An Ottawa man is being told to pay more than $190,000 in back taxes despite an arrangement through an outsourcing company that he and thousands of other indigenous employees believed made them exempt from paying personal income tax on income earned off-reserve.
Miche Jette received a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency last week informing him he owes $191,471.97 in income tax for work in Ottawa that began more than a decade ago.
"It's urgent. It eats at me. I can't sleep. I'm miserable. I'm depressed. I cry a lot. I'm angry. I'm sad. And I want it dealt with," he said.
Jette was hired through the outsourcing company, Native Leasing Services, to work at the now-defunct advocacy group Aboriginal Healing Foundation in 1999.
As part of the O.I. Group of Companies, the outsourcing company's head office is based in Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nation near Brantford, Ont.
Off-reserve tax exemption
Because status Indians are exempt under Section 87 of the Indian Act from taxation on income earned on-reserve, the company's objective was to offer First Nations people the same incentive to work for indigenous organizations off-reserve.
It seemed like an ideal situation to Jette, who grew up in Ottawa and is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation in southern Ontario.
"If it's all aboriginal, then it's tax-free," he said. "So was I down for it? Yeah."
But after a series of court challenges in the early 2000s, CRA started targeting individuals like Jette, demanding taxes on income earned off-reserve, even if they were working for aboriginal organizations.
He learned that his current wages as a receptionist and front-line worker at the Centretown Community Health Centre would be garnisheed until the debt is paid off. He makes roughly $2,000 a month.
John Best, a spokesman for Native Leasing Services, calls collections measures like that "aggressive." The company is asking for a remission order on behalf of nearly 4,000 former employees from National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier to suspend collections.
"Everyone is hopeful that this matter can be resolved," said Best. "But when you see people being forced into bankruptcy and having aggressive garnishments taking place now. We're now five or six months into the new regime, there's some concern that we're not seeing a follow-through on the reconciliation that was hoped for."
At this point, Jette believes his only option is to declare bankruptcy to remove him from the collections list, which he doesn't want to do.
"I'm at the end of my rope," he said. "Someone's got to deal with this. Not just for me, but for all the aboriginal people who are stuck in this situation."
National Revenue Minister Lebouthillier wasn't available for comment on Tuesday.
Listen to the full interview with Alan Neal on CBC Ottawa's All in a Day.