Bleiler v. R – TCC: Denying disability tax credit to partially sighted persons does not violate the Charter

Bill Innes on Current Tax Cases New Window

Bleiler v. The Queen (October 6, 2014 – 2014 TCC 296) involved a claim by a partially sighted taxpayer that the denial to him of a disability tax credit violated his Charter equality rights:

[1] Gerald Bleiler had his left eye removed in 1938 when he was 4 years old. He now wears a prosthesis in that eye. His vision in his right eye is above average. Mr. Bleiler claimed a disability tax credit in respect of his 2012 tax year. The Minister of National Revenue denied the claim on the basis that Mr. Bleiler was not “blind” within the parameters that have been applied to that term by the Courts in interpreting its use in paragraph 118.4(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”). Mr. Bleiler has appealed that decision.

[2] Mr. Bleiler accepts that he is not “blind” and therefore does not qualify for the disability tax credit set out in the test currently set out in the Act. He also accepts that he does not otherwise meet the tests set out for claiming a disability tax credit under sections 118.3 and 118.4 of the Act, despite some difficulties that he has in walking and some mental anguish that he suffers as a result of his visual impairment. However, Mr. Bleiler submits that the narrow manner in which those sections have been drafted is a breach of his equality rights under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Bleiler says that sections 118.3 and 118.4 breach section 15 of the Charter because those sections define the attributes of a person with a disability so narrowly as to exclude others, like himself, who have a disability that places fewer limitations on them.

[3] Mr. Bleiler has given the appropriate Charter notice to the Attorney General of Canada and the Attorneys General of each of the Provinces and Territories.

[Footnote omitted]

The court held that Mr. Bleiler had failed to establish the necessary evidentiary foundation for a holding that his Charter equality rights had been violated:

[12] I struggle to see how not receiving the disability tax credit perpetuates the prejudice or stereotyping suffered by less severely disabled people. Mr. Bleiler did not introduce any evidence that denying a disability tax credit to a person with a less severe disability in any way promotes the view that such people are less capable or less worthy of recognition or value as human beings or members of Canadian society.

[13] Since the purpose of the disability tax credit is to provide financial relief, Mr. Bleiler would have to have shown that the relief provided did not take into account the actual needs or circumstances of people with less severe disabilities. Mr. Bleiler did not provide any evidence of the financial needs of this group. The only financial circumstances that he described were his own. The fact that a person has a disability does not mean that he or she earns less income. Mr. Bleiler’s case is a good example. While his visual impairment resulted in some limitations on the employment opportunities available to him, it did not prevent him from earning what I must presume would have been at least a solid middle class living as a personnel director at a major medical institution for 17 years and, following his retirement from that job, as a part-time professor.

[14] Even if Mr. Bleiler had provided evidence that the disability tax credit did not take into account the financial needs of people with less severe disabilities, he would still have needed to show that, looking at the scheme of the Act as a whole, the line that Parliament has chosen to draw between people with more severe disabilities and people with less severe disabilities was not generally appropriate. The Supreme Court of Canada explained this aspect of the test at paragraph 67 of Withler:

In cases involving a pension benefits program such as this case, the contextual inquiry at the second step of the s. 15(1) analysis will typically focus on the purpose of the provision that is alleged to discriminate, viewed in the broader context of the scheme as a whole. Whom did the legislature intend to benefit and why? In determining whether the distinction perpetuates prejudice or stereotypes a particular group, the court will take into account the fact that such programs are designed to benefit a number of different groups and necessarily draw lines on factors like age. It will ask whether the lines drawn are generally appropriate, having regard to the circumstances of the persons impacted and the objects of the scheme. Perfect correspondence between a benefit program and the actual needs and circumstances of the claimant group is not required. Allocation of resources and particular policy goals that the legislature may be seeking to achieve may also be considered.

[15] Mr. Bleiler did not introduce any evidence that would show that the line drawn by Parliament between people with more severe disabilities and people with less severe disabilities was not generally appropriate.

Accordingly the appeal was dismissed, but without costs.