By Matteo Cimellaro
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is set to release a report in the coming days outlining the challenges Indigenous Peoples face in filing tax returns and proposing solutions to make the process easier.
An access-to-information request filed by Canada’s National Observer reveals the CRA reached out to national Indigenous organizations last year in an effort to improve Indigenous Peoples’ tax filing experience and access to benefits.
The documents include a 2022 briefing note asking CRA commissioner Bob Hamilton to sign letters addressed to the Assembly of First Nations, Metis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. According to the documents, the CRA wanted to inform the organizations of public opinion research involving Indigenous Peoples. The goal of the research was to improve Indigenous Peoples’ awareness and access to benefits and credits for which they are eligible after previous studies suggested the need for greater outreach.
The new report will include an updated version of two public opinion research studies completed by the CRA in 2017. Those studies found the CRA needed to provide greater outreach to urban Indigenous Peoples to increase awareness and understanding of benefits associated with filing tax returns, according to a summary of the 2017 report.
“Updating the 1/8public opinion research 3/8 aligns with the commitments we have made in previous Action Plans and shows that the Agency is ready to take the necessary steps towards reconciliation,” the briefing note states.
Various government benefits, such as disability benefits and those for single mothers, are dependent on filing tax returns on time. However, some people who failed to file on time didn’t realize it would disrupt their benefits, the report summary says.
The report suggested reaching out to vulnerable groups, including Indigenous Peoples, through a “multi-mode communications strategy”
that includes traditional and online advertising, for example, on TV, social media and posters in public areas.
The report also strongly suggested collaborating with community organizations and making information available at government offices related to social services or employment.
The CRA wrote letters to inform the four national Indigenous organizations of the agency’s public opinion survey involving Indigenous participants.
In the letters, the CRA stated it had made important strides in the years since the first reports in 2017, including providing tailored resources online, expanding outreach programs and simplifying tax forms.
The briefing note did not mention advertising, collaboration with community organizations or information at social services offices but instead focused on outreach to Ottawa-based national organizations.
The letters informed the organizations of the forthcoming report, saying it would consist of an online survey from 1,700 respondents,
11 focus groups and 10 in-depth phone interviews.
The CRA told Canada’s National Observer that it met with the organizations following the report’s completion and had a positive response.
“Initial comments received included that organizations were pleased to have access to the data and that they are interested in continuing a working relationship to further improve services for Indigenous Peoples,” the CRA said in an email.
The CRA also expanded on its Indigenous portfolio action plan, which includes promoting awareness of Indigenous cultures, hiring Indigenous employees, building a culture of collaboration and systematic engagement with Indigenous partners and providing tailored services to respond to specific Indigenous client needs.
“The CRA is working on ensuring that accessing the tax and benefits system is easier and building relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” a CRA statement said.
“We actively engage with Indigenous partners to ensure that the voices of Indigenous Peoples are heard and listened to throughout the CRA.”
Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative