Buying tampons, pads, menstruation cups or panty liners is not optional. These products are an essential part of a normal public life for people with periods. Menstruators have to buy these products every single month for about 40 years of their life.
The government of Canada collects GST on them.
GST has only been around since 1991, introduced as a consumer-level tax replacing a sales tax paid by manufacturers. Sales taxes offer Canadians a glimpse at the unspoken priorities of our government.
Our Excise Tax Act recognizes that we need some goods and services in order to be functioning members of society and that taxing these products would be unfair. We don’t pay GST on our homes, our health care or our educations; no GST is charged on basic groceries, prescription drugs or medical devices.
It’s laudable that the federal government has chosen not to add to the financial burden of families already facing disproportionate costs. But one major oversight reveals a great deal about which Canadians our government chooses not to prioritize: though we don’t pay GST on cocktail cherries, wedding cakes, Viagra, human sperm or incontinence products, we are required to pony up that five per cent for menstrual hygiene products.
Last year, the GST collected on them added up to over $36 million.
Canadians who menstruate already face systemic economic disadvantages. A small tax on menstruation products adds up when combined with the challenges many women, trans people, genderqueer people and other menstruators face in terms of their income, housing and economic stability.
As of 2011, Canadian women were paid 67 per cent of what Canadian men earned. Trans and queer Canadians are more likely to face poverty and homelessness than their cis counterparts (those whose gender identities match their assigned sex).
Menstrual hygiene products are not optional expenses, and our government generates millions of dollars of revenue every year by taxing these products used exclusively by populations already bearing a disproportionate financial burden.
That’s why, on January 26, a group of Canadian Menstruators started a petition on change.org to remove the GST on tampons. The online petition supports Bill C-282, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (feminine hygiene products), introduced by Irene Mathyssen on October 16, 2013.
We have reached our initial goal of collecting 50,000 online signatures. But since only hard copies of petitions can be tabled in Parliament, we urge Canadians to print, sign and mail in paper copies of this petition.
Sometimes it feels like the GST has always been with us — just like death and hockey, taxes are one of the constants in Canadian life. But we as Canadians have the right and the duty to challenge our government on discriminatory policies and demand change.
It’s not an impossibility for a private member’s bill to be brought forward in the house; though it may be rare. This is an issue that speaks volumes to the discrimination faced by many women and trans and genderqueer folks — it’s an injustice that touches households across our country, and that’s why so many Canadians are rallying behind the cause.
This is a campaign about bringing menstruators’ voices into Canadian politics. It is about talking about our periods without being squeamish. It’s asking our government to understand that these products are essential for public life of over half of the Canadian population.
Currently, we are asking Canadians who understand the essential quality of these products to help us raise awareness about the hard copies of the petition.
Online petitions cannot be tabled in the House of Commons, so to make sure your voice is heard you can find the petition that will be brought forward in parliament on our website: www.canadianmenstruators.ca. It is available in both French and English and can be mailed into Irene Mathyssen’s office (no postage required) no later than April 27, 2015.
Canadian Menstruators: www.canadianmenstruators.ca