OPEN LETTER: Failure to Disclose Expenditure of Public Funds for Specific Claims

The Honourable Chuck Strahl, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
SENT VIA FAX: (819) 953-4941
(613) 947-9475

February 25, 2008

Dear Minister Strahl,

Re: Failure to Disclose Information Regarding the Expenditure of Public Funds for Specific Claims

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs ("UBCIC") is deeply concerned the federal government's failure to disclose information regarding the expenditure of public funds related to the operations of the Indian Specific Claims Commission ("ISCC") and the allocation of loan funding for the negotiation of specific and comprehensive claims.

On October 3, 2007, the UBCIC submitted formal Access to Information requests for financial data on ISCC operations and outstanding loans for specific and comprehensive claims negotiations from 1991 to 2007. UBCIC formally amended its requests after being informed that ISCC data and records related to loan funding for claims negotiation pre-1996 would be very difficult and time consuming to locate, and would result in protracted delays to other administrative operations that impact Claims Research Units across the country. We agreed to limit our request to the post-1996 period, for which information was more readily available.

On January 17, 2008, the UBCIC received a letter from INAC's Access to Information and Privacy Office indicating that "after a thorough search…no records reflecting the information sought were found."

It is alarming that records related to the expenditure of public funds cannot be produced. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned that this information is either not available (that the records were never retained or were lost) or that the information is not being provided in clear violation of the Access to Information Act. It is highly unlikely that records for specific claims or records detailing the amount of the ISCC's operational funding do not exist. Surely the Government of Canada can account for these expenditures of public funds.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is currently hearing testimony regarding Bill C-30 The Specific Claims Tribunal Act. The Act is intended to fulfill your government's specific claims action plan, entitled "Justice At Last," which is supposed to address the unacceptable backlog of specific claims across Canada and ensure the fair and timely settlement of specific claims.

Your government has indicated that this legislative reform will be undertaken in consultation with First Nations. This amounts to an empty gesture if vital information about claims spending is not provided. The release of financial data regarding specific claims is imperative if a review of the specific claims process is to be meaningful, open and fair. The process of renewal must ensure all interested parties have access to all relevant information.

At this time, the UBCIC's recourse is to appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner. This avenue may eventually lead to the disclosure of information. However, there is no way of predicting how long this might take. Surely this appeals process will require more time than it will take for Bill C-30 to reach final reading and possibly be proclaimed into law.

If your government is firmly committed to the just resolution of specific claims, the UBCIC urgently requests that the ISCC data and records related to loan funding for claims negotiation from 1996-2007 be released immediately.

Sincerely,

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs

cc:
Assembly of First Nations,
First Nations in British Columbia
National Claims Research Units

UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.