PHOTO: GCT Kasekas
CAPTION: (L-R): Dimitri Kobiliris, GCT President Andonis Artemakis, and Lazaros Kasekas.
By Frances Themeliopoulos
TORONTO, Canada – As most of us bundle up and brace for our Canadian winter, tens of thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” have been making their way down to their seasonal residence in Florida. It takes just a few keystrokes to track down answers to any questions or concerns Canadian retirees might have about their rights and privileges while traveling or residing in the Sunshine State. There’s the Government of Canada site, www.travel.gc.ca and the well known, www.snowbirds.org – the site of the not-for-profit advocacy organization for 70,000 plus members.
If only answers were as easily accessible to Greek-Canadian emigrants who are looking for clarity about their rights, responsibilities, and privileges in their homeland. The longstanding frustration that Greek-Canadians grudgingly acknowledge as an inevitable part of the process of filing individual income tax returns or dealing with capital assets taxation (including declaring inheritances) was addressed at a recent Greek Community of Toronto information session.
The GCT welcomed economist, accountant, tax consultant, and former Greek Community of Toronto Board Member, Lazaros Kasekas back to the Polymenakion Cultural Centre for a special presentation about taxation Issues that affect Greek-Canadians. President Andonis Artemakis, in his opening remarks noted that the event was as opportunity to have a productive discussion about the economic crisis in Greece and about the difficult but not insurmountable challenges Greece continues to face.
Kasekas, now a resident of Rhodes and a still frequent visitor to Toronto knows the venue well, having served the community for approximately 15 years in the past under four past GCT Presidents – Polymenakos, Antoniou, Mylopoulos, and Karantonis. His posts included Consultant, General Treasurer, Secretary, Editor of the Diaspora Community Magazine, Chairman of the Education Department, and President of the Youth Department. After President Mylopoulos’ departure, Kasekas also served as leader of the “United Community” faction.
Kasekas holds a Class A license of the Economic Chamber of Greece. He is a member of the Economic Chamber of Greece and former President of the Economic Chamber of the Dodecanese. He reflected about his past experiences at the Greek Community of Toronto, the warm welcome he received, and his efforts to help Greek-Canadians. Remarks from the Q & A session follow:
Q: What prompted you to offer your expertise at this free Information Session at the Greek Community of Toronto?
A: My sensitivity for the experiences of Greek emigrants and concern for the Greeks of Toronto in particular. This coupled with my knowledge about the difficulties faced by the Greek emigrant residents in Canada who wish to be properly informed in a timely manner about their tax obligations and rights in Greece. This is a “battle” I encounter in my work as an accountant in Rhodes. I am blessed to have a large number of customers who are foreign residents and I know firsthand the difficulties they encounter when they try to fulfill tax obligations in Greece – especially due to the frequently changing tax laws. It’s so fractious, the tax system with regards to tax foreigners (expats or not) that they cannot find an accountant-tax consultant who will take on their cases.
Q: What are the most common concerns or complaints that Greek-Canadians express when they seek out your services?
A: I hear about how difficult it is for Greek-Canadians to deal with the bureaucracy in Greece, even about simple matters. The prevalent overregulation in conjunction with the frequently changing laws creates anxiety and impacts their ability to get timely information about Greek law. Lastly, Greece’s requirement to present the Tax Residence Certificate creates significant problems for Greek-Canadians if they are unable to produce it. Failure to do so means you are in effect breaking the law and will also result in severe tax penalties.
Q: How do you think the Tax Treaty of 2009 between Greece and Canada affects pensioners who visit Greece every year?
A: I can say that it affects them fairly and positively. It clarifies obligations and rights and it also provides better and timely information for pensioners whether they reside in Canada or in Greece. They must, however, have a representative in Greece who will handle their tax obligations.
Kasekas went on to express his genuine pleasure about the wonderful turnout at the event and explained that he felt privileged to be adding yet another special recollection to the long list of memorable events and accomplishments to which he had been present in this same building. He emphasized that he felt equally honoured to serve the Greek Community of Toronto in his various roles and is thrilled to see the work others are currently doing to advance the community’s interests. He explicitly wished to thank current President, Andonis Artemakis for the honour and opportunity afforded to him.
Inquiries during the question period ranged from a straightforward question about whether it makes more sense to ship a brand new vehicle to Greece or buy it in Greece to how one goes about declaring asset losses to avoid paying inflated taxes. The answer to the former, purchase the car in Canada, drive it for at least 6 months to avoid paying duty costs but be sure to buy Greek license plates – not visitor plates. The answer to the latter, you must hire a reliable tax consultant who will properly document your capital losses.
Dimitri Massouras, originally from Larissa, Greece immigrated to Canada in 1971. He was in attendance and was impressed by the presentation as well as the takeaway information package. Like many in the crowd that numbered over 200, Massouras travels to Greece frequently, owns property in Greece, and earns income there. He has always filed taxes in both Greece and Canada and wanted to learn more about the newest tax treaty. He appreciated the specific, practical advice provided by Kasekas. “I remember Kasekas and respect his past work in service of the Greek Community of Toronto,” he explained. “I attended because this subject is important to someone like me who is a dual citizen. The recent changes in how we should file our taxes seem complicated and confusing. I think Lazaros provided a very good analysis and I think he is a reliable source of information.”
Betty Skoutakis, originally from Skoura, Lakona immigrated to Canada in 1967. She is a staunch and long time Greek Community of Toronto supporter is a well known entrepreneur and owner of Sketchley/Cadet dry cleaning. She has someone found time in past years to serve as a Greek Community of Toronto board member and continues to this day to volunteer at the GCT. She was thrilled to see her friend, Lazaros return to the very spot where she remembers him rising up through the ranks as one of the then youngest elected GCT board members at 24 years old to become a “mover and a shaker” at the community. What motivated her to attend the event? Her past experiences working alongside Lazaros. “He was always a great leader and an astute and effective decision maker. His reputation precedes him” she explained. “He simplified the complicated rules and regulations while highlighting relevant examples so that attendees can walk away feeling reassured about how to deal with their individual dilemmas. The presentation was especially interesting for me since I was involved in welcoming the delegation from Greece in 2009 when the most recent Tax Treaty was negotiated.” To contact Lazaros Kasekas email: firstname.lastname@example.org