AFN National Chief Calls Today’s Supreme Court Decisions on Tax Immunity “A Significant Victory” for First Nations Rights and Economies
July 22, 2011
(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo commented today on two important decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada - Bastien and Dubé - that deal with the tax immunity or exemption of First Nations regarding interest income from investments deposited in financial institutions on-reserve.
“Today’s decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada are a significant victory for First Nations rights regarding tax exemption, rights which are rooted in our treaties and the pre-existing sovereignty of First Nations,” said National Chief Atleo. “After relentless efforts over many years by the Canada Revenue Agency to erode the First Nations tax exemption, the Supreme Court has upheld the exemption and affirmed its ongoing relevance. The onus is now on the Canada Revenue Agency to work with First Nations to change its approach and policies in a way that promotes reconciliation and respects the nation-to-nation relationship between First Nations and the Crown.”
Both cases dealt with instances where the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) tried to tax investment income generated from deposits in financial institutions located on-reserve. The Supreme Court rejected an argument by CRA that the tax exemption does not apply to income in the commercial mainstream and that it only applies to income that is connected to a “traditional Indian way of life”. The Court held that “a purposive interpretation of the exemption does not require that the evolution of that way of life should be impeded”. The Assembly of First Nations, along with other First Nations organizations, intervened in both cases which were heard together by the Court.
“Today’s decision is good for all Canadians because it means First Nations can use their rights to build their economies and strengthen their citizens and communities,” said the National Chief. “In both cases, the individuals were doing business and generating income that contributed to the local economy. These decisions foster economic development for all First Nations that will help alleviate the poor conditions and low employment prevalent in too many of our communities. First Nations will be able to build their communities and contribute significantly to the surrounding communities and the national economy.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has issued many decisions over the years, including Haida and Delgamuukw among others, that upheld First Nations rights and pointed to the need for reconciliation of First Nation rights and Canadian law and policies. Canada’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples further compels Canada to work with First Nations on an approach that respects, recognizes and affirms the rights of First Nations.
National Chief Atleo stated: “I commend the plaintiffs in these cases for vigorously asserting their rights and the rights of all First Nation citizens. It should be clear to everyone that our people will never surrender or compromise where our rights are concerned. Today’s decisions are strong reminders to Canada that these rights remain alive, relevant and part of the legal landscape. It is our time to work together as partners to give life to these rights.”
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
Don Kelly, Assembly of First Nations A/Communications Director
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Alain Garon, Assembly of First Nations Bilingual Communications Officer
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