So many places to go with this blog but once again, gizhe manidoo—the great kind mystery—opens a door and says, “Here you go. Write.”
This time, the door opened up at the behest of an article written by CBC journalist, Jennifer Quesnel in her important coverage of how Indigenous families (read mothers) in Saskatchewan have been having their Child Care Benefit (CCB) cut off. Apparently, CRA has been “randomly” reviewing the files of these mothers to determine entitlement to CCB. As a part of the process, CRA requires submission of documentation to prove children are in their care and that they are “Canadian citizens”. Given the process is onerous and obtaining documentation is expensive—unaffordable for most, if not all—these mothers are not able to submit the documentation and, as a result, their CCB is terminated. This “random auditing” has resulted in 117 complaints to government representatives with most of those occurring in the past six months.
This story inspires me to document my own because there is so much similarity between us. And, when looked at through an anishinaabe feminist political economic lens, I can’t help but wonder if the CRA is targeting Indigenous women with children allowing for, in some twisted way, the Liberal government to live up to their promises about the Child Care Benefit. First, I’ll share my story and then I’ll make links to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his “decolonizing, feminist” agenda. From here, I’ll make a few cheeky postulations. I’m writing this because one, documenting our exploitation is important; two, making linkages across Indigenous women’s experiences in different Indigenous territories and Nations is important; and, three, revealing more broadly how the Canadian government takes from Indigenous women and our children’s’ lives in order to advance their own, is vital.
Also, I am tired of being fed upon by those who have everything. I am tired of witnessing Indigenous women with children with economic and material barriers be fed upon; taken from again and again. While today I write from an economic place where I do not have to worry about how to spend my last $10 dollars — on food, gas, or a few bucks for my kid to go out with her friends — I know what CCB means for Indigenous mothers surviving on low-income. My adrenal, physiological, and cognitive system reminds what this is like all too clearly as it’s a lived experience in my not-too-distant-experience; and, when I read this story, I am angry that this is happening to Indigenous moms. In that, I’m motivated to illuminate some connections, see if there are other Indigenous folks having similar experiences, and shine a light towards the PM, the Liberals, and Canada and ask, Are you using Canada Revenue Agency to not only wear Indigenous moms down but to remove and withhold the little bit of money we have to provide for our kids?
For over a year, I’ve been dealing with Canada Revenue Agency. This has been nothing but a weight, a burden, a stress, and it’s been onerous. It feels like I’m being colonized through administration and it has eaten up my already stretched time and labour as a single mother. Since July 2016 I have not received Child Care Benefit (CCB), Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), or the Goods and Sale Tax rebate (GST). And, most recently, despite filing my taxes on time and being told I was receiving a refund, I have not received that refund.
Here’s the story:
Around March 2016, CRA sent me a letter stating they needed evidence that my child was in my care. This request was because I left Canada (I lived in Michigan from July 2014-July 2015 which I did for school purposes).
The request came in the middle of getting ready to move to a new province, being a full-time student, working part-time (which required extensive hours of commuting per week), and yes, being a present parent to my child. As always, my first thought was, settler states and their neediness, gah! And, as an act of self-preservation, resistance, and practicality (I just didn’t have time to deal with their what-I-thought-was-random request), I put it aside thinking I would get to it when I had the emotional energy and time.
A few days passed and I returned to the letter only to be further squashed with the extensive documentation CRA required: proof of residency in Canada and the US between a specific period of time (actually double proof of residency in both places—lease/rental receipts, proof of housing/tenant insurance with payments, as an example); and, proof that my child lived with me in both places, wherein this proof required letters of school registration in both settler states, copies of report cards, evidence that the school my child attended was associated with the address we lived at and that we lived there together. I died. And then, came back to life. Again, as an act of self-preservation, anti-colonial resistance, and practicality, I put this aside thinking, I’ll get to this when I can. In the meantime, I filed my taxes, got a refund, and continued to receive CCB and GST.
