Mr. Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, presented in the House on Thursday, March 21, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker,I will be sharing my time with the member from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.
I rise today to draw the attention of the government to a very important report by the disability subcommittee on the issue of the disability tax credit and the government's recent initiative to have over 100,000 Canadians with disabilities requalify for the disability tax credit.
The reason I rise on this issue today is because the House is about to leave for the summer recess and we as parliamentarians will have at least a break from the regimen of this place. However, as we all know and hear daily from constituents, for Canadians across the country with disabilities, there is no respite and no break from the relentless struggles for those persons to eke out a living, to maintain self-esteem and a sense of hope in the face of enormous obstacles.
While MPs and the eye of the government will not be focused as intently on the legislative process and the reports of committees over the summer months, the real lives of persons with disabilities will continue to experience the hardships brought about by the recent decision of the government to embark on the arbitrary review of eligibility for over 100,000 Canadians.
Over the past several months 106,000 Canadians, who currently receive the disability tax credit, received a letter from Canada Customs and Revenue Agency that states:
After reviewing your file, we have determined that we do not have enough information to continue to allow your claim for the 2001 and future tax years.
The letter goes on to tell the citizens that they must reapply to maintain their benefit.
The House of Commons subcommittee on the status of persons with disabilities, a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, held hearings over many months on the matter facing Canadians with disabilities, specifically focusing on the form change, the view of the disability organizations and the medical community.
We have heard many things that broke our hearts, that angered us and hardened our resolve to do better for persons with disabilities. A mother, whose adult daughter has an intellectual disability, told us that the whole family had to work so hard to focus on the daughter's strengths and abilities. They will now have to take cap in hand to a doctor to focus on her disabilities to get a small tax credit to assist with the many costs which disabilities bring to individuals and families.
We heard from people with lifelong hearing, sight impairment and disabling genetic disorders who were being told that they must spend $30 to $150 to have a doctor fill out a form that says: “Yes, they are still blind. Yes, they are still deaf. Yes, they still have Down's syndrome”. The whole scheme is so punitive, so unjust and so painful really for the persons involved.
New Democratic members of parliament have received hundreds of calls from Canadians who are being harassed by this policy. Under the DTC, an individual or independent may claim a non-refundable credit of $960. This credit is designed to provide a measure of financial relief for the increased cost of living with a disability. Approximately 200,000 Canadians claim that credit annually, but if the government has its way that number will be significantly decreased. Here are some of the individuals who will no longer be eligible for the DTC.
These are some of the horror stories we have heard as New Democrat parliamentarians. A former public service employee from Atlantic Canada had one leg amputated and a severe neurological disorder. She got the DTC letter in November and her doctor is now reluctant to re-approve, saying that she can technically walk 50 metres with her artificial leg. However her leg is not always on and even when it is, she cannot walk on an incline or a ramp. She will not appeal this. She is very frightened that she will lose her LTD and her CPP disability benefits if the Liberals can identify her. It is a shameful example of people being targeted by the government on such an important issue.
A Winnipeg woman had been receiving the credit since 1991. During a recent medical appointment caused by the CCRA letter, her doctor informed her that she no longer qualified for the disability tax credit. The reason: thanks to her leg braces she is now able to walk somewhat. As she has said, she cannot do up her buttons and she cannot get out of bed by herself but she is now technically able to walk. If she falls down she would be unable to get up. She is unable to be alone. She is now unable to receive the disability tax credit.
It appears to any thinking, caring person that persons with disabilities, with this initiative around the tax credit, are being targeted and harassed by this government. They are not being supported. They are not being assisted.
We have seen many other examples of that over the course of the last several years. We have seen the CPP disability program shrink. We have seen the benefits shrink and the eligibility criteria hardened. We have seen the elimination of the Canada assistance program, CAP, which was essential in providing disability support for persons across the country. We have seen an enormous patchwork of quality of various kinds of services available for people with the same disabilities across the country. I have personally seen in my community a crisis in education for young people with disabilities who no longer are getting the support they need for them to have equal citizenship in Canada. Why is this happening? Why are we facing this?
In 1982 the charter of rights and freedoms was passed, declaring that all Canadians were entitled to equal protection and equal benefit under the law without discrimination based on race, nation or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The charter, combined with disability clauses in the provincial human rights code, protects persons with disabilities from some of the most blatant forms of discrimination.
Canadians with disabilities are a long way from the promised land of full participation, equality and access. Many of the nearly five million Canadians are facing poverty, lack of housing and a severe hardship in the supports that they need to live.
I would like to give time for my colleague to speak on this issue as well, but I would like to tell the House the points that were made in our report of the disability subcommittee. I would like to read them into the record. I want to ensure that these initiatives are looked at very carefully and immediately by the government and that it acts on them. I will then pass the floor to my colleague so he can speak on this.
Disability issues do not take a summer vacation. At the conclusion of our hearings the subcommittee tabled a report on April 21, 2002, critical of the government. The members of the subcommittee recommended the following.
One, that the CCRA apologize to the 106 Canadians who received a poorly explained letter from the agency indicating that they were no longer eligible for the DTC despite the fact that these individuals had been receiving this credit for anywhere between six and 17 years.
Two, we believe they need compensation for the expenses of those who have successfully recertified.
Three, we believe there should be no new reassessment of claimants until the certification process is revised and then new procedures and forms put in place.
Four, we also believe there should be an immediate amendment to the Income Tax Act so that it incorporates recent court decisions.
Five, we believe that consultation with disability communities and medical professionals needs to happen to draft amendments to the Income Tax Act that spell out exactly the eligibility criteria for the tax credit that reflects the reality of living with a disability.
Six, we believe that we need to have an immediate redesigning of form T-2201 that establishes eligibility for the tax credit and streamlining approval process.
Seven, we believe an educational campaign is necessary for the public, for medical practitioners and tax preparers. We need an evaluation of the disability tax credit and a re-examination of all tax measures affecting persons with disabilities.
We rise today to make sure that everyone in the House and that the government is aware that the disability tax credit is an issue on the minds of hundreds of thousands of disabled persons who are feeling the crunch from this cynical and very punitive measure.