Ottawa forces Eritrea to nix ‘2% extortion tax’ on citizens in Canada
The government of Eritrea has agreed to stop collecting a controversial “diaspora tax” at its consulate in Toronto after the Department of Foreign Affairs threatened to send home the repressive African regime’s only diplomat in Canada.
The consulate had been soliciting a 2% income tax and mandatory “donations” for its military from Eritreans living in Canada. The RCMP and United Nations have reported that those who refused to pay were subjected to threats, intimidation and coercion.
But last week, Foreign Affairs officials sent off a strongly worded diplomatic note making it clear Canada would not renew the accreditation of Consul Semere Ghebremariam O. Micael unless Eritrea agreed in writing to stop the scheme.
“Canada will consider the embassy’s request for renewal of his accreditation once it has received written confirmation that Eritrea has complied in full with the department’s expectations … and therefore the consulate has effectively ceased to collect the 2% ‘recovery and rehabilitation’ tax and the donation for national defence,” read the note, a copy of which the National Post obtained.
“If Mr. O. Micael continues to carry out tax solicitation and tax collection activities in spite of Canada’s express disapproval and view that such activities are incompatible with the normal performance of consular functions, it will expect a notification from the Ministry stating that such person has been recalled from Canada.”
Mr. O. Micael’s diplomatic accreditation was set to expire on Thursday. On Tuesday, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded in a “note verbale” that it had “complied in full” with Canada’s demands, and that the head of the Toronto consulate “has been accordingly instructed.”
The letter is a reversal for Eritrea, which had previously defended its collection of diaspora taxes. With no measurable domestic economy, the country is largely dependent on Eritreans living abroad. But an Eritrean-Canadian journalist said he suspects the government will still find ways to fundraise in Canada.
“I don’t think the Canadian government realizes how crooked the Eritrean regime is,” said Aaron Berhane, who fled Eritrea after the state shut down his newspaper in 2001. “So the only way to stop the 2% extortion tax is by shutting up the Eritrean consulate for good.”
Ghezae Hagos, spokesman for the Eritrean-Canadians Human Rights Group of Manitoba, also doubted Eritrea would change its behaviour. He said as long as the consulate remained in business it would squeeze Eritreans in Canada.
“Therefore, the only way for Canada to protect its citizens and its national interests … is to expel the diplomat Mr. Semere Ghebremariam and close the consulate in Toronto,” said Mr. Hagos, also a journalist who fled Eritrea. He now lives in Winnipeg.
A one-party state of six million, Eritrea is one of the world’s most authoritarian and least developed countries. Nonetheless, it has managed to arm, train and finance armed groups throughout the region, including the al-Qaeda-affiliate Al-Shabab. As a result, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009. Canada took action in 2010, making it illegal to finance the Eritrean military.
But the National Post revealed last November the Toronto consulate was collecting taxes for military purposes. At the time, Eritrean-Canadians complained they had been pressured into paying levies to the consulate. They showed forms on consulate letterhead that indicated some of the money was designated for “national defence.”
A UN team that monitors compliance with the arms embargo subsequently sent investigators to Canada who confirmed the Toronto consulate was collecting taxes for military purposes and that refusal to pay resulted in threats and harassment.
The Canadian government warned Eritrean in January that such conduct was a violation of diplomatic protocols and “could be criminal.” Ottawa repeated its concerns in a July 27 letter, after the UN Monitoring Group released its report documenting the activities of the Toronto consulate.
Eritrea responded with a letter that said the UN investigators were biased and politically motivated, the allegations of extortion were a “malicious lie” and the diaspora taxes were collected to help the country rebuild after a long war with Ethiopia and protect the nation from “imminent military threats.”
(Source: National Post)