Tax Exemption

Today I went into Shoppers Drug Mart, a place I frequent a lot (because it is close to where I live), and a place that I enjoy going to.

I enjoy going to this Shoppers Drug Mart for only one thing: tax exemption. No, I am not here to brag and wave in your face, screaming, “I got tax exemption na-na-na-nah!” No, because that would be rude. I am not writing this to stick my nose in the air, give you evil looks for not being “tax-exempt.” No, because that would be condescending. Am I writing to talk about the stigma and embarrassment that sometimes comes with presenting my “tax-card” (which is a right to “Status Indians”) to certain cashiers? Maybe.

Working in retail, I know how most cashier systems work and can generally figure out how one works just by looking at it. When it first came into effect on July 1, 2010, there was uproar among First Nations. Roadblocks were put up. Protests arranged. The government later allowed First Nations to continue to be tax-exempt coming September 2010. The first time I asked for tax-exemption at retailer, I was scared. I was nervous. I was worried, would the retailer allow me? Would the retailer say “Sorry, no we don’t do that”? Would the retailer roller her eyes, sigh annoyingly, and pound the keys as if she is doing 20 more steps in the transaction process (but really its a matter of only pressing a few extra keys)?

Staples was my first store. They did it. I looked at my receipt and asked her why HST was still on there. She said, “because we take it off as a discount.” I did the math. It worked out.

Later in the month, I went to Metro grocery store. It was late in the night. Nobody, well barely anyone, was in the store. In fact, I only saw two other people, which just happened to be the cashiers. I asked for tax exemption. The cashier, rolled her eyes, grunted, and said, as if this could have been the most annoying thing to happen to her all week, “I have to call the manager.” I said, “ok.” I waited, for about 10 minutes. The manager came, did the exact gestures and made the same noises as the annoyed cashier. They joked together and laughed at “how stupid this process is getting,” as one of them said. I felt belittled and quite uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “Well, how annoying would it be for a company to have customers feel belittled while at the cashier?”

I have been to Metro on several other occasions after that. I always ask for tax-exemption (well, if it’s a few pennies/cents, I just let it slide). Each time, my experience is the same: uncomfortable. One visit was so bad that two different employees came to help the other one out. The one employee left her till (which had a line, when I knew she didn’t have to leave her line and that the manager had to be called–I knew she wasn’t the manager because of my frequency here) to help out at the till I was at (which by the end of the transaction there was a line, 8 people long). They continued to joke around and say things that made me not feel so great to be Native with “a cool tax-exemption card” (something that is my right).

By the end of the 20-minute transaction (yes it took 20 minutes), at about 2:30pm, the one cashier said, “Sorry, we see so many of these cards that we don’t know how to use them.” I don’t know why she said that but it didn’t help her reasoning for the 20-minute transaction. My reply, “Well, if you see so many of these cards, why is it that you don’t know how to do this type of transaction?” I walked away, upset, shaking, almost wanting to cry. I called my mom instead (she made me feel better and more relaxed). I feel it’s essential to know the time these transactions happened at because grocery stores are usually busy, before work, lunch time, and after work on a business day (which I was there on Wednesday); I was there at a “non-busy” time.

Shoppers Drug Mart. I am amazed at this store. They make presenting my “cool tax card” so simple. In fact, their process for doing tax exemption hasn’t changed since the HST changes. I was relieved, and I would go to Shoppers any day for things I need (even if it’s for some food that I know can be bought at Metro).

The one thing that I did want to say to the cashier tonight was this (after she talked about how “cool” it must be to have one), “It may be cool to be ‘tax-exempt,’ but it’s not cool when I feel uncomfortable and belittled by certain cashiers or businesses who give me a fuss over something that is a right.”

This “tax-card” isn’t just any card. It is a card that tells me who I am. It tells me that I am a Native Canadian, more specifically a “Status Indian.” It tells me that I have another number attached to my name, one beyond SIN. It tells me what my rights are under the Indian Act. It reminds that I am Native. It reminds me that some businesses don’t like “us” because of the transaction process. It reminds me that I will sometimes be annoying by a few extra buttons, a few extra minutes. It reminds me that I will never be treated equally, even if I am just a customer.


  1. Being tax exempt is the opposite of being treated equally. Why should you be treated equally if you're receiving preferential treatment? You can only have it one way: either be treated equally by paying the same taxes everyone else does or put up with the discrimination because you are choosing to set yourself apart and above everyone else. I am a cashier and I'm not annoyed at pressing a few extra buttons – I am annoyed and frustrated that just because I wasn't born into a particular ethnicity, I don't have the same rights as you. I would consider that racism against me. I don't have anything against Natives, I am against better or worse treatment of any person based on their ethnicity.

