APTN National News
Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day called the tax bill handed to victims of OI Leasing, some who now owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, sickening.
“It SICKENS ME (sic) to watch every person under the pain, agony; suffering of the shameful assault of financial violence from CRA (Canada Revenue Agency),” Day wrote in a status update posted to Facebook.
“They don’t see any end,” Day told APTN News Monday. “That they’ll continue to pay interest charges that the fees just keep mounting and there just seems to be a ruthless effort by CRA just to gut our people out of the money they rightfully believe is there’s.”
One of those people is Doreen Hill. She was an OI Leasing employee since the mid-90s.
In December 2015, she received a letter from CRA saying she owed over $273,000 in tax arrears.
“In April 2016 I arranged to make payments in good faith to CRA,” she said, although she believes as a status Indian she has a right to being exempt for paying income tax.
However, a letter from CRA dated October 26, 2016 was a slap in the face.
Not only did it state she was now in arrears for over $282,000, a lien had been put on her property “to secure the amount you owe us.”
Hill said it has affected her relationships and she is extremely fearful for the future as she nears retirement age.
Roger Obonsawin and Ljuba Irwin created OI Leasing in 1987, locating it on the Six Nations reserve.
It hired people who would be “leased” back to work mostly at off-reserve Indigenous organizations, and because of its location on-reserve, employees would not pay income taxes.
Michele Baptiste joined OI Leasing in 1993 and for an administration fee of 5 per cent of her earnings, she would be tax exempt, or so she thought.
Baptiste would be with OI for 17 years and when CRA asked for back taxes it now numbered in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I didn’t know any different at the time,” she said.
In 1999 the issue of whether off-reserve status Indians could be taxed went before the courts in a test case known as Shilling.
Baptiste recalls that in addition to the 5% per cent, OI Leasing began asking for a contribution to a legal defense fund.
The federal government successfully appealed Schilling.
In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case and CRA started collecting back taxes.
Years of letters and threats of legal action took their toll on Baptiste.
“I had to quit a job because I became physically ill,” she said.
Eventually, Baptiste felt the only way out was to declare bankruptcy.
“I felt so disempowered,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to start a conversation with CRA.”
Amy Desjarlais knows that feeling, although she only owes $28,000.
“The bureaucratic processes are intimidating for our people,” she said.
She received a letter from CRA just a few weeks ago, giving her four days to pay off the back taxes or be threatened with legal action.
At this point Desjarlais is unsure whether to start negotiating a repayment schedule or wait for a remission order by the federal government to forgive a part, or all, of what she owes.
Last December during its annual meeting in Gatineau, Que., the Assembly of First Nations turned the OI Leasing issue into Resolution #72.
Of the three calls to action, the second one asked the Liberal government in its “promise to forge a new relationship,” grant a group remission order “to all current and former” employees of OI Leasing.
Baptiste went to that meeting but said the AFN has done nothing since then.
Regional Chief Day agreed.
“And that’s one of the reasons I’m raising it,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to create the crisis. You have to stage the issue and put it out there.”
Day also criticized National Chief Perry Bellegarde on Facebook.
“You said you would help—well…we as a national executive must help—I can’t stand back continuing to watch FN citizens from Ontario wait under empty words—we need action, we need this to be a priority,” he wrote.
The third call to action of Resolution #72 directed the National Chief “to make representations to the Minister of National Revenue concerning this issue and report the Minister’s response to the Chiefs-in-Assembly.”
APTN News asked Day about whether Bellegarde had acted on Resolution #72 yet.
“I think the National Chief has to answer that. I basically am going to step forward on my own steam. And ensure that’s what I do as the Ontario regional chief is speaking where I can on behalf of those individuals that have come forward and said, listen I need your help. As far as the National Chief, and what he does or doesn’t do, it’s a mystery at times.”
The AFN, OI Leasing, and the federal government are all shouldering blame from victims.
“The AFN negotiated tax exemption for themselves but did nothing,” said Hill. “They let us down, sold us out.”
Desjarlais believes OI Leasing should shoulder some blame and have done a better job at warning her of the possible consequences.
But the single mother is determined not to go further into debt or declare bankruptcy.
“I don’t even know how to manage (the debt) all alone,” she said. “Just try and pay it off.”
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