Who’s Ottawa’s deadbeat embassy?
Not us, says Armenia.
After the Citizen wrote last week about a mystery embassy that owes the city of Ottawa more than $175,000 in unpaid taxes, a Toronto newspaper picked up the story.
Since neither Ottawa nor Global Affairs Canada will say which embassy owes the money, the Toronto paper threw in a few photos of embassies around Ottawa — including Russia, Iraq, and Armenia.
All of which didn’t makes the Armenian staff happy. A consular official phoned the Citizen to say firmly that the nation doesn’t owe Ottawa a cent.
That’s one down, and 100-plus embassies to go. Ottawa’s property tax office won’t name the country involved “for privacy reasons.”
What’s a seven-letter name for a country that owes the City of Ottawa a pile of unpaid taxes?
Its identity is an official secret, but by late 2015 a country with an embassy in Ottawa owed the city more than $175,000 in back property taxes.
The information — with the name blacked out — is contained in an internal document from Global Affairs Canada. It was released under an access to information request by Embassy newspaper.
The document labeled “Secret” and “Canadian eyes only” says the property in question used to be an embassy, which had tax-exempt status, but it isn’t an embassy any more.
When the country moved its embassy staff elsewhere (the date is also redacted from the report), the Office of Protocol at Global Affairs Canada “advised (the country) that the property could no longer be deemed to form part of the property of the mission, and would therefore cease to benefit from any tax exemptions related to that status.”
But later, City of Ottawa officials contacted Global Affairs to say that taxes weren’t being paid. It’s unclear whether all the back taxes are owing or only some.
By last summer, the debt had passed $175,000, “which has resulted in one of the worst debts of this nature attributed to a foreign mission recorded in recent history,” the internal report says.
The Office of Protocol sent a Note (with a capital N, meaning a formal diplomatic thing) “to seek a swift resolution of the Embassy’s accounts.”
Fat chance. The other country won’t even answer.
Now the Office of Protocol is “engaged with the geographic desk” to find “the best options and diplomacy tools” to get the debtors to pay up.
But as of December, it wrote, “this matter remains unresolved.”
If asking nicely doesn’t work, the City 0f Ottawa can fall back on gunboat diplomacy. For example, it’s allowed to shut off the water.
So which country is getting a free ride courtesy of other Ottawa taxpayers? That’s a secret guarded both by federal and city officials. The Global Affairs Canada document even blacks out information that it found in public media sources.
While the name of the country is redacted, there are clues:
• The name appears to be a single word seven characters long, judging by the space it takes up in the typed text. (It could be six characters, if the capital letter at the beginning takes up a lot of space.) That lets out Switzerland, Iraq and Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately there are some 50 countries with seven-letter names.
• It has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so it can’t be a country like the United States which has a State Department. It has an embassy here, not a high commission, letting out Britain, India and some others.
• The country in question is the owner of the property, not a renter.
Do you know what country owes Ottawa taxes? Let us know: