Canada Human Rights Commission v. M.N.R

[2004] 1 FCR 679
Download Judgment: English
Country: Canada
Region: Americas
Year: 2004
Court: Federal Court
Health Topics: Disabilities
Human Rights: Freedom from discrimination
Tags: Deaf, Differently abled, Disabled, Handicapped, Physically challenged

A university student- Mr. Wignall alleged he was a victim of discrimination based on his disability (deafness) when the Department of National Revenue included a portion of the student’s federal grant in the student’s taxable income for the year.

A student who suffered from a condition of deafness was required to learn sign language interpretation, which costed about $12,000 per term. The University agreed to provide sign language interpretation, but asked Mr. Wignall to seek outside funding. Mr. Wignall secured a federal grant of $3,000, which he turned over in full to the university. The Department of National Revenue added $2,500 to Mr. Wignall’s 1995 taxable income exempting $500 of the $3,000 grant. Mr. Wignall alleged that he was a victim of discrimination as per the Canadian Human Rights Act. He argued that the tax treatment of his grant, to the extent that it had an adverse financial impact on him, amounted to discrimination based on disability.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rejected the complaint, and the complainant sought this judicial review application. Mr. Wignall appealed to the Human Rights Commission to overturn the Tribunal’s decision and order a new hearing. However, the Human Rights Commission denied the student’s application, stating that the Tribunal’s conclusion was reasonable.

The relevant provisions is Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedom which states as follows: “15(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

The central issue was whether the Tribunal erred in its analysis of the meaning of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and further whether the Department of Revenue discriminate against the student?

The Court dismissed the application of the student. The Court stated that although the Tribunal erred in indicating that there had been a convergence in the approaches under human rights legislation and the Charter, the Tribunal was nevertheless correct in finding that the complainant hadn’t established a prima facie case of discrimination, and that the Tribunal’s overall conclusion that the complainant had been treated no differently than other taxpayers was not unreasonable.

The Court stated that the standard of review of the Tribunal’s decision was one of reasonableness and to that end, the Court did not see anything unreasonable about the Tribunal’s conclusion that the complainant was not treated differently from other taxpayers and did not suffer adverse financial consequences due to his disability. Further the Court noted that the fact that Mr. Wignall had been allowed a tax exemption for the first $500 was motivated by the reasons to minimise the consequences of treating grants as income.

A court or tribunal cannot decide whether a person has been discriminated against without making comparisons to the treatment of other persons. Comparisons are inevitable.” (para 22)

“Grants are given to students for various reasons – financial need, achievement, background, age, etc. – and all are taxed in the same way. Mr. Wignall was not treated differently from other grant recipients or, indeed, other taxpayers.” (para 25)

“In general terms, our tax system is based on the idea that most sources of revenue are treated as income. In principle, all taxpayers are treated the same in the sense that the same rules apply to everyone. The practical consequence of this is that the spending power of taxpayers equals the amount of their income, less the amount of tax they owe. In addition, some measures designed to provide tax relief, or advance particular social policies, often form part of the overall tax calculation and take the taxpayer's income into account in order to ensure that the benefit goes to those who are most in need of it.” (para 27)

“In my view, the respondent’s conduct resulted from a reasonable interpretation of that provision. Accordingly, only a constitutional challenge to the Act could yield the remedy Mr. Wignall sought.” (para 30)