The comment was by made by Canada's minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, MaryAnn Mihychuk, during a taped phone interview with a reporter in Iqaluit.
The focus of the interview was on student summer jobs in Nunavut.
Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk scrums with media in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Photo: Matthew Usherwood/CP)
During the course of the conversation, Mihychuk started talking about how important it is that people get social insurance numbers so they can apply for tax breaks.
"For some Indigenous folks, some communities, only half the population has a SIN number. You need the SIN number to file your tax," she said.
Then as an aside, she added: "You don't have to pay tax usually if you're up North."
'That's not what I meant'
When the reporter called Mihychuk back later that afternoon and asked her to clarify the comment, she said it was a "complete misunderstanding."
"If I said that, that was not what I meant," she said.
Mihychuk said she was talking about some people on First Nations reserves in northern Manitoba (she represents the constituency of Kildonan — St. Paul in that province). She then said she was referring to low-income Canadians who don't apply for tax benefits they're entitled to.
Mihychuk said she's aware of the persistent myth that Inuit, Métis and First Nations don't pay taxes, but was adamant that that was not what she was saying.
"I don't want anyone to think that I was trying to make any kind of generalities. I just was trying to do a shout out to those people who may not have social insurance numbers."
Mihychuk said she's concerned that people who are unemployed may not pay taxes and as a result, they may not know that they're eligible to receive Canada's child tax benefit.
She pointed to her long history of work in the North and said she's aware that people in the northern territories pay taxes.
"I did not mean to imply, and I would be upset if somebody thought I was trying to make that a race issue or anything," Mihychuk said.
"I think we see far too much ignorance and racism and it's a serious problem in Canada."
First Nations people who are recognized as status Indians under Section 6 of the Indian Act may be eligible for some tax exemptions. However, Inuit and Métis people are excluded from the Indian Register and are regular taxpayers.
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