EMC: Ease taxing times at Vanier's free tax clinic

In terms of filing your taxes, that is.

For the second year in a row, the Vanier-based activist group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) will be hosting a free tax clinic through the tax season. The office fully opened up at ACORN HQ at 81 Montréal Road, Unit F, on Tuesday, March 2, and runs until Saturday, May 15. Tax filing day is Friday, April 30.

While Acorn offered a satellite tax filing office in Hintonburg in the west end last year, the operations have been centralized in Vanier for this year.

"It's better to have it concentrated in one location. All of our information is here," said Centretown resident Matthew Bullock is the group's tax site coordinator, during the media launch for the program on the morning of Friday, February 19.

The group also calls clients the day before their appointment to remind them to bring all of their relevant paperwork, including T4s and the like.

The clinic is aimed at low to middle income earners and while there is no means test to access the service, clients are asked some questions beforehand, such as: "Is your income less than $30,000? Are you receiving income from renters? Do you own a business?" said Bullock.

Andrea Thomas used the service last year and liked it so much that this year she's back for more, only now as a volunteer.

"It wasn't complicated. It was easy," said Thomas. "It's a less invasive process than other tax offices."

The tax clinic boasts 25 volunteers and as of that day, 40 people had already signed on for the program.

"Our volunteers are multilingual," said Thomas, pointing out that while English and French are certainly on offer, so too is Arabic, Somali and even the Cantonese dialect of Chinese.

"They are CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) trained volunteers. They know all the benefits that are there. A lot of the lower income people don't know that," they are entitled to certain benefits. Last year, Thomas herself didn't know that she could write off "bus passes and the recreation (tax credit), I didn't know about that for my kids...I didn't know I could claim that," for registering her child in sports or related healthy activities.

Last year, the tax clinic helped more than 600 low to moderate income families file their 2008 taxes.

"It's really beneficial. It gives community members a sense of autonomy and it gives them access to funds they would not have had access to had they not filed their taxes," said Bullock. "They get money that they can use to help their family members."

Like Thomas, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union was also impressed with the tax clinic, and donated $5,000 towards ACORN last month to keep the program running.

"Everything you do are things that are important to us in the trade union movement," said OPSEU Regional Vice President David Lundy before the cheque presentation. "We give two per cent of our money away every year in support. It's a good chunk of change, but we get hundreds of requests each year," and ACORN won out. "We're proud to be able to support the people. They're supplying these services free to people. Many of them are immigrants," who are unfamiliar with Canada's tax system.

To make an appointment at the tax clinic, please call 613-746-5999.

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