Then July 20, 2016 rolled around and so signalled the beginning of the end of this settler colonial soiree: since that time, I have not received any “benefits” from Canada’s decolonizing, feminist PM and his government, despite paying taxes at the till and on my pay cheque.
I thought to myself, Ok. I get it. I’m not getting CCB, GST, or UCCB until I submit the million documents that CRA wants. So, after moving across the country and finding some breathing space in the fall 2016, I returned to the letter and start systematically going down the list of requirements. I began to send out emails to obtain the documents I needed from various schools, landlords, insurance companies etc. and eventually I was able to gather all the requested documents. I wrote a succinct covering letter addressed to Spry, signed with my odoodem and full name. I uploaded these documents to CRA’s website in early March 2017. Having been in the U.S., my daughter and I have passports so that was a cost that I did not have to figure out and therefore I was able to send that information along as well.
Within a week or so, on March 15, 2017, I received a letter from CRA stating:
Re: Child and family benefits and credits
The review of your Canada child benefits (CCB), goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) credit and any related provincial or territorial programs is complete. Based on the information you sent, we have confirmed that you are eligible.
We will reverse the adjustment previously made to your account.
Your account will be updated to reflect these changes and notices explaining changes will be sent if required….
Validation and Controls
I have to say, I was impressed with Spry’s promptness in reviewing my file and sending this letter to me. I was happy to know that the matter was resolved and that these benefits would start up again. Curiously though, the letter was not uploaded to my CRA account.
And, importantly, shortly after receiving this letter, I received others letters stating I owed Canada money. There were no explanations given only that I owe CCB, UCCB, and GST. I didn’t panic because I assumed that within the empire that is the CRA, that one department had not yet communicated with the other on this latest letter sent by Spry. I didn’t panic when there was no CCB for March, again understanding that while technology is fast, bureaucracies are slow.
However, here we are nearing the end of May 2017–several phone calls and log-ins to my CRA account later–and still no CCB or GST. In fact, Canada continues to say that I don’t have a child in my care and that I owe them money.
I also completed and filed my 2016 taxes on time and anticipated a tax refund but of course, because CRA says I owe them money and are using that towards payment. Since March, I’ve made four calls to CRA—the CCB department, specifically—to find out what’s happening with this matter.
In late March when I did not receive CCB I called them. I was told that yes, I am eligible for CCB but because I had been in the US, my file was sent to CRA’s immigration department so that my return to Canada could be confirmed.
I called in April, and was told again that it looked like I would not be receiving CCB that month because my file was still at CRA’s immigration department. I was told that it was just a simple matter of them making note that I am in Canada. The person I spoke with assured me that it would not be much longer and that I could anticipate something in May.
Because there was no further correspondence uploaded to my CRA on-line account, I called again on May 15 and spoke with a woman named Dolly. I was told the same thing by her. At this point, I let her know about my frustration with this situation and told her the timeline of things. She agreed that it had been on-going for too long; she said she was sending a note to the immigration department that this matter was urgent. I explained to her that it was incredulous that my file was even with immigration given I am Anishinaabe and have never left ‘my’ country. As an aside, she told me that the file says I left Canada in 2013. I said I wasn’t surprised by this significant error and trusted it would be rectified soon. (It seems that “data” about us gets bandied about and then they taketh and giveth away or say we owe them money and do so without explanation. What is most egregious is they do this without ever considering the fact that their whole governmental process is happening on our stolen lands. What’s next, immigration Canada trying to deport Indigenous peoples if we don’t fit their rules?)
