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Canadians with lifelong disabilities can lose disability tax credit

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When Robert Morley got the news that his application for the federal disability tax credit (DTC) had been denied in December 2019, he felt a mix of emotions, he said.

“On the one hand, I wasn’t at all surprised. On the other, I had kind of hoped that [since] I’ve been approved once, they would know I have the disability.”

Morley, 49, was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, in 2010. The condition means even small, routine tasks of everyday living leave him utterly exhausted and in need of prolonged rest, he said.

“If I shower, I have to take a break,” he said. “If I cook a meal, I have to take a break. I can’t go out. I can’t see friends.”

And the illness makes him unable to work, he said.

But it wasn’t until 2015, after a byzantine bureaucratic process and multiple initial denials, that the Canada Revenue Agency approved him for the DTC, a non-refundable credit for people with disabilities and their families.

At the time, the agency made the approval retroactive to the 2006 tax year, when Morley’s condition started.



But CRA also told him he’d have to re-apply for the DTC in 2019, so the agency could reassess his eligibility for the tax break.

That deadline had been looming large for Morley’s partner, Patrick, who told Global News he started to feel anxious months ahead of the new DTC application as memories came back of the couple’s first, multi-year attempt to claim the credit.

“I felt stressed about this all year, knowing the difficulty we had the first time.”

The credit works out to around $1,500 to $2,000 per year, a significant amount for the couple, who lives on Patrick’s modest income as a communications coordinator at a non-profit, Morley said.

Despite their apprehension, the couple had held out hope their second time applying for the credit would go smoothly. After all, the CRA had already approved Morley once, and his doctor agreed the condition had not improved since then.

Instead, their application was denied. In August, the couple received a first denial letter from CRA, stating: “Although we do not question the seriousness of your medical condition, we must base the decision on the specific eligibility criteria in the Income Tax Act.”

“Based on the information we received,” the letter continues, “you do not meet the eligibility criteria because the cumulative effect of your restrictions is not equivalent to a marked restriction in one basic activity of daily living.”

That obscure language is familiar to anyone who’s been dealing with the DTC.

Canadians with disabilities have to pay a physician or other qualified health professional to certify that they are “markedly” restricted in at least one activity of daily living all or most of the time, or that the cumulative effect of restrictions across several activities is equivalent to being markedly restricted on one basic activity. (Those who require life-sustaining therapy at least three times a week, for a total of at least 14 hours a week, also qualify for the credit.)

A copy of Morley’s DTC application viewed by Global News shows his doctor deemed that while he doesn’t meet the bar for a “marked restriction,” the sum of his symptoms — which include cognitive impairment and difficulty walking — is equivalent to a marked restriction.






Accessing the DTC is a struggle, experts say, especially for those with ‘invisible disabilities’

Being approved for the DTC once does not guarantee reapproval, even for disabilities that are widely known to be lifelong conditions, said Jennifer Zwicker, director of health policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

Families with dependents with autism, for example, are often asked to reapply for the DTC every few years, Zwicker said.

“It’s concerning because it’s not like autism is going to go away.”

 

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In general, qualifying for the DTC has become significantly harder over the past five years or so, said Jason Heath, a financial planner in Thornhill, Ont., who’s helped many clients apply for the credit.

It was very common in the past for a child with a learning disability, for example, to qualify for the disability tax credit,” he said.

While the rules for accessing the DTC haven’t changed, the way the CRA interprets them seems to have become stricter, he added.

A 2018 paper co-authored by Zwicker found that only 40 per cent of adults who live with a severe disability in Canada use the DTC. The study also suggested the rules used by the CRA to assess eligibility for the credit are likely one of the main reasons for the poor uptake.

The application form has a check-the-box format that doesn’t fit the reality of many disabilities, the report suggested. Physicians sometimes struggle to describe how the applicant’s disability affects their daily lives, and sometimes they receive confusing follow-up requests from the CRA for additional information, according to the report.

There is also a lack of consistency and transparency in how the tax agency reviews applications.

In Morely’s case, documents reviewed by Global News show doctors struggling to fill the forms correctly. Morley also said the CRA failed to notify him of follow-up requests to the physicians, which made it difficult for him to ensure additional information would be sent back to the agency by deadline.

People with so-called “invisible disabilities” are especially likely to struggle to access the DTC, both Zwicker and Heath said.

Those who are deemed ineligible are denied not only the possibility to pay lower taxes but also access to a number of other, often more financially significant benefits.

