By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash has asked Canada’s auditor general to probe the millions of dollars Ottawa spends fighting Aboriginal rights and title cases.
Saganash sent a letter to Auditor General Michael Ferguson requesting an operational audit of the expenditures to determine whether Ottawa is using taxpayer money wisely and efficiently battling First Nations over rights.
“I am asking that your office conduct an investigation into the government’s policies and practices to oppose the status and rights of Aboriginal peoples and defend itself in the courts,” wrote Saganash in the June 12 dated letter. “Such adversarial actions serve to unjustly deplete Aboriginal peoples’ financial resources and do not promote reconciliation.”
The federal Aboriginal Affairs department spent over $100 million between 2012 and 2013 on legal fees, according to federal government records. The department’s own internal risk assessment found that a lot of the litigation money has been spent on losing causes.
“As (First Nations) become impatient with outcomes, they often move disputes into the courts in order to increase the pace of resolution. Courts increasingly rule that the federal government is not living up to the ‘Honour of the Crown’ obligations,” according to the department’s risk profile for 2011.
Ottawa has also recently twice challenged the rulings of the Specific Claims Tribunal, which was created to settle outstanding historical claims that had reached a stalemate at the negotiating table.
The Federal Court of Appeal handed a loss to Ottawa earlier this month on one of those challenges, upholding the tribunal’s ruling in favour of the Kitselas First Nation.
Ottawa is also challenging a tribunal ruling that sided with the Williams Lake Indian Band.
In the letter, Saganash said he’s requesting the audit because federal departments have failed to adequately respond to his requests for clarity the amount of money specifically spent battling rights and title cases.
“The answers to these requests…have been lacking,” wrote Saganash. “With many departments stating that this information was not ‘readily available.’”