Royal Canadian Legion in Lasalle faces closure over unpaid taxes
Legion Branch 212 has until Nov. 4 to pay the City of Montreal $24,200 in back taxes
The Royal Canadian Legion in Lasalle is struggling to pay tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes — and it now has until Nov. 4 to settle its bill with the City of Montreal or risk seeing the building it's occupied since 1963 sold off to the highest bidder.
That's the same day the legion plans to hold its 2018 Remembrance Day ceremony, said Ray Cormie, the president of Legion Branch 212.
"We are about to lose our home here due to unpaid back taxes," Cormie said during a news conference at the legion Friday.
The legion lost its tax-exempt charitable status in 2013, and it saw its annual property taxes jump tenfold, from $3,000 to $30,000, Cormie explained.
It had to wait five years before it could reapply for tax-exempt status, he said, and it did so on June 28 of this year.
In the meantime, though, the legion has been struggling to pay its sky-high tax bill.
The legion says it received a letter from the city a few weeks ago which said it had until Nov. 4 to pay $24,200 in unpaid taxes for the 2017 tax year.
If it doesn't pay, the city said it would put ads in local newspapers and online to sell the building the legion calls home, Cormie said.
"This building is an integral part of Lasalle," he said.
Home to other community groups
In addition to supporting Canadian military veterans and RCMP members and their families, the legion also hosts a variety of community events, such as weddings, church group meetings and activities for seniors.
Dorothy Gleason is the co-ordinator of the Lasalle D+D 50+ Centre, a group that supports local seniors and uses the legion building for its activities two days a week.
"It's been an amazing partnership. We're so fortunate to call this our home," Gleason said.
She said she's concerned about the legion's future, as well as what closing the building would mean for her own organization, because it's not easy to find a space that can accommodate its needs.
"We need a big space with a lot of multiple rooms, [for] a lot of activities; [a] kitchen, parking, main floor access — all the things that make it right for serving seniors," Gleason told CBC News.
"The implications of them closing on our centre would be quite devastating."
Cormie said the borough of Lasalle has helped the legion fill out its forms to regain its tax-exempt status.
A spokesperson for the City of Montreal told CBC News the city can't get involved because it's the province that grants tax-exempt status.
Cormie called on the Quebec government to do more to protect legions, many of which are struggling to pay the rising cost of utilities and municipal taxes, he said.
Cormie said a legion branch in Lachine faced a similar crisis but regained its tax-exempt status with help from that borough.
"If they can do it in other jurisdictions and other provinces, and other jurisdictions in Quebec here, why can't they do it here? This completely baffles us," he said.
In the meantime, the legion is raising funds online to try to pay its back taxes.
In addition to the $24,200 it owes for 2017, the legion said it owes $30,000 to the city for its unpaid 2018 tax bill and another $16,000 in incidentals, such as legal fees, late-payment fees and interest.
Even if the legion is forced to close, Cormie said, its Remembrance Day activities would go ahead as planned on Nov. 4.
With files from CBC's Sean Henry