Woman with debilitating illness fights back — and wins

January 2, 2019

A Nova Scotia woman who suffers from debilitating illnesses has won a recent court case against the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Like so many others, Barbara Cochrane had qualified for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) for several years before being asked to requalify for the benefit in 2016. When CRA denied the DTC, she took matters into her own hands and appealed to the Tax Court of Canada. CBC noted that she successfully represented herself in what may have seemed a David versus Goliath battle.

In his decision, Justice Bruce Russell said the government "erroneously denied" Cochrane's 2016 application even though her doctor noted in a letter of support that she:

“ ...has severe anxiety and panic attacks and [was] diagnosed in 2005 with clinical depression. She was forced into involuntary retirement as a result of her medical condition. Many modes of treatment have all failed. She is house bound by this condition and when she must leave for appointments she must avoid contact with others. She is overwhelmed in any crowded situation [and] confined areas such as elevators and vehicles. She has other phobias as well, resulting in panic attacks. She has other medical conditions [such as] adult ADHD, osteoporosis, hearing loss and overactive bladder. Her symptoms of depression, mental anguish, difficulty sleeping and unexplained pain in hand, feet [and] lower back indicate fibromyalgia. She also has frequent headaches and becomes overwhelmed with her normal day to day routines.”

The ruling demonstrates how so many individuals are unjustly denied the DTC. Although her doctor provided detailed information regarding the disabling effects of her medical conditions, it seems that CRA relied solely on the “yes” and “no” responses to the follow-up questionnaire also know as the “clarification letter.” These questionnaires are sometimes used to bypass the medical evidence in Form T2201.

Justice Russell recognized that these questions and responses are not representative of the reality of living with a chronic and persistent disease due to the variability in expression of the symptoms from day to day.

Fighting back can be a daunting process but the odds favour individuals who have been unjustly denied the DTC. Other Tax Court cases can be found in the Justice Section.