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The Current Transcript for December 4, 2017
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
He's brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI. If that isn't the case for impeaching a dangerous president, then what has our government become?
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: That is part of an ad urging Americans to push their politicians to impeach President Donald Trump making the rounds on TV and social media even before Washington was shaken with the news. A former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's plea deal late last week. There's been a growing chorus of people predicting and praying that this presidency will end in impeachment and the Flynn revelations have offered them more fodder. But is that certain? We're asking as we sort through a story that keeps at offering surprises. Also today another ad closer to home.
Over 500,000 Canadians are not receiving their disability tax credit. The National Benefit Authority has helped over 40,000 Canadians receive their disability tax credit. They helped me. They can help you too.
AMT: Critics of the Canada Revenue Agency say it has created too many obstacles and complexities for those eligible for a disability tax credit leading them to go to private companies which charge high rates to help or dismissing them altogether. They want an overhaul of a system they call outdated and insensitive. Hear those concerns, in an hour. And news that Canadians returning home after supporting ISIS abroad are more likely to be offered de-radicalization than face prosecution, has left members of Canada's Assyrian community incredulous as a Christian minority they were targeted in both Iraq and Syria.
We are all Canadians here and we all care about our personal security and our collective security. What's not being discussed is justice. These people perpetrated genocide.
AMT: Some of those who have fled are now in Canada. Hear their concerns in half an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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Michael Flynn 'extraordinarily dangerous' for Trump's White House: Charlie Sykes
Guests: Daniel Dale, Charlie Sykes, Allan Lichtman
I think what we're beginning to see is the putting together a case of obstruction of justice. I think we see this in the indictment, the four indictments and pleas. I see it in the hyper frenetic attitude of the White House that comments every day, the continual tweets and I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of director Comey.
AMT: To Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein weighing in on the U.S. political shows yesterday, it's all very clear but there's still much we don't know about the final consequences of the Mueller probe into the question of Russian interference and the possible involvement of the Trump campaign. We do know that Mr. Mueller could likely have charged the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn with far more than a single count of lying. Stories point out that he is vulnerable to charges of everything from money laundering to tax offenses, and that is why his guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his contact with a Russian official last December has created so much reaction. There is some kind of deal about what else he knows and no one knows where that will go. By Saturday U.S. President Donald Trump reacted with several tweets going after Hillary Clinton, the FBI and perhaps even incriminating himself with a tweet his lawyer now claims to have written for him. The only thing moving faster than this story is the speculation that swirls around it about the future of the Trump presidency. So to start off I'm joined by Daniel Dale. He is the Washington bureau chief for The Toronto Star. He joins us from Washington. Hi Daniel.
DANIEL DALE: Hello.
AMT: Is your head spinning?
DANIEL DALE: Yes it's always spinning.
AMT: Walk us through some of the tweets that President Trump started putting out over the weekend.
DANIEL DALE: The big one was this tweet in which he claimed that, basically, he said he had to fire Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, because he knew that Flynn had lied to the vice president and lied to the FBI. And that was so significant because previously he had only claimed that he knew Flynn had lied to the vice president. Him knowing that Flynn had lied to the FBI would be a big deal because the next day, as we know, Trump cornered James Comey in the Oval Office - the FBI director at the time - and urged him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. So if Trump knew at the time that Flynn had lied to the FBI which is a federal crime then that would really strengthen the case that he had tried to obstruct justice, rather than simply asking Comey to let Flynn go because he thought Flynn was a good man or didn't think Flynn had done anything wrong. So that's a big deal.
AMT: And so when that tweet came out and that kind of interpretation then came out, that this could be him implicating himself. His lawyer turns around and says I wrote that.
DANIEL DALE: Right, which was kind of a weird defense both because the tweet so obviously sounds like something Donald Trump that right not something a lawyer would write, but also because it's clear that that's a helpful defence at all. There are lots of people who said immediately 'well that would make it even more incriminating' if this wasn't something Trump just tweeted you know sort of shooting from the hip, possibly mis-remembering what he knew at the time. But you know a lawyer writing it that that makes it more serious more credible as a as a statement of what Trump indeed knew. So it's really not clear why the Trump people are making that assertion publicly.
AMT: He also made swipes at Hillary Clinton late Saturday night. What was that about?
