Double Dipping

I never had the opportunity to take Law and Economics, and almost everything I remember from undergraduate economics courses I could have learned at Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University. In spite of my lack of knowledge about the subject I’m beginning to suspect that whatever you’re thinking about, it’s important to follow the money.

I doubt that thinking most Aboriginal issues are about money, rather than constitutional law principles, international law principles, or human rights principles is any kind of insight. But I wonder, are there foundational legal principles about money? For example, is there a legal principle about avoiding “double dipping” that is a counterpart to something like avoiding conflict of interest?

I’ve been thinking about “double dipping” lately because I’ve been looking at the fallout of a long-standing worry that Aboriginal people might benefit as both Indians and Métis. And avoiding “double dipping” is suggested as a valid objective in this context. Originally it was dealt with by the Indian Act which provided that a person who received half-breed lands or money scrip, or their descendent, is not entitled to be registered as an Indian. That provision disappeared with the 1985 Indian Act amendments allowing for the reinstatement of women who had “married out” under the previous versions of the Indian Act, and their children. Thus, since some of them would have married Métis men, for a while there was the potential for people to be both Indian and Métis (which seems sensible if one parent was Indian and one was Métis). However, the prohibition on being (or benefitting as) both Indian and Métis has reappeared, not in the Indian Act, but in the Métis registry requirements in Saskatchewan, for example, and in the recent Cunningham case reviewing legislation governing Alberta Métis Settlements. 

Though neither directly deals with “double dipping”, conversations in the community suggest that people see them as related to concerns about “double dipping” for Aboriginal people. Is this because it is a general principle that double dipping is bad, or is it just prohibited when there is some sort of authority or policy reason to prohibit it? It seems that double dipping is not a problem at other levels. For example, the province of Saskatchewan seems to be paid twice for the education of Indian children enrolled in provincial schools.

I don’t know if this is standard practice across Canada, but in Saskatchewan when you register your kids for school you are asked to indicate whether the child is an Indian and the name of the band, etc. As a harried, tax-paying mother, I dutifully provided the information. (Though I wondered why it was required, at that stage in my life I never had the energy to find out.) 

I now have it on good authority that the province bills the federal government for every Indian child who is enrolled in provincial schools. Every year, once provincial schools have submitted their enrollment numbers, the province allocates to the school board about $10,000 for every student enrolled in the school. And for every Indian child enrolled, the province claims almost $7,000 from Indian Affairs.

This might make perfect sense for students who were resident on the reserve, because their families would not be paying property taxes in the school division, and might not be paying income tax to the province. However, I’m told that the province claims reimbursement for every Indian child enrolled in a provincial school, no matter where their residence is. So the provincial government double dipping – taking the taxes Indians who live in the city pay in property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes, just like other city residents. Their taxes are the source of funds to support schools within the city and province. Then the provincial government bills the federal government for Indian students whose education has already been paid for by taxes in the same way as other children’s education.

The double dipping – once from taxes, and again from the Indian Affairs budget – doesn’t give Indian children a better education than the other students in the classroom. In fact Aboriginal students are much more likely to drop out of school than non-Aboriginal students, so the double funding of their education is not benefitting them, but it is benefitting someone else.

I wonder: what is the total dollar amount paid by DIA to the province for Indian students living off reserve? I wonder what better use there could be for this money than subsidizing the provincial school system in ways that don’t benefit Aboriginal students. And I wonder why issues involving double dipping and Aboriginal people yield such different results.

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