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Free tax clinics headed to Nunavut communities this season

With tax season kicking off, the Canada Revenue agency launched three new northern service centres in Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse Feb. 11 in hopes improving tax services in Canada’s territories.

Fewer reviews and reassessments and more people filing their income tax returns are the basic goals.

Deb Schulte, right, parliamentary secretary for the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier, and assistant director responsible for outreach and the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program Cameron Johnson launched the new Canada Revenue Agency northern service centre in Iqaluit Feb. 1.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

“The northern service centres will provide people with better access to information about Canada’s tax services throughout the territories, whether you’re inquiring about your individual situation or on behalf of small business or a self-employed individual,” said Deb Schulte, parliamentary secretary for the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier, in Iqaluit.

“The minister has talked many times about the importance of providing community-based tax services in the territory. It’s really wonderful that after hearing this for several years, it’s actually happening.”

Along with the new service centres come the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), three employees, dedicated phone lines for Northerners, and access to free tax preparation clinics around Nunavut for individuals with a modest income and simple tax situation.

Schulte noted these efforts are a result of extensive consultations with Northerners.

Mugun Sivapalan, left, Colin Veroba, second from right, Brenda Blake, right, the new staff at the Canada Revenue Agency’s northern service centre launched Feb. 11 in Iqaluit, join the agency’s assistant director responsible for outreach and the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program Cameron Johnson, second from left, liaison officer John Harris and Deb Schulte, parliamentary secretary for the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

She introduced Iqaluit’s three full-time employees who will deliver the outreach and liaison services: Brenda Blake, Colin Veroba and Mugun Sivapalan. The Iqaluit office will also have a part-time Inuktitut interpreter, with the possibility of more to be hired depending on need, while arrangements will be made in communities to ensure translation services at volunteer clinics.

Finally, the CRA has released a summary of potential regulatory changes to reduce the administrative burden associated with the lowest return airfare element of Northern deductions.

“Filling out the taxes enables us to get those very important credits and benefits that are essential, and to what people are entitled. Most people don’t know all the benefits they are entitled so these service centre are going to really help open up that relationship so it’s not just a negative connotation,” said Schulte.

That some Nunavummiut aren’t accessing their tax-related benefit is especially concerning due the high level of poverty in the territory, said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, who is also the president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities

“People who may not be filing and who desperately could benefit from the child tax benefit, from the GST refund, from pensions, disability benefits … All in all, it’s often perceived as a very daunting process, when, in fact, if you have a simple source of income, one employer, one T4, or you’re on social assistance, it’s not actually that difficult,” she said.

Sania Kaunirk lights the qulliq before the Canada Revenue Agency officially announced the opening of its northern service centre in Iqaluit Feb. 11.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Work is already underway to ensure most Nunavut communities will host the community volunteer program, and organizations are being lined up to help out.

“We’re in the middle of the 2019 campaign, so it’s an ongoing recruitment effort. We currently have 10 organizations registered and ready to go in Nunavut. We have nine organizations that are pending. We have 19 volunteers currently registered in Nunavut, and we have another 14 pending,” the CRA’s Cameron Johnson said.

“Currently, that will represent 16 of the communities here in Nunavut.”

Redfern had a few suggestions for the federal agency related to community clinics.

“Reaching out to the hamlet and, of course, the community economic development officers, as it relates to the small (business) and individual self-employed entrepreneurs. If they don’t bring an Inuk who speaks Inuktitut, in many of the communities there are local interpreters that can assist,” she said, adding it’s important to make certain key tax concepts are clear for the sake of translation.

“As well as advertising on the community radio. Many of the communities have their Facebook pages. The need for flexibility – there are always challenges travelling in our territory because of weather or mechanical issues. Keeping communities informed.”

Redfern has also recommended that agency staff go to schools, and speak with high school student who are employed.

“Giving youth the knowledge and the skillset could also, in turn, help them with their families, to file their parents’ taxes, their grandparents’ taxes – to increase the number of people in our territory who have that basic skill set,” she said.

“I think there are some growing pains with the fact of having an office in Iqaluit with CRA representatives. I think they’ll become more familiar with these issues,” said Redfern, who also recommended debriefings, and a recognition that if certain issues are persistent they should be properly assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency and be addressed.