Among them is the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), a registered savings plan that’s eligible for a lifetime maximum of up to $70,000 in government matching grants and $20,000 in government bonds.


Change afoot in Ottawa

The good news for Morley and others in a similar situation is Ottawa has taken steps to address the issues around the DTC.

In its 2019 budget, the Trudeau government proposed to axe a rule that requires those who lose their eligibility for the DTC to close their RDSP and return to the government any grants or bonds received in the previous 10 years.

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The new rules “intended to come into effect on January 1, 2021 and would become law when the enabling legislation receives Royal Assent,” a spokesperson at the Ministry of Finance told Global News via email.

In the meantime, RDSP issues aren’t required to close an RDSP account simply because its beneficiary is no longer eligible for the DTC, the ministry also said.

Still, those who lose eligibility for the DTC still stand to lose access to any future government RDSP contributions.

Efforts are underway to improve the DTC application and review process as well.

In 2017, public outcry over denials of DTC prompted the Liberal government to reinstate the Disability Advisory Committee (DAC), a body tasked with providing advice to the CRA that was disbanded by the Harper government in 2006.

Last year, the committee published a report with detailed recommendations for an overhaul of the DTC, including rewriting the eligibility criteria, streamlining the application process and making the tax credit refundable.

The report also notes: “a particular concern is a notable increase in the rejections of individuals reapplying for the DTC after receiving it for 5, 10, and 20-plus years, even though their medical condition remains the same.”

While some of the committee’s recommendations require legislative action, the CRA told Global News it’s on track to implement most, if not all, of the recommended administrative changes by the spring of 2020.

“The CRA is proud to support the important work of the Disability Advisory Committee and is committed to providing open, transparent and ongoing communications to Canadians on the progress made by the Committee to help improve the lives of Canadians living with disabilities,” the agency said via email.

Among the changes already adopted are a redesigned application form, the ability to file electronically and a new “navigator” role to liaise among the applicant, the CRA, and medical practitioners.

For his part, Morely said he and Patrick are planning to take their case to the Tax Court of Canada.

“There’s something so desperately wrong here.”

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Prime Minister travelling to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula today

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is resuming his summer politicking tour today with a trip to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

Trudeau is there to continue the summer meet and greets he started in July in other parts of Canada.

His planned events include visits to a farm, wind farm and a train retrofitting plant in New Richmond.

Trudeau’s last stop in the region came when he was in full pre-campaign mode just one month before he called a federal election.

This visit comes as the provincial government is set to go into an election where the future of French is sure to play a big role.

On Wednesday, new census data showed Gaspé to be the only region in the province where the share of people claiming French as their first language grew in the last five years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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80 years after Dieppe, postcards share stories of soldiers who died in deadly raid

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Paris Eakins was 26 years old when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in November 1940 during the Second World War.

He was born in Minnedosa, Man., where he lived until he attended the University of Manitoba, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree. Eakins worked at his town’s newspaper and went on to join the sports department at the Winnipeg Free Press.

After he enlisted, Eakins worked his way to become a pilot officer in a fighter squadron based in England in 1941. The next year, he was killed in northern France during the disastrous Dieppe Raid. He was 27.

Eakins’ story is featured in a Canadian postcard campaign ahead of the 80th anniversary of the raid on Friday.

The Juno Beach Centre Association has sent 400 unique postcards to addresses across the country that share the name and fate of a serviceman whose records show once lived in those places.

“(We) encourage people to take a moment to consider the anniversary, to consider what happened to this individual who lived in their home or very nearby to them, 80 or more years ago,” said Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the association’s director.

The Dieppe Raid, known as Operation Jubilee, on Aug. 19, 1942, was the Canadian Army’s first major combat against Nazi Germany.

Canadian and British troops landed on beaches near the German-occupied French port with a mission to capture the town, destroy the port facilities and return to England with information that could give them an advantage.

Instead, the raid backfired and Operation Jubilee became Canada’s bloodiest day of the Second World War.

“It was the Canadian Army’s baptism of fire against Nazi Germany during the war. Unfortunately, it was a deadly failure,” said Fitzgerald-Black.

About 5,000 Canadian soldiers took part in the raid. In less than 10 hours of fighting, more than 800 died, with about 100 more later succumbing to their injuries. About another 2,000 became prisoners of war.

Preparations for the postcard campaign began at the end of last year. Employees and volunteers at the association went through the service files of those who were killed to see if they could link their old home addresses to a current one.

