Massage therapy should be deductible everywhere

National Post

2004-11-06


Had a stressful week at the office? What better way to unwind than by going
for a massage. Unfortunately, the cost can be prohibitive. The ability to claim
a medical tax credit to offset part of the cost, however, may make that massage
more pleasurable.

Unfortunately, whether or not the medical tax credit is available may depend
on your province of residence. A tax case decided last month dealt involved Ms.
X, a New Brunswick resident who suffers from chronic pain that is
not readily controlled. Her doctor prescribed massage therapy treatment, which
provided some relief. In her 2001 and 2002 tax returns, Ms. X deducted
medical expense tax credits for the massage therapy fees she paid.

Under the Income Tax Act, a medical tax credit is available for amounts paid
to "a medical practitioner" -- "a person authorized to practise as
such...pursuant to the laws of the jurisdiction in which the service is
rendered." In other words, the Act relies on the provincial definition of
"medical practitioner."

Although Ms. X's massage therapist is considered a medical practitioner
in Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland, the Canada Revenue Agency denied
the medical tax credits because the therapist is not considered a "medical
practitioner" in New Brunswick.

Ms. X objected, arguing that the Income Tax Act should treat everyone
equally throughout Canada. She challenged the validity of the medical expense
credit legislation maintaining that it was in violation of the Charter, which
guarantees every individual the "equal benefit of the law without
discrimination."

The judge disallowed the claim, and explained that the credit is only
available where there is some legislated assurance of competence of the person
administering the service. According to the judge, "Differentiation on that
basis...does not offend [the Charter]."

The judge was sympathetic to Ms. X's belief that she was "financially
disadvantaged with respect to her claim for medical expense tax credits, as
compared to other Canadians living in other provinces. However, the cause of her
dissatisfaction is a legitimate policy choice that Parliament has made, and is
entitled to make."

Lillian Warne, president of the New Brunswick Massotherapy Association, has
been lobbying to get legislation for massage therapists introduced in New
Brunswick for over 10 years, adding: "It's been a long and drawn out process."

Perhaps this case will serve as a wake-up call to all provincial rule makers
to consider introducing legislation so that all Canadians may enjoy the same tax
credits for massages.