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Ottawa can't hide behind emails as cabinet documents: aboriginal court case

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WINNIPEG - Ottawa has been told it has to cough up emails sought in a case involving aboriginal businesses or do a better job of justifying why it shouldn't.

In January 2010, Tribal Wi-Chi-Way-Win Capital Corp. asked Federal Court in Winnipeg to review an Aboriginal Affairs program that provides subsidies to banks and credit unions.

The subsidies are meant to guarantee loans to aboriginal businesses.

The tribal bank says the program puts it at a disadvantage and jeopardizes other aboriginal financial institutions.

The parties have been arguing over what should be admissible as evidence and Ottawa claims cabinet confidentiality for emails exchanged between civil servants.

But a Federal Court official has ruled that emails don't qualify as cabinet documents and are admissible.

But chief clerk Roger Lafreniere has also given the government a chance to resubmit its argument to keep the emails secret.

The chief executive officer of Wi-Chi-Way-Win is hailing the decision as a victory.

"We are very gratified that once again the Federal Court has seen through federal delaying tactics," Alan Park wrote in announcing the decision Monday.

"We are a step closer to correcting a serious waste of taxpayers’ money and a serious injustice to aboriginal people across Canada. How would most Canadian businesses like it if Ottawa gave their competitors subsidies?"

Lafreni�re also set aside another file from the government to keep secret ministerial briefing material and other documents.

Ottawa has until Oct. 1 to produce the emails and other material or make a better case for secrecy.

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