Nation to comply with the duties imposed by sections 7 and 8 of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act within 30 days.
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