Ever try getting through your period without using feminine hygiene products? Me neither. In fact, braving the flow without them seems next to impossible.
For the millions of menstruating women in Canada, buying pads and tampons each month is non-negotiable. They are crucial to maintaining basic comfort and functioning normally in daily life.
So why are menstrual hygiene products not considered an essential item by the federal government?
The federal government of Canada exempts “medical and assistive devices “from GST. This list includes items like contact lenses, toilet seats, and asthma puffers. But strangely enough, menstrual hygiene products are nowhere to be found. As crucially “assistive” as they may be, your monthly supply of maxi pads is still getting federally taxed at five per cent.
In October 2013, Member of Parliament Irene Mathyssen introduced Bill C-282, a private member’s bill to negate this taxation. The bill, however, received next to no recognition. Neither had a similar bill put forward in 2004.
But when Toronto-based Jill Piebiak heard about Bill C-282, she decided to take matters into her own hands. This January she launched the No Tax On Tampons campaign, urging Canadians to demand that the government stop putting a tax on periods.
“When we think about medical products for example, like incontinence products or contact lenses, people don’t pay GST on them because they need them to have a normal public life and they need them to be productive in society,” said Piebiak.
“And it’s the same for menstruation products. They should also be categorized as exempt from the GST as a medical product.”
According to the Library of Parliament, Canadian women spent $519,976,963 on menstrual hygiene products in 2014—meaning the federal government collected $36,398,387 in GST off the sales.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, women spent $7,772,025 on menstrual hygiene products. While some provinces have exempted feminine hygiene products from provincial taxation, Newfoundland and Labrador also still charges HST on pads, tampons, and diva cups.
Piebiak thinks that not only is the tax ridiculous, it is discriminatory.
“It puts an unfair tax burden on people with particular biological characteristics. I think this is a tax that is put on bodies that have uteruses.
“I think that it’s not a priority of the government to focus on women’s issues,” said Piebiak. “Because it’s kind of small change I think that that the government doesn’t see it as priority. We see it as a priority, but also a symbol of putting women’s voices in Canadian politics.”
Since its launch on January 26, over 44,000 people have signed the online petition and thousands have sent emails to their Members of Parliament.
“We’ve had two general responses, which have been either people have always been frustrated with this tax and are glad that somebody’s finally doing something about it, or that they had no idea it was there and are crying out for the ridiculousness of the government thinking that these products would not be essential,” said Piebiak.
Because online petitions cannot be tabled in the House of Commons, Piebiak urges supporters to print out a copy of the petition and mail it to Mathyssen.