OI Leasing Group employees on the hook for thousands

EAGLES NEST/BRANTFORD ‑ Court efforts to protect tax exemption for status Indians working for the OI Group (Native Leasing Services and OI Employee Leasing Inc.) have been exhausted. That is, according to a recent letter sent to its former employees.

Thousands of former employees of OI Leasing are now being billed for back taxes they didn’t think they had to pay.

IO Leasing, an employment firm that assured people who signed on with it that they could work tax free, is located on the Eagles Nest tract on Mohawk Street in Brantford which is still considered Six Nations land and is known as I.R. 40B by the federal government.

OI based its company on the premise that because the company was located on First Nations land, any employee of OI is tax free. But the Canada Revenue agency and the courts disagree and many of those employees are now being told they owe thousands of dollars.

While the slow and complicated case made its way through the courts, tax arrears have been accumulating for their registered OI employees who are 74 per cent female of low income, of whom two thirds are sole support mothers — making the repayment virtually impossible.

“Not treating OI employees in the same manner as other Test Case participants would unduly penalize Native individuals, families, communities and organizations across Canada who truly believe that those rights do exist and were never extinguished except through the consent of some First Nation communities and their Peoples,” according to an OI letter pleading with Canada to take into consideration, “Native families, many of whom are sole support families, deprived of a standard of living which is comparable to the Canadian average and are being deprived of a right to be self-supporting.”

Lawyer for the OI Group, James Fyshe, is preparing a request, or leave, of appeal to challenge this ruling on behalf of OI and its employees.

According to Fyshe, lower court decisions against First Nations in similar matters are what the most recent decision is based on, which Fyshe is challenging. It will take 3-4 months to get an answer on whether their appeal will be accepted. If so, the case will not be heard for about year later.

In the meantime, Fyshe is negotiating with revenue Canada to hold back on collections until after a final decision is reached.

Immunity from taxation was a First Nations heritage given by Canada in exchange for the lands and resources taken away.

The motion to appeal, representing 3,916 former employees, asks that The Minister of Revenue Canada issue a Remission Order erasing the tax liabilities accumulated by OI employees and the related liability issued by Revenue Canada on their partners/spouses, while seeking clarification from the courts.

“Most of the applicants live on or near the poverty line,” Fyshe, who is working pro-bono for Native Leasing Services, wrote in the application for a remission order filed in June 2013. “A large portion of these employees will never be able to pay the tax assessments that have been made against them.”

The employees, whose annual income at Native Leasing Services averaged about $27,000 are being pursued by collections officers who are putting liens on their homes, garnishing their wages and clawing back benefits for years of personal income taxes after the courts supported a decision by Canada Revenue Agency to reinterpret the Indian Act.

Just one example of how this court decision will impact people directly is that of registered nurse, Ramona Dunn, who is 53 years-of-age, and has been billed by Revenue Canada for $94,000 in back taxes.

Fyshe and the people of Six Nations who have been employed through OI, have been standing on the defense that tax exemption is a Native and Treaty Right put in place by the Crown in partial exchange for lands and resources taken from traditional territories.

Dunn, who now suffers from arthritis and is unable to work full time, told the Toronto Star earlier this month, “Never in a million years would I have thought they would go after me.”

But they have, and they are now threatening to garnishee her wages and put a lien on her property in Toronto.

Fyshe is hopeful that a new acknowledgement of treaties and aboriginal rights under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will play better today than in years past.

Native Leasing Services is part of the O.I. Group of companies, was set up in the 1980s by First Nations activist Roger Obonsawin and his partner, Ljuba Irwin.

They saw it as a way for First Nations people and non-profit organizations serving the aboriginal population to exercise their right to be exempt from income tax under section 87 of the Indian Act.

This will be a strong argument should they get a leave to appeal.

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