Human rights officer urges N.S. to expand Indian status tax exemptions

An Indigenous education officer with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is urging the provincial government to exempt Indian status cardholders from paying the provincial portion of sales tax while shopping off reserve.

Lisa Robinson wants the Nova Scotia government to adopt a similar law to Ontario, which doesn’t require cardholders to pay its slice of HST on goods purchased anywhere in that province.

“It’s really important and that would be a huge step toward reconciliation,” said Robinson, who is Mi’kmaw and lives in Halifax.

While status Indians are exempt from paying GST or HST for goods purchased on reserve, this does not apply off reserve unless the goods are delivered to the First Nation.

Even so, some off-reserve retailers in the Halifax region do accept status cards, including Forever 21, LUSH, and Children’s Place in Mic Mac Mall. But they likely have to absorb the 15 per cent HST themselves.

“It’s inconsistent,” said Robinson. “The policies of what stores will accept it, and what stores won’t.”

A look at what an Indian status card is, what it does and how to apply for one. 2:15

There are roughly 19,000 status Indians in Nova Scotia, according to Statistics Canada. While under the law the tax exemptions involving status Indians are limited, some cardholders believe their rights should also be honoured off-reserve.

It’s unpredictable whether or not a store will accept Robinson’s status card. But her experiences vary and it’s not clear what to expect when approaching to pay.

“I ask every store I go to and the worse they are going to say is ‘no.’ And because I know these inconsistencies exist, I do ask. And with any luck, they will accept my card as is,” she said.

Some stores accept a status card with no questions asked beyond checking the picture ID. Other stores require a courier slip to verify the purchaser lives in a First Nation community. Others have “no idea” what the status card is.

Community members often share tips on stores over Facebook, Robinson said.

“The education is not out there,” she said. “These shops and services, they’re not all on the same page.”

The Indian Status card is government issued ID. (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada)

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director for the Retail Council of Canada, said it’s up to individual retailers.

“It’s more of a general statement, but of course there are retailers that use it to their competitive advantage.”

The Retail Council of Canada represents approximately 45,000 storefronts across Canada, from small independent businesses to large retailers. Cormier said the council doesn’t get involved in the operational decisions made by its members.

“There are some who will offer to accept the status card off reserve, and there are others who might decide not to. And that’s completely within their ability to do so,” said Cormier.

Ontario example

Robinson said she would like to see Nova Scotia follow Ontario’s lead in tax exemptions for status Indians, who are recognized under Section 6 of The Indian Act.

The Canada Revenue Agency said in an email that Ontario is the only province where status Indian cardholders are exempt from the provincial portion of HST — eight per cent in the case of Ontario — anywhere they make the purchase. Both the buyer and the vendor are liable for the remaining five per cent GST.

The Office of Aboriginal Affairs for Nova Scotia said it is aware the Indigenous community has “raised this issue.” It said in a statement that it supports the law of on-reserve tax exemptions as set out by the Indian Act.

For Robinson, stores accepting status cards means more than just a tax exemption. It’s honouring her rights as a Mi’kmaw woman.

“I pay property tax, that statement in itself just baffles me. I pay property tax in unceded Mi’kmaw territory,” she said.

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