(Coast Salish Territory June 1, 2015) The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has obtained records from an Access to Information (ATIP) request which indicate that, contrary to law, a Senior Federal Bureaucrat may have ordered the destruction of records relating to First Nations land claims. The ATIP request pertained to records relating to Canada’s “expedited legal review process” of specific claims. This is a unilateral internal process that determines whether claims filed by a First Nation to the Federal Government will receive a comprehensive or an accelerated legal review and ultimately, whether they will be properly negotiated.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs indicated, “We sought the information to try to understand why Canada isn’t negotiating the majority of our land claims, as promised. We never expected to find that Indian Affairs officials were destroying public records. There are clear laws that govern the destruction of federal government correspondence. It is highly alarming that the destruction of documents has occurred and government employees may not be following federal laws with respect to the management of information and files.”
At issue is a series of emails which centre on planning and providing “information” and “materials” for an internal meeting “to discuss expedited legal opinions.” In one email, a secretary for the Research and Policy Directorate reveals: “there were no documents to present as they were all destroyed back when this was first discussed, per the request of Audrey Stewart.” From 2001 – 2007, Audrey Stewart was the Director General of the Specific Claims Branch – the arm of the Department of Indian Affairs responsible for processing and negotiating First Nation specific claims.
“It is no coincidence that this discovery coincides with reports of the alleged destruction of emails by officials in the British Columbia Ministry of Transport relating of the Highway of Tears,” continues Grand Chief Phillip. “Prime Minister Harper and Premier Clark consistently exhibit the same blatant disregard for accountability and transparency that they so loudly crow about publicly. They promote a culture of secrecy and fear in which government officials can disregard laws with impunity. This is systemic and our right to know how our government operates is being violated by the very people we entrust to protect that right.”
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.
Media Enquiries: Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: (604) 684-0231