[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
Kamloops Indian Band members and anyone else who sets foot on the reserve should get ready to pay more for gasoline - and booze and smokes. Canada's Senate is poised to pass a proposed seven per cent tax on alcohol, tobacco and fuel for on-reserve purchases. The controversial tax will apply to both status Indians and non-status customers and is expected to go through this week. For Chief Manny Jules, the tax means the expected $750,000 in extra revenue can go toward economic development, language and cultural initiatives and education.
However, not everyone is pleased. "We oppose any form of taxation. At the very least, this should be brought to a referendum to allow all of the general band membership to vote," said Alice McCaleb, a KIB member trying to quash the contentious tax. McCaleb and a handful of other band members flew to Ottawa this week to address the Senate's finance committee on the tax. The group pressed the issue for nearly an hour but, in the end, the committee recommended senators OK the bill. "We passed them a signed petition with 120 signatures of band members opposed to this. I don't understand why but the committee passed it without amendments," she said.
While the tax itself will have a minimal impact on purchases, McCaleb said band members are concerned Jules is opening the door for further taxation, including property tax, income tax and business tax. "I don't think many people understand the extent of this. This is basically extinguishing our rights to be tax-exempt. According to Section 87 of the Indian Act, we are tax-exempt. Well, not anymore," she said. The proposed tax is similar to the GST. The federal government will collect the seven per cent tax and then transfer it back to the band. Jules could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
[S.I.S.I.S. note: Sources in the area report that band members organizing against the tax were subject to death threats and other intimidation from the Jules camp. Imprisoned Shuswap traditionalist Wolverine refers to Chief Manny Jules as "the biggest sell-out in the Shuswap Nation".]
Ottawa - Kamloops Indian Band Chief Clarence "Manny" Jules sees an imminent change to a federal law as an opportunity for his community to raise its own money and escape its dependence on federal funds. Opponents to the change, both inside the Kamloops [Secwepemc (Shuswap) - S.I.S.I.S.] community and across the country, see it as the thin edge of the wedge that may eventually lead to the erosion of Indian tax exemption. Tax lawyers say Bill C-36 - Part 4 of the Budget Implementation Act of 1998 dealing with "Certain First Nations' Sales Taxes," - is a deal where the federal government is giving away part of its taxation authority to two British Columbia band councils.
The new law will allow the Kamloops band to set a seven per cent band tax, which replaces the GST, on tobacco, liquor, gasoline and propane. It will also allow the band to enter into an agreement with Revenue Canada so that the federal government will collect the tax and then turn it over to the band. The Westbank band, which has been charging a band tax on tobacco for a year, will have that tax and a new tax on alcohol also collected by Revenue Canada on the band's behalf. Despite several presentations to the Senate finance committee by opposition groups, the new bill will soon be read into law. It was introduced for first reading in the House of Commons on March 19. It received second reading and was passed on to the Standing Committee on National Finance 12 days later. The committee held hearings on the bill and adopted it without amendments on May 8. After third and final reading in the Commons, the bill proceeded to the Senate on May 28. After going through the committee stage in the upper chamber, it was expected to receive third and final reading there on June 15.
That means it's law, with only the formality of being proclaimed in the Commons remaining to make it the law of the land. Opposition to the bill centres around a fear that it will erode the tax-exempt protection provided by Section 87 of the Indian Act. Douglas Maracle grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, addressed the Senate finance committee on June 11. "Bill C-36 will open the door to undermining our Aboriginal and treaty rights to tax immunity," Chief Maracle told the Senators. "It will also remove the limited protection we have to tax exemption under Section 87 of the Indian Act. Section 87 provides for a tax exemption for a band and also for each individual member of the band. Therefore, as an Indian, within the membership of my band, the band cannot legally move unilaterally to negotiate my statutory right away without my consent."
Chris McCormick, an anti-tax specialist employed by Chief Maracle's organization, was more blunt. "I don't think anybody has the right to step on anybody else's statutory rights," he said. "What's worse, in my mind, is that it is imposed by a segment of the community only. There's a petition of 116 Kamloops members that will be presented to the Senate and to the Finance minister which says 'Hold the phone. I have a statutory right to be tax exempt. I'm not willing to get into this process.'" [These submissions to the Senate were unsuccessful -- S.I.S.I.S.] McCormick is aware that this is a case of a band taxing its own people and using the money for its own purposes. That doesn't put his mind at ease. "What is a band bylaw doing in front of the House and Senate? If it's a band bylaw and the people decide they don't like it, they can change it or change councils in the next election. A band bylaw goes to the regional director of Indian Affairs who forwards to the minister who has 40 days to accept or reject it. This is carved in stone as federal law. You have to ask yourself why Canada is so anxious to have this. If they can find a way around Section 87 by passing legislation, well, you've got the Reform Party waiting in the wings there and you know they'll immediately implement it across the country if they ever take control," he said.
The petition presented by the Kamloops members claims that Chief Jules is not following his own rules about accountability. The members also accuse the chief of manipulating the vote to ensure that he had the mandate to take this forward. One Kamloops member told Windspeaker that the community vote on this issue was held at 11:30 p.m. and that the item was not on the agenda. The petition claims the two weeks notice required for a referendum under Kamloops council's own rules was not provided to the membership. The petition also claims there were not enough people at the meeting to make a vote binding under the council's rules. "Evidence of this can be provided in the minutes of that meeting where membership voiced concern about a quorum not being present," the petition states.
A tax lawyer familiar with First Nations issues told Windspeaker that the new law very definitely has an impact on the Indian Act tax exemption. He said it gives a band the power to tax its own people, which is not the same as the federal government taxing those people for its own benefit. That, the lawyer said, would be illegal under the Indian Act. "But they are dipping into the pockets of people who used to be exempt," said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified. Transcripts of Chief Jules' brief appearance before the Commons' Standing Committee on National Finance suggest that Nelson Riis, the NDP member of parliament for the area in which the Kamloops reserve is located, has been well briefed by the band on this issue.
Although Chief Jules did not respond to requests for interviews from this paper (or several other local papers which covered the issue), Riis is widely quoted as saying this is a pilot project which could spread across the country. During his appearance in front of the committee, Jules was asked by Reform MP Monte Solberg if the band would accept less federal money as its tax base grew. "No, I'm not suggesting that," Jules said. "What I have been suggesting and advocating is a new fiscal relationship with the First Nations of Canada and the federal government, including the provinces." He told Solberg that it would be premature to look in that direction, adding that the band will realize about $400,000.00 from this new tax. Jules also said that his membership pays approximately $17 million annually in provincial and federal taxes and receives $5 million in federal funding. He said the money will be used for economic development projects geared to reduce the 35 per cent unemployment rate in the community and to pay for land claim negotiations.
Chief Jules is the chairman of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board. In fact, a caller asking for the chief's office at the Kamloops administration building is greeted with the words "Indian Taxation Advisory Board." He and his council have been exploring and promoting the use of tax regimes as a way to self government since the 1960s. National Chief Phil Fontaine is also a member of this five member board. An AFN official said Fontaine will not seek re-election to the board when his term expires this month. Chief Fontaine said the board exists to help those First Nations, who wish to follow the taxation route to self government, negotiate with the federal government.
The AFN, Fontaine said, does not take a position on the issue. That is up to each individual First Nation. The completion of the legislative process may not be the end of the matter, the group of Kamloops members which opposes the new tax has threatened to mount a legal challenge.