DANIEL DALE: Well it seems like whenever he's under pressure he tries to turn the subject back to Clinton sometimes Obama as well. But his tactic is sort of 'you're saying I did it well Clinton did it'. So you know we're you know a year from his election now but whenever he sort of feeling the heat he'll talk about Hillary.
AMT: And that the FBI tweeting, saying that it's quote 'it's in tatters worst in history,' the FBI reputation. That actually created a backlash. There was more tweeting after that from FBI defenders.
DANIEL DALE: Yes. So to trump you know it's extraordinary, we're kind of used to it now but we have the president of the United States saying that the reputation of his chief law enforcement agency, the FBI, is in tatters, he said worst in history. He referred to the Justice Department as the quote unquote 'Justice' Department putting scare quotes around the word justice as if the department didn't deserve the name. And so this is really unusual and it's very upsetting to people of course who work in these agencies. So we have the FBI Agents Association, which is an advocacy group representing current former FBI agents putting out a highly unusual statement rebuking the president and saying that people working for the FBI are doing their best to actually promote justice and don't deserve to be disparaged in this kind of way.
AMT: There's even more information coming out we now know that Michael Flynn not only spoke to the Russian ambassador about sanctions on Russia imposed by then President Obama, he also tried to influence an outcome against the U.S. on a U.N. Security Council vote that would have condemned Israel's settlement policy. Why is that so egregious?
DANIEL DALE: Well you know there say there are some conservatives and Republicans who say that the second thing the Israel resolution matter is not egregious. But others say it was because what the president at the time, President Obama, planned to let this resolution go through. And here you have an incoming administration, people who are not yet in power actively working to undermine the policy effort of the sitting government. Under an obscure 18th century law called the Logan Act, you're not allowed to do that. You're not supposed to work against the interests of the United States. It's unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted under the Logan Act because no one ever has. It's sort of considered a dead letter. But it's still a very least a violation of you know a couple centuries of American political norms.
AMT: And the revelations that have come out around Michael Flynn, how could this expose Jared Kushner or Stephen Bannon? Is there speculation on that?
DANIEL DALE: Yes there's tons of speculation, that's the big question. We want to be careful about this. We don't know what Michael Flynn knows but what we do know is that Flynn you know was at Trump's side throughout the campaign. He was his top national security official and then for 24 days in office. So there is a widespread assumption that Flynn knows a whole lot and anything that Jared Kushner or Stephen Bannon did wrong with regard to interactions with Russia for example, there's a solid that Michael Flynn might know. So the fact that he has explicitly said that he is cooperating with Robert Mueller, that's a big deal and some to be determined way.
AMT: And what will you be watching in the days ahead then?
DANIEL DALE: Well it's sort of what's the next shoe to drop. There's sort of feverish speculation. We don't know what will actually happen. But Michael Flynn was sort of the obvious next person to be charged. There's lots of speculation that Jared Kushner might be the next person to face trouble. There are suggestions that he has committed some sort of wrongdoing with regard to his business dealings with regard to dealings with Russia perhaps Israel. We don't know for sure. It's important to say that. But if Kushner is in trouble the president's son in law or if his top aides, that's a really big deal. So that's what I'll be looking for next.
AMT: Okay Daniel Dale, thank you.
DANIEL DALE: Thank you.
AMT: Daniel Dale Washington bureau chief for The Toronto Star he joined us from Washington. For his views on what is at stake for the Trump presidency and the Republican Party, I'm joined by Charlie Sykes. He's a conservative political commentator and the author of the book How the Right Lost its Mind. Charlie Sykes is in Princeton, New Jersey, hello.
CHARLIE SYKES: Good morning how are you?
AMT: I'm well. I'm curious to know what you make of the president's tweets over the weekend responding to all these developments on Michael Flynn.
CHARLIE SYKES: Well I have to say that they were so bizarre that it gave off a whiff of panic. I think the guilty plea by Michael Flynn obviously took the administration by surprise. We were waiting for what his response would be. But this bizarre turn of events where he tweets - puts out the tweet as Daniel they'll just explain and then blamed it on the attorney. I don't know whether it's completely unprecedented. But you know for Donald Trump basically to walk away from one of his own tweets, it's kind of an extraordinary moment.
