Olney v. R. – TCC: Court allows Thalidomide victim medical expenses including therapy from a personal trainer

Bill Innes on Current Tax Cases

http://decision.tcc-cci.gc.ca/tcc-cci/decisions/en/item/73268/index.do New Window

Olney v. The Queen (August 29, 2014 – 2014 TCC 262) was a case involving disputed moving and medical expenses of the taxpayer who was a Thalidomide victim:

[3] Ms. Olney is one of a number of Canadians who has suffered the effect of the drug Thalidomide. She has virtually no arms and has small hands with just three fingers. Her doctor, Dr. Mongeau, summarized it as follows:

There is no doubt that it is a very severe case of malformations and she suffers of a major disability and should be classified in category 3.

[4] Despite this disability, Ms. Olney has strived to maintain an independent life, contributing fully to our society. She has succeeded. Her testimony was eloquent and heartfelt. Regrettably, she feels harassed and punished by the Government of Canada for questioning the above expenses, suggesting such an attack is unconscionable given the Government of Canada’s responsibility in connection with this drug. While I understand Ms. Olney’s depth of emotion, the task is to determine whether the expenses fall within the legal definition of moving expense and medical expense. The task of the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”), and ultimately of this Court, is not, out of sympathy for Ms Olney or retribution against the Government of Canada, to pretend medical expenses or moving expenses are something other than what the law says they are.

[5] In 2011, Ms. Olney moved from Ontario to Alberta for work purposes. To that point a reputable accounting firm had been preparing her tax returns and for prior years claimed similar expenses as she is claiming in 2011, the only difference being the moving expenses. The medical expenses, according to Ms. Olney, had always been accepted. On her move to Alberta her returns would have gone to the Winnipeg taxation office, instead of Shawinigan. This is where her expenses have been questioned by the CRA.

[6] Given her very specific needs for accommodation, Ms. Olney made a trip to Calgary, meeting her brother from Vancouver there, to search for appropriate housing. She found a rental accommodation, but it ultimately was not satisfactory so she moved to a more permanent home in 2013. The cost for her and her brother to go to Calgary in search of a home is the $2,201.05 expense claimed by Ms. Olney as a moving expense.

While the case started off with a number of disputed medical and moving expenses, as a result of concessions made by the Crown all of the travel expenses were accepted with the exception of the $2,201.05 “scouting trip” to find accommodation in Calgary. Similarly the Crown conceded lawn care, personal grooming and housekeeping expenses as medical expenses. That left four disputed categories of medical expenses: clothing alteration, personal trainer, CAA membership and cell phone.

The court rejected the claims for CAA membership and cell phone expenses:

[19] This is the provision Justice Bowie relied upon in allowing home cleaning services in Zaffino, and which the Respondent in this case has relied upon in conceding lawn care and personal grooming. These are all expenses paid for attendant care; that is, care provided by an attendant, a person. Neither payment for a cell phone nor payment for CAA membership is payment to a person for “attendant care”. That would be stretching these words well beyond any justifiable meaning. I can find no provision under which a CAA membership would qualify as a medical expense.

The court however allowed the claim for clothing alteration:

[27] Ms. Olney paid a person to do the clothes alterations. Can this be swept into the broad category of attendant care? If house cleaning and lawn mowing qualify as attendant care medical expenses, again I see no reason that a payment to someone to do something Ms. Olney could not do herself, that is integral to her living a normal life should not also be considered attendant care. Simply because the alteration of the clothes might take place outside the home, this does not mean it is not attendant care. If a full-time attendant handled clothes alterations there would not be an adjustment denying some of the attendant’s expense, as it related to clothes alterations. It is an expense, I would suggest, that is well within the range of what an attendant might be expected to do for someone such as Ms. Olney. I acknowledge this might be taking an expansive, compassionate view but this is in accordance with prior direction of this Court.

The court also allowed the costs of a personal trainer which was a form of therapy recommended by her doctor:

[10] In July 2010, Ms. Olney’s doctor, Dr. Robert Esguerra, wrote “To whom it may concern” as follows:

Marie Olney has been a patient in my family practice since 2003. Ms. Olney is a victim of the maternal use of the drug Thalidomide, which result in phocomelia. Both of her arms are of a very short length (approximately 7 inches) with small hands and each only has three fingers. She does not have all her arm and shoulder muscles, especially on her left side. Therefore, she lacks dexterity, strength, and the ability to raise her arms. Because of their length, she does not have the same reach with her arms as most people.

Ms. Olney does manage to live independently and happily with only some attendant services which I have covered in a previous document. The purpose of this document is to inform you that I am recommending that Ms. Olney use the services of a personal trainer to allow her to maintain her independence for as long as possible. Ms. Olney uses her feet and legs to assist her to accomplish many everyday activities such as toileting, dressing and grooming. It is therefore essential that Ms. Olney know, and be spotted on, the proper exercises to do on a continual basis to maintain the strength and flexibility in her core and legs. Special care must also be taken to ensure that she maintains the abilities she does have in her upper body and arms without damage to or overuse of her back.

Ms. Olney testified that her doctor recommended a personal trainer who Ms. Olney indicated was less expensive than a physiotherapist. The doctor provided some names. The personal trainer, Marta Wein, was able to come to Ms. Olney’s home to provide the training necessary. Ms. Olney stated Ms. Wein researched how to assist her. Also, Ms. Olney’s doctor would suggest what training would help, and Ms. Olney would pass that information onto the personal trainer. Given how Ms. Olney relied on her legs, feet, mouth and chin to carry on daily activities, she required exercises to maintain strength in her core and legs.

The court did not however allow the expenses of the “scouting trip” to find a residence in Calgary since the Act permits the deduction of moving expenses but not the expenses of searching for a new residence.