They were able to develop a list of addresses for half of those who died. The list skews toward addresses in urban settings because those who were from rural areas couldn’t be reproduced, said Fitzgerald-Black. Many went to cities in southern Ontario, as well as Montreal and Winnipeg.

The association also produced a temporary exhibition honouring the anniversary in Normandy, France.

A delegation of federal ministers, veterans, representatives of veterans and Indigenous organizations, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces travelled to France this week to take part in events marking the anniversary.

Three of the veterans participating served in the Second World War, including a survivor of the raid.

“It’s vitally important that we continue to recognize and honour the extraordinary service and sacrifice witnessed 80 years ago on the beaches of Dieppe,” Lawrence MacAulay, minister of veterans affairs, said in a release.

“As the living memory of this seminal moment fades, we as Canadians must ensure that the legacy of those who served Canada is never forgotten.”

Stories like Eakins’ have made an impression on Fitzgerald-Black.

He hopes the postcard project will help Canadians remember the people who died serving their country and those who survived.

“They’re not going to be around much longer to share these stories — the stories of their comrades who were killed during the raid,” he said.

“And so we hope that Canadians will continue to take up the torch to do this into the future.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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Census data shows linguistic diversity on the rise in Canada – Saanich News

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A growing number of new immigrants to Canada are bringing with them increasingly diverse languages, setting a record for the number of Canadians whose mother tongue is neither English nor French, new 2021 census data reveals.

One in four people in Canada have a mother tongue other than English or French, and about 12 per cent of people predominantly speak a non-official language at home as of last year.

Proficiency in those languages tends to fade after a generation or two, however, Statistics Canada’s deputy head of the Centre for Demography said Wednesday.

“From 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians who predominantly speak languages other than English and French at home grew significantly,” said Éric Caron-Malenfant at a media briefing.

The trend is mainly driven by immigration, and continued even during the pandemic when immigration slowed considerably due to COVID-19 health restrictions and related backlogs, Caron-Malenfant said.

The average age of new immigrants is typically between 25 and 35, he said.

“After that, when you have children in Canada, often more and more English and French will be spoken at home,” he said.

British Columbia speech-language pathologist June Cheung noticed that phenomenon play out in her own Cantonese-speaking family and community when she was growing up in Edmonton.

“My parents were the ones who originally immigrated here from Hong Kong whereas my siblings and I, we were all born here,” Cheung said in an interview.

“My parents would speak to my older brothers and myself in Chinese but often we would reply in English.”

The generational language shift inspired her masters thesis, which further showed how “heritage” language proficiency fades with each generation.

“By the time the second generation has kids, it’s very unlikely that they’ll choose to use a heritage language,” she said.

The trend was also true for French-speaking families outside of Quebec in most provinces, the census data shows.

The proportion of Canadians living outside Quebec whose first official language spoken is French was down to 3.3 per cent in 2021 from 3.6 per cent in 2016.

Statistics Canada attributes the decline to the fact that people whose first official language is French tend to be older, and haven’t consistently passed the language on to the next generation. Sometimes other languages can take over inside the home.

Cheung, who says she’s reinvested in her Cantonese-speaking skills, says fading language proficiency can create intergenerational divides.

“I can ask you where the bathroom is, versus being able to talk about your hopes and fears, your dreams,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to have those conversations sometimes if there is that language barrier.”

Mandarin and Punjabi are the most common non-official languages, with more than a million people predominantly speaking one of the two languages.

Statistics Canada noted a large increase in the growth of the number of Canadians who predominantly speak South Asian languages such as Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi or Malayalam since the last census in 2016, a rise which was fuelled by immigration.

The growth rate of the population speaking South Asian languages was at least eight times greater than that of the overall Canadian population during the same period.

The massive increase in the growth of South Asian languages closely aligns with immigration trends from those countries.

At the same time, European languages like Italian, Polish and Greek are fading in Canada.

“This decline is primarily linked to the speakers of these languages aging, a significant proportion of whom emigrated to Canada before 1980,” Caron-Malenfant said.

Relatively few recent immigrants from those countries have recently landed in Canada, he said.

Regardless of their mother tongue, most people in Canada access services in one of the two official languages.

English and French are still by far the most common languages spoken in Canada and 90 per cent of Canadians speak at least one of the official languages.

—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Proportion of French speakers declines nearly everywhere in Canada, including Quebec

RELATED: More Canadians report strong attachment to their language than to Canada: poll

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