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B.C.'s foreign buyers tax violates Charter, proposed class action lawsuit argues

Foreign buyers tax on trial — but B.C. claims crisis called for action

British Columbia's tax on foreign home buyers, introduced by the province to cool Metro Vancouver's hot housing market, violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, says a plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit.

The claim argues that the 15-per-cent tax has zeroed in on people "whose national origin is from an Asian country, a class of persons that have historically suffered discrimination in British Columbia."

B.C. resident Jing Li, a Chinese national who moved to Canada in 2013 to attend university, was part of a class action suit launched against the province last fall.

Li, 29, was the lead plaintiff, arguing the foreign tax added $83,850 to the cost of a $559,000 Langley, B.C., townhouse, which she agreed to purchase about a week before the tax was introduced in August 2016.

An amended notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court earlier this week.

Li said the tax imposed on foreign buyers was unfair and blindsided her.

Tax perpetuates 'prejudice,' claim says

She couldn't back out of the deal without losing her deposit.

"Now, I can't go forward and also can't go back," she said at the time. Li subsequently bought the townhouse despite the extra tax.

She moved to Burnaby, B.C., after completing a master's of public administration at the University of Saskatchewan, the claim says.

The amended claim inclu​des a Charter of Rights and Freedoms argument and Victoria constitutional lawyer Joe Arvay is among the lawyers representing the plaintiff.

The lawsuit has not yet been certified.

The strongly worded statement of claim says the tax unfairly assumes foreigners have wealth, an assumption that perpetuates "prejudice and stereotyping."

In an email, Arvay said the case is about inequality and discrimination "based on race, national origin, citizenship and immigration."

The tax also assumes that foreign nationals are able to outbid Canadian citizens and permanent residents in the housing market in the specified area, the claim says.

Violates treaties

"Nationality and citizenship are not related to wealth," the claim says. "Many persons who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents have no more wealth than Canadian citizens or permanent residents."

The premier's office did not respond to a request for an interview.

The class action suit initially filed by Li argued the new tax violates more than 30 international treaties where Canada has committed to treat foreign nationals as favourably as citizens.

In January, Premier Christy Clark walked back part of the law, saying the levy will be lifted for those foreigners who have a work permit and pay taxes in B.C. Clark said the change was made to encourage more people to come to the province.

The B.C. government has not yet filed a response.

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