  2. Hi Autumn! I am sorry you feel that way. We are not receiving preferential treatment. We are receiving what is our right. We should not deserve to have to choose to be treated equally or be treated with discrimination? Do you have to decide to be treated equally or with discrimination because of your rights? No.Here is a neat/short video to help you out with your challenges in understanding this topic: It is short, sweet and packed with a lot of information πŸ™‚ Take care!

  3. To not be aware of why there are particular measures in place to assist natives is unfortunate, and not uncommon. As they strive to have the harm undone to them that was committed systematically over many generations, misguided attitudes simply make the work harder. And it's a task we all need to work towards(I'm not Native)To take a public stand about how offensive you think it is that these efforts are in place, without researching the issues, and learning about the horrible and very real effects of generational abuse, is a serious hindrance to the efforts. I hope you look into it, Autumn, and see why your viewpoint is part of the problem that only causes more hurt and makes the long road that much longer.β€œThe meaning of good and bad, of better and worse, is simply helping or hurting.” ~ Emerson

  4. KWE, so you're saying it is your right to get tax exemptions that are available to no other ethnicity in the country? How is that fair at all? Autumn's point was that you can't expect to have special treatment yet be treated like everyone else. If you want to be treated like everyone else, I'm all for that. However, if you were to continue getting tax exemptions then people like Autumn and I would be getting discriminated against because of our ethnicity. Do you think that's fair?

  5. Thanks Ob5310 and Cal for commenting and reading. Ob: I suggest you watch the video (the link that I posted in the initial comment). It sums up everything nicely and only takes 2 minutes to watch. We are not asking for special treatment or to be treated like everyone else. We are asking for our rights to be acknowledged. You do not have rights that have been significantly ignored because of your ethnicity. Inherently, that is unfair. Have a great weekend all! Back to real work!

  6. watched it.. here's my take:-Alcohol: Agreed, the stereotype linking native canadians and alcohol abuse is unfair and insulting. That said, other ethnicities suffer from equally hurtful stereotypes as well.-Get over it: Agreed, we shouldn't forget it. That's why it's still discussed today.-Long hair thing: Never heard of this stereotype so I won't comment-7 Billion Dollars: Ok, the analogy given is entirely misconstrued. Sure the government may give New Brunswick a similar ammount for it's people. But don't forget that there are natives in New Brunswick that benefit from that along with the money going to Indian Affairs. In fact, Natives across the country benefit from municipal/provincial spending along with their exclusive Indian Affairs funds. I live near a reserve and because I'm Caucasian, I pay more taxes for the roads and services that we share.Taxes: Well I'm not sure why he would pay sales tax if he is tax exempt for sales tax. I agree the "free ride" stereotype isn't true, but natives do certainly get a tax advantage over myself because I am Caucasian.

  7. I am grateful to see you blog on this topic and sad that people treat you so poorly when you use your card. To Autumn and ob5310, Canada's colonial history towards aboriginal peoples/nations is one of physical and cultural genocide – for example, residential schools (for 100 years of Canada's history, up to the mid-1980's, over 150,000 aboriginal children were removed from homes and families, physically, culturally and sexually abuse). This has been well-documented, but tragically (and conveniently) most Canadians are unaware. For most of my life I was also ignorant of this. The relationship of Canadians towards first peoples needs to be unique if we are ever going to take responsibility for our brutal actions (and the ongoing impact). This is not about preferential treatment or taking away from any other ethnicity. From my perspective it is about returning what was never ours in the first place.cheers,judah

  8. I agree, the treatment of Aboriginals in Canadian history has been appalling and shameful. Does that warrant special treatment or a "unique" relationship as you say? I don't think so. I'd much rather see a day where we can look past race and everyone be treated equally by the law than one where we use past crimes to justify new racial discrimination against non-natives.

