NOVA SCOTIA: The Grand Chief of the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation of Nova Scotia, a group who has come under fire recently for using their ‘Métis cards’ to receive HST breaks, says they have been cleared of all fraudulent charges.
“We were investigated by the RCMP and were cleared of all fraudulent charges,” Grand Chief Mary Lou Parker told The Reporter last week. “Those who use our cards [for HST breaks] are using it fraudulently.”
Only people who are registered as Indians, hold a federal-government issued Indian status card, and live on a reserve are entitled to HST breaks on purchases.
But the RCMP are not the only organization looking into the Eastern Woodland Métis, as both Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) have active investigations.
“It amazed me that the people were using the card in the first place,” Parker said. “Because they were specifically told if they used the card, any ramifications were on them.”
When the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation of Nova Scotia issues their ‘Métis cards,’ a four-page brochure is provided detailing the card, including information that the card is intended for identification purposes only.
Despite this provided information, Parker acknowledges she’s told her members to show their ‘Métis cards’ when making purchases, and if a business gives a tax break, than that’s on them. Even though she previously stated that any ramifications were on the card holder.
“I told them to present your card and to show who you are, and if you received a tax break, than good,” she said. “That’s exactly what I said because it’s time people realized we were here.”
Dany Morin, a CRA spokesperson said in situations where it has been identified through the course of an audit that a vendor has inappropriately exempted sales from GST/HST, the vendor will be reassessed for the uncollected amount.
“However, in circumstances where it is clear that a vendor erroneously relied in good faith on information obtained from a status card for the purpose of a tax exemption, the CRA will take an educational approach to informing the vendor of their error rather than assessing them for the uncollected GST/HST.”
Parker said she thought encouraging the use of their ‘Métis cards’ would give them an even break, to let people know they are indeed Canadian as well as Native.
“But then after re-thinking I decided to retract that because we’re not in this to cheat the government, we’re in this for recognition, and I realized we don’t want recognition for tax evasion,” she said. “We are not after anybody’s rights, the only rights we’re after is the right for recognition, because we do exist.”
The RCMP wouldn’t confirm an investigation had taken place, but Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan, a national RCMP spokesperson said in an emailed statement “generally only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, would the RCMP confirm its investigation, the nature of any charges laid and the identity of the individual(s) involved.”
The CRA first became aware of the use of fake status cards in 2016, when it surfaced as a problem in Quebec. The CRA is currently working with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNA) on a proactive approach to avoid non-compliance as it relates to the use of fake status cards.
A report submitted to federal officials this summer advised seven different types of cards have been used in attempts to obtain tax-free vehicles and other goods delivered to the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve south of Montreal.
In June, officials with CIRNA met with seven Nova Scotia Métis groups including; Eastern Woodland Métis Nation Nova Scotia, Bras d’Or Lake / Unama’ki Voyageur Métis Nation, Highlands Métis Nation Association, and the Eastern Shore Métis Nation Association.
The growing number of self-identified Métis in Eastern Canada has been controversial. The organization, which was established in 1973, now has over 30,000 members.
In October 2017, CIRNA hired auditing firm KPMG to investigate the use of the fake cards, because of their high degree of resemblance to real Indian status cards.
William Olscamp, a spokesperson for ISC, said in an emailed statement last week, on July 26, KPMG released its report to the department, with the finding that most of the reported cases they investigated involved individuals using non-government issued cards to obtain tax exemptions intended only for those with Indian status.
“As per the recommendations of the report, the Government of Canada will work with other federal departments and agencies, and with other federal, provincial and municipal authorities to provide advice and share information pertaining to its investigation into the use of fraudulent status cards,” he said. “The Government of Canada is continuing to assess the findings of this report, and it will determine next steps in the coming months.”
Olscamp said the department has an open file on the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation of Nova Scotia, and since the work is ongoing, is not in a position to comment further.
Morin said the department does not comment on ongoing investigations and the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent the CRA from commenting on specific cases.
“The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership,” he said. “Similarly, the CRA is committed to ensuring that Indigenous Peoples have access to responsive government services, and receive the benefits and credits to which they are entitled.”