Minister trying to silence aboriginal critics, MP says
Winnipeg Free Press
March 30, 2007
WINNIPEG — The federal Liberal critic in charge of First Nations issues is calling on Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to apologize for letters he wrote to two newspapers.
Winnipeg MP Anita Neville said in a release that some of Prentice’s comments in the letters are “shocking and appalling”.
Prentice wrote to the Winnipeg Free Press on Thursday, saying he was “surprised” by threats made by Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to block development projects.
Chiefs from across Canada have warned native blockades may rise because young people are frustrated by the virtual exclusion of First Nations from the recent federal Tory budget.
But in the letter, Prentice said the budget contains $1 billion in new spending that targets housing, children and families, education and economic opportunities, areas of concern mentioned by Evans.
Prentice said that he hopes $50.8 million in taxpayer grants and contributions to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs isn’t used “in planning illegal and disruptive blockades.”
“I am prepared to order forensic audits of every organization that participates in blockades and civil disobedience to ensure that monies intended for children were not used to plan these activities,” he wrote.
Neville accused Prentice of making threats to “quash the democratic voices” of aboriginals who wish to show their disapproval of the budget.
“This is the act of a bully,” Neville said. “It is a threat against freedom of speech, freedom of association and against democracy itself.”
She said Prentice “insinuates” in both letters that federal funds would be used to organize a protest.
Prentice also wrote to the Globe and Mail on Wednesday to comment on a column which refers to calls by Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, for a national day of action June 29.
The column says the day will be used to disrupt road, rail and port service across Canada to protest the lack of action on aboriginal issues.
Prentice wrote: “I hope none of the $27 million in grants and contributions received annually by the AFN will be used in planning illegal blockades,” but does not threaten an audit.
He wrote he’s committed to finding solutions to difficult issues and that progress has been made.
“We look forward to that progress continuing, but not under threats of blockades and disruptions.”
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