  9. The problem with treating unequals, equally is that we perpetuate inequality by doing so. It's not about special, but remedial treatment. A good starting place to read more about this would be the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Although little has changed since this document came out, it is at least informative about why a unique relationship is necessary. Thanks for chatting.cheers,judah

  10. Judah: Thank you for your comment πŸ™‚ Ob: There are other types of taxes that all Canadian citizens pay including Indigenous populations. That is what he is referring to. Because of "promises" made by the government, some First Nations are still waiting to receive them–including basic human rights (clean water, education, etc). Also, Indian Affairs is not the same across the board for each First Nation and reserves do not receive municipal or provincial funding for their services/roads. The video was meant to capture a complex topic in less than 5 minutes. Thank you all for you feedback/comments.For those who are ignorant to the issues (and I get it, it may not be your fault–but pleading ignorance or lack of education is unacceptable when we have the means to figure out anything on our own–thanks Judah/Cal for taking time to learn/educate) I hope those that read this blog and comment on it are able to take the time to learn about some Indigenous issues in your lifetime. If not, I wish you all the best in your life adventures πŸ™‚

  11. I can understand cashiers not necessarily knowing how to apply tax exemption, either because they are new to the system they are working on or do not see exemption cards often because of where they live/the volume of clientele the store has. It is unfortunate that you feel belittled in some instances, you shouldn't have to feel that way, but some people are rude, and others like to make a show of things because they want to make themselves feel better about not knowing how to do something, not being able to (because of the level of their position), or because of ignorance.I understand the existence of the cards both because of my majors in university and having grown up where I did. I even had an argument with family over the holidays about whether or not members of my family should qualify (they shouldn't). However I do understand where some of the commenters are coming from. I have hope for a time where people are considered equally, where everyone has access to what they need, and a time where people don't necessarily need to feel guilty about a past they themselves didn't take part in. However, I also agree that rights and agreements should be acknowledged until such a time that new, agreed upon, arrangements can be made. And that the past should not be forgotten.I grew up in Northern Ontario and worked in retail in high school. I, officially, was unallowed to enter tax exemption (or any other system override) without the consent of a manager but some of them let me do certain ones without them clearing it first. We had no problem accepting the cards (this was prior to 2010 and I'm not sure about the changes that occurred during the time period you mention above), no one at the store did. However, there are also instances where cashiers take ridicule from people presenting their card– by no means does this mean that this occurs across the board– nor do my comments about people accepting the cards easily apply across the board either. I have been on the other end of things though, with people upset that I could not give them tax exemption when they couldn't present me with a card, or because I didn't just take it off or ask them to see it. In these cases I assured them I would be happy to do a refund, ring the item through on the same transaction, and get them the money they should not have paid back– or if they did not have the card with them that they could bring the receipt back with their card when it was convenient and have the same process occur.So it isn't just one way, not that I am implying you believe it is. Things go both ways in cases like this because people are hurt by different things, and have different ideas about how things should be.Wonderful post by the way.Oh, also, just for interest sake, I saw a documentary (End Black History Month?) during Black History Month about an African American man who wanted to do away with the label and 'integrate Black History into every month'. In the end he saw where people he talked to were coming from when they discussed their views on the continued need for history months, but he still ended hopeful that all portions of history should be looked at in the teaching of history in school and elsewhere. The same applies to indigenous history, regardless of country (though some countries integrate this more than others). It should be taught and integrated fully, but still should receive the other attention it deserves.

  12. I'm sure the royal commission has a lot to say on this issue, but I don't have the time to go through it right now. If you wouldn't mind, what is your reasoning behind the idea that you are unequals? Do I have rights that you do not?

  13. @Cal Chayce and @Judan Oudshoorn – My opinion is not due to lack of information. I am aware of the harm done to Natives and I have done my research. I still hold that giving Natives special privileges fixes nothing and only amounts to racism against non-natives. African Americans were enslaved for how many generations and we (as a country) don't give them a break – we give them the chance for equality. I'm just saying that it's going too far the other way. Yes, we (as a country) severely mistreated Natives but our goal should be to put everyone on even ground, not elevate ANY ethnic group over another. @Kwe Today – I think that it's shameful that there are Native populations without the basics and I would be happy that money is going to providing clean water, etc. That would be an example of working to put every Canadian, native or not, on the same level. Not requiring Natives to pay the same taxes – all the same taxes – does nothing but punish my generation for past generations wrong doing. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this generation of Natives is benefiting from something that doesn't affect them because I understand that some things that Natives have to deal with today are the result of the previous abuse. I just think that instead of giving Natives special rights because of what was done, we should be working on making sure that Natives have the same rights and privileges and chance to succeed as everyone else in Canada – no more, no less. I agree with Ob5310: "I'd much rather see a day where we can look past race and everyone be treated equally by the law than one where we use past crimes to justify new racial discrimination against non-natives."

  14. p.s. Sorry I didn't reply for so long. I didn't bookmark the site and then couldn't find it and couldn't think of the title. But I'm here! I wasn't trying to just have my say and disappear so no one could debate with me πŸ™‚

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