The Eritrean state has been forcing Eritrean citizens to pay a 2% tax on their income earned in Canada to the Eritrean government. Eritrean-Canadian journalist Aaron Berhane wrote about this in May in a guest column in the Toronto Star.
Some 20,000 Eritreans now live in the Greater Toronto Area. Harassment and fear have followed many of them here. The Eritrean consulate in Canada asks them to provide T4 slips and other Canada Revenue Agency documents as proof of their Canadian income. The government of Eritrea then uses this information to impose an additional 2-per-cent tax on their incomes. Refusal to pay results in the withholding of basic documents such as educational records and birth and marriage certificates. Family members in Eritrea find their applications for business licence renewals declined. Even those who need nothing from the Eritrean government are approached and intimidated by agents of the regime to pay the tax.
The UN has sanctioned Eritrea for its support of Al Shabaab, the insurgent group in neighbouring Somalia with alleged links to Al Qaeda. Last December, a UN Security Council resolution condemned “Eritrea’s use of the ‘diaspora tax’ . . . to destabilize the Horn of Africa region . . . and decided that Eritrea shall cease those practices. It further decided that Eritrea shall stop using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent.”
The tax continues to be collected, however, and Eritrean Canadians could be forgiven for wondering who governs them here in Canada.
A later Toronto Star article investigated the matter further. Stewart Bell's National Post article on the matter, "‘It is our right’: Eritrea vows to continue taxing citizens in Canada despite warning from Ottawa", communicates that despite being warned by the Canadian government to stop this tax, the Eritrean government plans to continue.
Will this lead to a break in diplomatic relations? I have to wonder whether there's anything that the Canadian government can do, really; if the Eritrean government is willing to threaten the relatives of emigrants, emotionally if not legally it might be impossible for the emigrants not to respond.
The diplomat who represents one of Africa’s most authoritarian regimes said Friday his government would continue collecting what some call an “extortion tax” in Canada even though the Department of Foreign Affairs has demanded that it stop.</blockquote>
“We have to tax our people, it is our right,” Semere O. Micael, the Eritrean consul in Toronto, said after the National Post reported that Ottawa had sent a diplomatic note to his government making it clear he would be sent home if he continued to run the tax scheme.
Asked to respond to the consul’s comments, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s press secretary Rick Roth said: “We have made our position on this matter to the Eritreans clear, and we expect that to be respected. The government of Eritrea should not test our resolve on this matter.”
The one-party state, which lacks a formal economy, has been demanding that Eritreans living in Canada hand over 2% of their incomes and pay a national defence levy. The RCMP and United Nations have reported that those who refuse to pay suffer threats and harassment.
Thousands of Eritreans have sought refuge in Canada. But even in cities like Winnipeg and Toronto, they complain, the cash-strapped government they fled has tried to tap them for money. Refusal can mean reprisals against family members still in Eritrea and stonewalling by the consulate.
[. . .]
Canada took action last week, sending a diplomatic note to Eritrea advising that Mr. O. Micael’s accreditation would only be renewed once Ottawa had received written assurance he had stopped the tax scheme.
Eritrea responded in a letter on Tuesday that it would comply, but Mr. O. Micael said in a telephone interview that while he would no longer take in taxes at the consulate, Eritreans in Canada would still have to pay up.
“I am not going to collect the tax in my office. That’s all. That’s what the Canadian government was asking and they got the response,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we stop collecting.… Now instead of paying to my office they will pay it through the bank.”
[. . .]
Aaron Berhane, a journalist who fled Eritrea after the government shut down his newspaper in 2001, said the consul was dodging. “What he is saying is, ‘I will not intimidate them to pay inside my office, but it is okay with Canada if I intimidate them to pay outside of my office.’ Of course, it can’t be okay and the Canadian government has to watch his activities closely.”