As a matter of having to keep on the CRA, I’m going to call again today despite being exhausted with the whole matter. I’m going to bring up this point about the CBC article and ask if I am being discriminated against because I am an Indigenous woman and single mother. I’m going to ask if Indigenous moms are being discriminated against. And, I’m going to ask how they explain the pattern bought forth in the CBC article. I realize that the person on the phone is just doing their job and has little power in the big say but still, I’ll ask. I’m going to ask who in the CRA does have a say about these things so I can metaphorically light a fire under their arses. I’m also going to tell them that I’m getting in touch with the CBC reporter to tell them my story and to see if more investigation across the country can be done. I’m going to be asking them how they reconcile their government lauding the great changes they supposedly started making in—wait for it…
and gouging Indigenous women of their CCB.
And here is where my lay-person political economic analysis comes in (lay-person in the realm of political economy but ferocious with the anishinaabe feminist analysis, that is):
The other day, I read a light-hearted article about how PM Trudeau was photographed jogging through a group of teens on their prom night. This was in Vancouver. Ok, sweet enough. What got my attention was a seemingly innocent line at the end of the article situating the PM in that context. The journalist wrote, “The prime minister has been out west this week reiterating his support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, promoting Canadian tech at Microsoft summit and touting the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit program, among other things.” (Emphasis mine.)
Ok, once we get past the pipeline that will be destructive to the environment and violate Indigenous sovereignty and once we get past the technology which is built on extraction from Indigenous lands and the exploitative labour of many, we get to the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit program at which point I go, the Liberal’s Canada Child Benefit program?
And, I proceed to do a quick search, where I find this:
And, a quick survey of news coverage relays an optics that suggests that Indigenous peoples and POC are heavily represented in this project.
So, if I get this straight then, Justin Trudeau—the decolonizing, feminist PM—and the Liberal Party of Canada, are making things better for middle-class families, single parent families, and low-income families by paying more CCB and they are doing this by taking the UCCB from the wealthy?
And, I also presume then, that the table at the bottom of Quesnel’s article showing the increase of audits in the past year and the termination of benefits must be representing wealthy Canadians, right? That these reviews and extinguishments of benefits do not reflect an attack on single-parent families or low-income families? Or, Indigenous moms? That this table is evidence that PM Trudeau is truly being Peter Pan, right?
And, I guess my own experience of having my CCB, GST, and UCCB cut off since July 2016 (and my income tax refund used to “pay back” some made up narrative that I owe them) and the increase in Indigenous moms in Saskatchewan having their CCB’s reviewed and cut off is all an anomaly…is not discriminatory… is random, in that methodologically sound way of “random”. And that even though Indigenous women make up the lowest population in Canada, have the highest rates of low income, and whose children live in the highest poverty, the number of Indigenous women who have been cut off CCB in Saskatchewan compared to the wealthy who have had their benefits removed is also statistically sound and equitable? That in this new turn in CCB, there is legitimate cause for Indigenous moms–the ones most economically burdened in Canada–to have their benefits removed, right? And, that the fact that so many Indigenous women would have their CCB’s cut off in the same year that PM Trudeau is saying that CCB is going to make things better for everyone except the rich is a part of the narrative that is just somehow, accidentally being left out of the media?
And, it’s also very likely that the Indigenous moms in Saskatchewan and myself are the only Indigenous moms in Canada who have experienced this too, right?
in the year of reconciliation and #Canada150?
That it’s perfectly normal for Indigenous moms to have their CCB cut off in the year of Liberal CCB celebration?
Am I getting you right, Canada?
Because I was thinking that maybe if I wanted to appear like Peter Pan to the broad, general public who reads CBC and the Globe and Mail, and watches CTV, I might project that I was taking from the wealthy to give to the less wealthy in order to impress a massive population of voting citizens. But because I know the wealthy keep me in power, taking from them might not be in my best interest so I might have to figure out another way. I might actually figure out that the best way to recoup money would be to take from a population of people who I know are already burdened and therefore would be least able to jump through my hoops. I might think that maybe by imposing incredible administrative and financial burdens on Indigenous moms who would not be able to meet my requirements, my CRA agents could say, “on paper” that these individuals (who collectively look like Indigenous moms) have not met the (mysterious) requirements I impose and therefore are not eligible for CCB. As a collateral benefit, if these individuals do not prove what I ask them to prove I can actually show that they have been ineligible for previous CCB payments they’ve received and now owe that money back to Canada. In this case, their tax returns can be used to pay off their debt. What better way to recoup money, increase payments for whomever it is that I truly want to benefit from my new CCB program, and in the process, leave the wealthy alone.
