Commentary | Revenue Canada oversteps its bounds

Taxing post-doctoral students is unfair

Virginie Dormoy, a McGill University post-doctoral fellow, received shortly before Christmas an unexpected tax bill of $5,000. Not only this, but soon after, additional thousands were demanded to repay a portion of Dormoy’s GST rebate and child-tax benefit. Imagine the distress caused by receiving an unexpected bill of $7,000 during the holiday season and having only a matter of weeks to scrape your payment together.

No doubt, Revenue Canada has the right to revue income tax returns and to demand payment on taxable income, but they do not have the right to determine student status. Dormoy is a registered post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and, as such, is considered a student by both the University and the government of Quebec. These are important considerations because, by definition, fellowships given to individuals with student status are not taxable.

In this particular instance Revenue Canada, for reasons that are unclear, has decided not to recognize Dormoy’s status as a student and is ignoring McGill’s mandate to define who may and may not claim this status. In this instance, a T2202A form (the tuition, education, and textbooks certificate) was issued by McGill, submitted by Dormoy, and subsequently rejected by Revenue Canada. By issuing this form, the University affirmed that post-doctoral fellows are students, and therefore, have the right to claim the education amount when filing their income tax returns. In rejecting Dormoy’s T2202A, Revenue Canada challenged McGill’s decision and has thereby set a precedent.

Dormoy, with the assistance of the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) and the Conseil national des cycles supérieurs of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec is trying to fight Revenue Canada’s action. For the moment, this situation appears to be affecting a single individual but it seems inevitable that if Revenue Canada is successful in their attempt to tax Dormoy’s fellowship, they will extend this policy to all post-docs. This will impact the ability of post-doctoral fellows, often newly married with young families and carrying significant student debt, to earn a living.

Adding this additional stressor to the lives of individuals already stretched thin by the demanding hours and relatively small salaries of their jobs is unfair. The unfairness in this instance is exacerbated by the sudden and unexpected manner in which Revenue Canada applied their tax policy. Doubtless the impact will not be limited to post-docs but will eventually hurt the University as well. The reduced income due to full taxation will inhibit the recruitment of quality post-docs. Additionally, if post-docs are not to be treated as students, then they must be treated as employees – meaning a significant increase in costs due to the disbursement of pension plans and unemployment insurance. These payments will cost McGill millions.

Please help us by voicing your opinion on this issue to your department head and the Office of the Associate Provost (Graduate Education), headed by Martin Kreiswirth (514-398-1224). We at PGSS are trying to evaluate the extent of this activity by Revenue Canada and as such have initiated a survey on the PGSS web site. If you’re a post-doctoral fellow at McGill and have been required by Revenue Canada to pay taxes on your fellowship, please go to pgss.mcgill.ca and take the survey.

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David Davidson is a post-doctoral student in experimental medicine and a PGSS councillor. Write him at david.davidson@mcgill.ca.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that PGSS’ website was at mcgill.pgss.ca. The body of the article has been corrected.


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