An Indigenous woman living in London said she was left feeling embarrassed and discriminated against after what was supposed to be a fun shopping trip to a local thrift store.
Yeyatalunyuhe George said she and a friend were shopping at For You Consignment Friday, when the man working behind the counter refused to accept her Indian status card.
“He was really rude about it,” said George. “When I was ready to go pay I said ‘Oh, I have my status card that I’d like to use’ and he just went ‘Nope.'”
A status card is a government issued ID that identifies someone as a status Indian, as defined by the federal Indian Act. They can be used for health coverage, dental expenses, to cross the Canadian-American border and for specific tax exemptions.
In this case, it would grant George an exemption from paying the eight per cent provincial sales tax portion of the HST.
“I told him ‘Well, you have to take it’ and he was like ‘Not according to my boss, I don’t.’ And at that point … I just put my stuff on the counter and proceeded to walk out the door.”
Businesses aren’t required by law to accept status cards. Still, George said the experience left her feeling wronged.
“Consignment stores are my favourite places to go, and I feel like he just treated me like I was nothing. Like my business didn’t matter,” she said. “He ruined my day.”
According to both sides, the interaction began with a conversation about the change rooms being closed because of pandemic-related health regulations. Wilhelmina Boudreau, who owns For You Consignment, heard about it from her employee afterwards.
“They had a huge problem that they couldn’t use our change rooms,” she said. “And then when they got to the counter, we don’t accept status cards. They had an issue with that and threw their clothes at us and stormed out of the store.”
Boudreau doesn’t feel like it’s a matter of discrimination.
“I’m sorry she felt that way,” she said of George. “They didn’t need to be so rude about the fact we couldn’t use change rooms.”
Boudreau doesn’t wish her employee handled the situation differently, but does wish it was easier to process the tax exemption. The store’s point of sale system was set up to accept status cards when they first opened, she explained, until the government sent a notice directing them to provide the exemption to the customer, record it as though they hadn’t, and then make a claim to get the money back later.
“[For] a small business, that’s an accounting nightmare.”
Boudreau said they made a conscious choice not to accept status cards, because the added bookkeeping cost was too high.
“I feel really bad. I really do. Because if it was just about giving the PST back, I wouldn’t care. I’d pay that myself. It’s because our books are out all the time.”
Possible human rights complaint
Naomi Sayers, an Indigenous lawyer based in Sault Ste. Marie who studied at Western University, also carries a status card. She said that although businesses aren’t required to accept them – refusal could lay the groundwork for a human rights complaint.
“I think a good argument could be made that not accepting it at a systemic rate, especially in a city like London, you’re probably engaging in some kind of discriminatory behaviour,” she explained.
“If they’re going to cause me embarrassment, humiliation and degrading me just for simply asking because it’s my right as an Indigenous person under treaty, then it’s quite discriminatory if you ask me.”
Sayers said the cost of not providing the exemption – the embarrassment to the customer, the media attention and the potential human rights claim – far outweigh the cost of buying a calculator and doing the math.
Building a list
Joel Abram, Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, is encouraging people to contact him if their status cards are refused.
“I’m going to be creating a website, listing all the retailers that refuse to honour the status cards, so First Nations citizens can make informed decisions about where they want to spend their money,” he said.
Abram wishes the tax exemption policy would have “more teeth” so that businesses would be required by law to accept the cards instead.