McGill post-doctoral fellow Virginie Dormoy was forced to pay over $5,000 in tax returns when the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rejected her student status and refused to recognize her post-doctoral fellowship as non-taxable. The CRA also revoked the universal childcare benefits that Dormoy should have received for her child had her fellowship not been taxed.
Dormoy’s problems began when she forgot to submit her T2022A – a form issued by McGill that attests to a fellow’s student status, though there is no guarantee the CRA will recognize it. She was contacted by the CRA in December, at which point she sent it in her form only to have it rejected.
“They told me they wouldn’t accept my form. They said I was not a full-time student because I’m not in an academic program that leads to a diploma,” Dormoy said. “Due to this incident, I had to pay $7,000, which includes losing my GST tax rebate and my child tax benefit.”
According to Dormoy, the CRA officer who had contacted her, Michel Detourneau, refused to negotiate her student status and said that the decision was final.
Detourneau declined The Daily’s request to comment on Dormoy’s case.
There are approximately 650 post-doctoral fellows at McGill, whose fellowship stipends are on average worth $38,000 per year.
“Revenue Canada chose to treat me differently from other post-doctoral fellows despite the fact that I submitted the same forms, and I have not received any support from McGill,” she said.
Both Dormoy’s supervisor, Imed Gallouzi, associate professor in biochemistry, and David Thomas, chair of thebiochemistry department, have written letters on her behalf to Martin Kreiswirth, dean of graduate and post-doctoral Studies, to ask for his help and support.
In response, Kreiswirth recently wrote a letter to the CRA on Dormoy’s behalf affirming that she is duly registered with the University and that the post-doctoral fellow is undergoing advanced academic training.
However, the letter is the extent to which Kreiswirth is able to help Dormoy.
“As an individual’s tax status is a personal matter and may be affected by numerous personal factors…McGill has advised that any post-doctoral fellow who has been assessed by Revenue Canada must seek professional assistance…regarding [her] particular tax file,” Kreiswirth wrote in an email to The Daily.
Due to the lack of initiative from McGill, Dormoy sought the help of the Postgraduate Student Society of McGill (PGSS).
According to Ladan Mahabadi, VP (External) of PGSS, the issue is complicated by the lack of agreement among Canadian universities. For example, the University of Toronto and University of Alberta do not consider their post-doctoral fellows as students and do not issue the T2022A tax slips.
Mahabadi explained that it is PGSS’ goal to help Dormoy and to use any resources available to them.
“We’re trying to challenge the [CRA’s] decision and potentially seek legal advice on what the next step should be. We’re also trying to gather support from the [McGill] administration and other post-doctoral fellows on campus and across Montreal,” Mahabadi said.
Matthew Milner, a PGSS post-doctoral representative, argued that this issue goes beyond taxes and income.
“It doesn’t come down to taxes at all. It’s either we get benefits as students and we can exercise them, one of which is the tax exemption; or we’re employees and we get other benefits like retirement pension and medical benefits,” Milner said.
On the other hand, Olivier Beaulieu-Mathurin, president of the National Graduate Council of the Quebec Federation of University Students (CNCS-FEUQ), flatly stated that post-doctoral fellows should be considered as students.
“Post-docs should be considered as students because they are undergoing training. In fact, at some universities, they do receive a document at the end of their fellowship which acknowledges their completion,” Beaulieu-Mathurin said.
There was consensus among the student representatives that CRA should not be interfering with university affairs.
“The CRA is evidently skewing the interpretation of the tax act. In the tax act, the university, which is a chartered institution of a province, has the right to define who its students are…. CRA is a federal agency and it is trying to trample in an area of provincial jurisdiction,” Milner said.
Student representatives are weary of the effects that this case could have on the financial security of current and future post-doctoral fellows.
“By setting this precedent, what’s to stop CRA from getting students to pay them retroactively without warning? Where’s the safeguard? It is likely that prospective post-doctoral fellows might be deterred from coming to McGill because of this,” Mahabadi said.
According to Kreiswirth, McGill is currently advocating this issue at many levels.
“McGill is participating with the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies and the Association des doyens des études supérieures au Québec to reinforce our belief that fellowship stipends for post-doctoral fellows are eligible for the educational deduction,” Kreiswirth wrote.