Nunavut government bungles attempt to collect property tax from Mary River
Baffinland, QIA still oppose GN attempts to tax Mary River lands
The Government of Nunavut continues to be thwarted in its attempt to impose property taxes on the fee simple lands that Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. leases from Qikiqtani Inuit Association for the Mary River mine.
That’s because the GN, and an obscure GN agency called the Territorial Board of Revision, bungled attempts to deliver 2016 property tax assessments to Baffinland and QIA in a timely manner, Justice Earl Johnson found in a 42-page judgment released last week.
Since 2014, the QIA and Baffinland have stood together against the GN’s attempts to collect property tax revenues from Mary River lands. Under the Nunavut land claims agreement, Inuit “own” those lands through fee simple title, but under their commercial lease agreement with the QIA, Baffinland is responsible for paying all taxes and fees.
Since then, the QIA has insisted that they should be deemed the assessed owner, and the issue remains in dispute.
The GN, through the Department of Community and Government Services, directly collects property taxes—from all property owners outside Iqaluit—in what they call the “general taxation area.”
To figure out how much each property is worth for the purposes of taxation, a GN officer called “the director of assessment” assigns an assessed dollar value to each property outside Iqaluit and lists them in a big document called the “General Taxation Area Assessment Roll.”
Those who wish to complain about their assessments can take their beefs to a body called the Territorial Board of Revision.
And it’s at that level that a convoluted comedy of errors ensued last year.
The GN tax assessor’s office actually sits just across the hall from QIA’s offices in the same building in Iqaluit, Johnson’s judgment said.
But it still took at least 16 days for its 2016 notice of assessment to reach the QIA and even longer for QIA’s lawyer and senior officials to become aware of it.
On Nov. 28, 2016, Gerald Towns, who works for the CGS department as project manager in the Nunavut Property Assessment Office, took property tax assessments to the Iqaluit post office.
But the QIA did not receive the assessment until Dec. 13, 2016 and Baffinland did not receive it until Jan. 23, 2017.
This was near the height of the Christmas season.
“QIA’s offices closed for the Christmas holidays on December 16, 2016 and re-opened on January 3, 2017. During that period, QIA’s mail remained in the post office box, but any mail received over the holidays was picked up on January 3, 2017,” Johnson’s judgment said.
This meant that neither the QIA nor Baffinland could file complaints with the Territorial Board of Revision about the assessment prior to a 45-day deadline, counted from the day of mailing, as set out in legislation—in this case, Jan. 16. 2017.
But as late as Jan. 17, 2017, QIA staff told the QIA’s lawyer, Michael Osland, that they had not received the assessment document.
“A subsequent investigation carried out by the QIA in late 2017 revealed that the QIA received the Notice of Assessment on December 13, 2016. Instead of forwarding the Assessment Notice to QIA upper management, an employee left it in an unmarked file in the Lands Department,” Johnson said.
So it wasn’t until Jan. 23 that the QIA received it—in an email from the property assessment office.
On that day, Osland, on behalf of QIA, filed a complaint with the Territorial Board of Revision. On the following day, Jan. 24, 2017, Baffinland filed its own complaint.
But on Aug. 30, 2017, Brian Lannan of the Territorial Board of Revision wrote to the QIA and Baffinland to tell them their complaint was denied.
“The TBR did not hold a hearing and give QIA and BIM an opportunity to be heard before sending the QIA and BIM decisions,” Johnson said.
So lawyers for the QIA and Baffinland went to the Nunavut court to ask for a judicial review of that board of revision decision.
Following a hearing this past May 15, Johnson quashed it and told the GN and the Territorial Board of Revision that the 2016 Notice of Assessment is now dead.
That’s because it was not properly mailed to Baffinland and there is confusing evidence on what date the assessment was mailed to QIA.
Also, public notices published in the Kivalliq News and Nunavut News North were “defective,” Johnson said.
“I direct and order that the Notice of Assessment for the Mary River Lands is void and without effect until properly mailed to [Baffinland] and public notice properly given,” Johnson said.
This also means the GN will have to perform a do-over on the assessment process for Mary River.
“I order that the 2016 Notice of Assessment is null and void for non-compliance with the notice requirements of PATA [Property Assessment and Taxation Act] and direct that the Mary River Lands be reassessed and a new Notice of Assessment be issued…” Johnson said.
Baffinland and the QIA have also received Mary River tax assessments for 2014 and 2015.
Those assessments are under appeal. It’s not clear how much money is involved but Baffinland and QIA have both disputed the attempted taxation of Mary River lands by the GN, Johnson said.
That’s because both organizations believe that under the Nunavut land claims agreement, they are exempt from property tax.
In an ironic twist, the company contracted by the GN’s CGS department to perform property assessments on its behalf, including the disputed Mary River assessments, is the business arm of QIA: Qikiqtaaluk Corp.
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