In such a scenario, my only questions are, Who truly is benefitting from this new CCB (because we know who isn’t)? and, How does a PM (who identifies as feminist who is engaged in decolonization of the government) explain touting a shiny new CCB program that is supposed to benefit low-income families and single mothers but whose hidden structures seem to be built by further impoverishing Indigenous moms and their children of income? [These last two paragraphs added on May 27, 2017.)
Update as of May 27, 2017: Yesterday after writing this blog, I called CRA’s CCB department and spoke with a person named Brenda. Once again, we went through the whole story and exchange. The difference this time was that she said there was a note on the file dated May 16, 2017 (when I last called) with an indication to expedite it. She was prepared to leave it at that however I said, “Well that was almost two weeks ago and I’v not heard anything even though it says to expedite.” I then told her about the CBC article and asked her point bland if CRA is discriminating against Indigenous women. Of course she hadn’t seen the article (but said she was going to try to find it after work and read it) and she denied discrimination. After asking her about the discrimination, I also asked her who had authority on this matter and how could I contact them. She put me on hold and when she came back she said that I would be getting a call within 3-5 business days. I told her this was not good enough and that I would be sharing my experience with CRA publicly.
Also, just as an informal checking in amongst Indigenous women in Ontario and Saskatchewan, I’ve learned that within the last year, several moms have had the same experiences as the women in Quesnel’s article and my own — audited by the CRA with requirements to prove residency and that their dependents are living with them; cut off CCB due to not meeting the audit requirements; and, as an additional outcome have had their tax refunds diverted to pay back CCB payments that the CRA deems they owe due to not proving they are eligible for it.
And, I’ve emailed my MP and chatted with a few journalists who may be interested in pursuing this. If you are Indigenous and CRA has audited you regarding your CCB; if you have been cut-off your CCB since July 2016; or, if CRA is telling you that you owe them CCB payments and have not received your tax refund because CRA says it will go towards a balance owing, please be in touch at email@example.com. 🙂 Miigwech!
Update as of May 31, 2017: After emailing and calling the wrong MP, I finally called the right MP yesterday (Elizabeth May) and spoke with them. After giving all the details including S.I.N., address. D.O.B, my name was forwarded to a “Constituency—um, I forget their title”–and was told I’d get a call back. I haven’t heard from that person and am not sure if they just went ahead and did something on my behalf but first thing this morning, I received a call from P. Spry. She said that she entered all the necessary information into the computer and all the matters will show that they are cleared up (by matters, I’m assuming she means balances owing) and that I should be receiving a direct deposit within 10 days and that my regular CCB should be starting in June.
It’s unclear to me why she would send me a letter telling me that she reviewed my file documents that I sent to her in March and that I am eligible for CCB but then did not enter the data into the computer. Surely she knew that not entering it would mean I would not receive the CCB and that this would mean any tax refund would be diverted to a “bogus” balance owing. I’m also not clear why her correspondence had me calling some general line for information on this matter when she had the power to deal with this file the whole time. Since I was told the file was sent to “CRA’s immigration department” I assumed it was out of her hands and in the hands of someone else. Anyhow, I’ll see if this money shows up or if they present another barrier. In the meantime, I’m still convinced CRA is discriminating against Indigenous moms and gouging them of benefits and tax refunds. If this is you or you know somebody, please be in touch. Think about what a few hundred dollars a month means to you and then ask yourself what it means to a mom on a low and fixed income. Every cent counts in our households and every cent goes back into Canada’s economy. miigwech!