Thursday, January 10, 2013

Now, Mr. Harper, is time to repeal the Indian Act

 I have held for some time that it is time to get Canada out of the apartheid business, to repeal the Indian Act and allow all Canadians to live equally regardless of their race or ancestry.  Last year Prime Minister Stephen Harper partially agreed, saying his government would amend the Indian Act, though not outright repeal it.

But the Prime Minister needs to take a fresh look at this position in advance of Friday’s meeting with aboriginal leaders, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a one-month diet to demand such a meeting with the Prime Minister.

Spence first came into the spotlight in late 2011 when she declared a state of emergency on her decrepit Attawapiskat aboriginal reserve.  Her declaration, however, backfired when it turned out the federal government had given $90 million to the reserve since 2006, including $4.3 million for housing, all while the over-staffed band council rolled in their comfy tax-free salaries.

But even though Spence should be the poster child for financial mismanagement and rampant corruption on reserves, she’s become the defacto leader of the Idle No More protests.  Idle No More is Occupy Wall Street version 2.0.  They still don’t have a clear message or objective, they’re still engaged in criminality, they’re still disorganized, and they’re still the anti-conservative protest-everything group of individuals we forcefully met in the fall of 2011.

Spence ventured up to Parliament Hill in December 2012, smart to know the Parliamentary Press Gallery would need something to occupy their time with parliament standing up for the Christmas break.  She claimed it was a “hunger strike,” although it’s really a soup diet, and the gullibly sympathetic Gallery ate it up.

Led by the CBC, they sought medical doctors who reported on how Spence’s health was in grave danger, even though those doctors never examined her.  They sought aboriginal experts who testified how Spence’s plight was representative of the endemic third-world conditions on reserves.  They attempted to make every excuse to boast Spence’s heroism (even comparing her to Jesus and Ghandi and Mother Theresa) and discredit any of her previous wrongdoings.

Fed up with the apologists, Canadians have thankfully been able to rely on a growing number of bloggers and true journalists to uncover and report on what is actually happening in Attawapiskat.  Their work has masterfully reported the truth, uncovered lies, and shoved the Idle No More movement back onto its heels.

We’ve found Attawapiskat paying 27 “staff” salaries, anywhere from $1050 for one month’s work to $71,000, Chief Spence’s annual salary.

We’ve found Chief Spence’s boyfriend on the payroll, making $850 per day as the Band Manager.

Together, Spence and her boyfriend rake in almost $400,000 per year tax-free while her constituents – her neighbours, her followers, her people – live in third world shacks.

But Canada’s left-wing media did an abrupt turn-about when a scathing audit of Attawapiskat’s financials was released earlier this week.  Deloitte and Touche criticized Chief Spence’s finances, finding that over 81% of Attawapiskat’s financials were undocumented and unsupported.  It’s a record of financial mismanagement and corruption so widespread it rivals former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, the architect of AdScam, whose Sponsorship Program gave out 49% of taxpayers’ money without any documentation, often to Liberal friends (no wonder he called her an inspiration).

Everything from invoices for work completed to job descriptions to council meeting minutes – almost none of it was tracked or recorded.  Many of the same issues Ross, Pope and Company exposed in their July 2011 audit of Attawapiskat were still prevalent in Deloitte’s audit.

Shoving away her leftist media friends, Spence and her crumbling movement have since been confined to a lonely island of fanatical supporters, demanding individuals identify themselves as “friends” or “foes” of the Chief and threatening to have media arrested for trespassing.

If Spence has any allies left, their next move will be to minimize Attawapiskat and Spence as not being representative of the larger aboriginal condition.  We will very soon see articles claiming Spence doesn’t speak for aboriginals, or how Attawapiskat was an isolated incident, or how Spence’s corrupt management of an aboriginal reserve is not in line with how other reserves do business.

But Attawapiskat is the canary in the mine, sounding off about the larger picture certainly seen on other aboriginal reserves.  In 2010 the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) revealed there are 222 aboriginal Chiefs making more than their provincial premiers, and 82 making more than the Prime Minister.  Prime Minister Harper makes $317,574 a year, and former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made $208,974, which makes for a whopping tax-free salary especially considering most reserves don’t have more than 1000 people.
Leaders of the Alexander Indian Band of Alberta literally bought their re-election in 2002, transferring $108,868 to residents the night before the election was to take place, some individuals receiving between $150 and $200 with the understanding that they would vote for the incumbent leaders in the following day’s election.

Or what about Shirley Clarke, Chief of the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, who was revealed to be taking a $243,000 salary for her Mayorship of a community of only 304 people.  And even after drawing her gross salary, Clarke still had the audacity to grant $978,468 of tax-free money to a fellow band councillor – a contract she insisted was for “business.”

Attawapiskat and the Idle No More movement has taught us much, but it has not been the “we need more money” message the Chiefs have been hoping for.  Instead, it has been a decisive rejection of the current reserve system: Canadians are hungry to end the non-transparent and unaccountable system which sees Chiefs get rich while the rest live in unsustainable, deplorable squalor.

And if Spence and Attawapiskat have taught Canadians anything else, it’s that systemic and legal interference have created the perfect conditions for corruption and non-transparency.  Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser agrees, saying “structural impediments” are to blame for conditions on reserves.

Although the federal government is on the right track by introducing the First Nations Financial Accountability Act and other measures in Budget 2012, only a complete repeal of the Indian Act will embrace the fact that all Canadians should be equal under the law.  Unless Canadians are equally comfortable with passing into law a Caucasian Act and a Black Act and an Asian Act – each with their own special government subsidies for perceived “injustices” and rewards for complying with Father Government - it should strike us as abhorrent and unacceptable to do the same for aboriginals.

The Indian Act is responsible for many of the complaints about aboriginal treatment and reserves, such as:

  • The reserve system itself, established by s. 18.  Subsidizing a portion of society to continue to live in an unviable location is unacceptable.  Allow that individuals be able to purchase their own land, or suggest that they move to economically viable locations.
  • S. 20 says no aboriginal will ever own his land, unless his band council specifically allocates him that land.  Such results in petty politics, gamesmanship, and the potential for corruption as seen on Attawapiskat.  And with no ability to own property, banks will never loan aboriginals money for investments or borrowing, such as for a mortgage.
  • Trespassing under the Criminal Code is a summary conviction, but under the Indian Act trespassing on a reserve is punishable only by a $50 fine or a one-month jail term. Why is trespassing on some land worse than on other land?
  • S. 32 bars what aboriginals are and are not allowed to sell. For example, reserves in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta are not allowed to sell or barter cattle, animals, grain, hay, or root crops or their products, unless exempt by the minister or a superintendant. Why is the government interfering in a person’s right to earn a living, when the person right next door to a reserve could sell these products?

Chief Spence wanted to be a poster child for change and progress.  She wanted to be famous.  Let’s take her up on her offer, and bring change and progress to Canada’s aboriginals.  Let’s make Spence known as the straw that broke the camel’s back - the Chief who broke Canada’s tolerance for aboriginal corruption.

Now, Mr. Harper, is time to repeal the Indian Act.

Follow Daniel on Twitter at @DanielDickin.