Indian status card confusion arises from Home Hardware incident

Confusion over an Ontario provincial tax exemption for people with Indian status cards is creating unnecessary conflict between customers and merchants, according to a group representing Ontario's Aboriginal community.

Card holders can get exemption from 8% of PST at point-of-sale, but merchants can't be forced to offer it

An incident at an Ottawa Home Hardware has shown where customers and businesses collide. 3:44

Confusion over an Ontario provincial tax exemption for people with Indian status cards is creating unnecessary conflict between customers and merchants, according to a group representing Ontario's Aboriginal community.

Earlier this month an Aboriginal woman was kicked out of an Ottawa hardware store after she tried to use her status card to claim an exemption for a $17 purchase of some replacement window screens for her cottage.

Retired Bell Canada employee Cecile Dumont said she got into a heated argument with the owner of Morris Home Hardware on Wellington Street in Ottawa when she was told the store doesn't accept the cards and that she had to pay the tax. After an argument, she says she was kicked out of the store.

Cecile Dumont claims she was discriminated against at Morris Home Hardware on Sept. 11. (CBC)
Marci Becking with the Union of Ontario Indians said she was surprised by how the store owner acted in that incident. But she said she wasn't surprised that the exemption was not offered.

Becking said her group gets weekly complaints from band members about problems getting stores to honour the cards.

The issue appears to be one of enforcement: while Ontario Status Indians, Indian bands, and councils of an Indian band are eligible for an exemption from paying the Ontario portion of the HST at point-of-sale transactions, merchants are under no legal obligation to offer it.

The government said in a statement "the majority of businesses in Ontario" provide the exemption.

When merchants don't provide the exemption, the customer can apply to the government for a refund from the Ministry of Finance, and can also call a Ministry hotline to complain about retailers not honouring the exemption.

Law creates hassle for merchants, group says

But the province does not have the ability to unilaterally impose a requirement on businesses to provide the exemption, according to ministry spokesman Marc Pichette.

Becking said the law creates a bad set-up: customers who believe, rightly, they should get an exemption, and store owners who believe, rightly, that they are under no legal obligation to offer one.

Compounding the issue is the hassle for store owners of filling out the paperwork, said Becking. Merchants are required to pay the provincial taxes and then apply for a refund for the exemptions.

"A lot of retailers are sending out the frustration to the customer rather than focusing their frustration to Ontario. First Nations aren't the ones who set up how the tax was submitted," said Becking.

Human rights complaint filed

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said in a statement First Nations People have a unique tax situation in Ontario, and that the 2010 agreement secured point-of-sale tax exemptions under the Harmonized Sales Tax.

"We will continue working with them to ensure that its implementation is better understood by both retailers and First Nations," said Beardy.

Dumont said she is sending a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about her incident at the Home Hardware and she said the corporate office of the hardware store reached out to her to talk about the complaint.

The owner of the Home Hardware said Tuesday he will publicly apologize to Dumont next week and make a donation to a charity of her choice.