Feds blasted for sending manager to Attawapiskat
OTTAWA—It was “unreasonable in all circumstances” for the federal government to appoint a third-party manager in response to an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the troubled First Nations’ community of Attawapiskat, the Federal Court ruled yesterday.
But there was no political malice at play in the decision—on the part of either Prime Minister Stephen Harper or members of his cabinet—nor any intent to embarrass the Northern Ontario reserve or its members, the court concluded.
“The decision to appoint [Marion] did not respond in a reasonable way to the root of the problems at Attawapiskat nor to the remedies available,” wrote Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan.
“The [government] invoked a financial management remedy without considering more reasonable, more responsive, or less invasive remedies available,” he noted.
The decision to appoint someone to take over the band’s books was made without any indication there was a problem with the way the band was being managed, Phelan pointed out.
Indeed, it was Harper himself who pointed out in the House of Commons that the government had invested more than $90 million in the community, he continued.
“The reference by the prime minister as to the $90 million could not have related exclusively to the funds made available for housing repair or reconstruction,” Phelan wrote.
“It would be inaccurate to suggest that officials were insensitive or uncaring about the situation at Attawapiskat. . . .
“The problem seems to have been a lack of understanding of the AFN’s actual needs and an intention on the part of officials to be seen to be doing something.”
The Conservative government made it clear yesterday it’s unhappy with the ruling, but isn’t yet ready to say whether an appeal is in the offing.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and will review it to determine the appropriate next steps,” said Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan.
The ruling verifies what many experts already have concluded, said constitutional lawyer and University of Ottawa professor Joseph Magnet: the relationship between the federal bureaucracy and some aboriginal communities is seriously flawed.
“It’s just dysfunctional,” Magnet charged. “You can see it [in Attawapiskat] and you can see it elsewhere.
“Those relationships don’t work.”
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat, said Duncan sat on his hands for a month while the housing crisis was unfolding, then overreacted when it began making headlines.
When the crisis quickly became a black eye for the government, “in the midst of what became an international crisis, their response was to run roughshod over the law, attempt to remove a democratically-elected band council, and break the law,” Angus said.
“We really have to ask ourselves why is it that this combination of incompetence and ruthlessness was the only response of this government to deal with a community that was desperately poor and asking for help.”