AMT: And why was he tweeting at all? Do you think he was just being defensive? What's going on there?
CHARLIE SYKES: [Laughs] Well Donald Trump tweets because that's what he does. But the claim that somehow that his lawyer was tweeting for him, that's what really strains credulity is if it hasn't been strained already because of course that's what lawyers always do right. They put out tweets about the ongoing criminal investigations that incriminate their clients. So I mean it was it was it was bizarre on top of bizarre.
AMT: And of course Michael Flynn is now the fourth Trump to be charged in this investigation. What does that do to his claim that stories about his campaign in Russia are fake news?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well it blows it up. But this obviously is by far the most important, as Daniel Dale pointed out. I think there was an expectation that Michael Flynn was going to be next on the list of people who would be charged. What we did not know for sure was that he would flip that he would in fact kind state's evidence. And this is extraordinarily dangerous for the president. I think one of the president's closest aides has described this as an existential threat to his presidency. which I think is is true because the charges were so minor. They were so sort of pro forma that it really raises the question 'what testimony has Michael Flynn told Bob Mueller that he's willing to give in return?' And that's that's what that's got to be creating a great deal of consternation within the White House.
AMT: And my fact I'm reading a lot of people in Washington are wondering like lawyers are asking their clients 'what did you say to him, when did you say it?' People are nervous.
AMT: Absolutely. Oh and of course they should be because Michael Flynn there was a period, during the campaign and during the transition as well as the first days of the administration, were General Michael Flynn was basically in the middle of everything. He was very very close to the president. Every single principle in the White House had conversations and communications with Michael Flynn and now they have to run that tape back and say 'okay what might I have possibly have said to him and then what did I say to the FBI?' And if there's any contradiction between what they said to him and what they told the FBI, they realize that they are now faced with gravely legal jeopardy.
AMT: What's at stake for Republicans in Washington in all of this?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well that's what's extraordinary because the same day that this this news came down of course the president and Republicans had their big win on the tax bill. And Republicans right now you know are apparently have decided that as long as this tax bill is hanging fire, that they are going to be joined at the hip with the president which means that if in fact this presidency implodes they're going down with him.
AMT: Can it also show that they're getting business done without him?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well they are getting business done. The question is whether or how that's going to play this tax bill. I know the Republicans are trying to convince themselves this is a political winner. I suspect that it's not going to age as well as they think it will.
AMT: And Charlie Sykes what's your view? Is there more fodder for those who want to impeach the president?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well let's wait on this. I think that the special prosecutor appears to be building a case for obstruction of justice but let's really be honest that as long as Republicans are in control of Congress the chances of impeachment are zero. I just do not see that happening until more evidence comes out. Now obviously he is building the case you know step at a time is like watching a very skilled Chess-master beginning to prep the board. But we're not there yet.
AMT: Okay Charlie Sykes thanks for your thoughts.
AMT: Thank you.
AMT: Charlie Sykes is a conservative political commentator. He's the author of How the Right Lost its Mind. He joined us from Princeton, New Jersey. Well my next guest famously predicted Donald Trump would be elected president long before others considered him a serious challenger for the White House. And then he predicted the president is on the road to impeachment, a prospect many more are talking about in the wake of these latest developments. Allan Lichtman is a Distinguished Professor of History at American University. He wrote the book The Case for Impeachment. Allan Lichtman joins us from Bethesda, Maryland. Hello.
ALLAN LICHTMAN: Good morning.
AMT: What have you been thinking all weekend?
ALLAN LICHTMAN: I've been thinking all weekend that my prediction is inching ever closer to fruition. I understand the point made by Mr. Sykes that a Republican Congress is very reluctant to impeach a Republican president. But the first requisite of any office holders - this is one of the Lichtman rules of politics - is survival. And come next [unintelligible] when the primaries [unintelligible] heading into the mid-term elections in 2018, if Republicans come to believe that Trump is taking them down and threatening their re-election they could well turn against him. Member impeachment, not conviction, requires only a majority vote from the U.S. House of Representatives. Only 24 or so Republicans, 10 percent of the delegation, would have to flip to join Democrats in voting for articles of impeachment.
AMT: And remind us what you need to constitute an impeachment offense.
ALLAN LICHTMAN: Well this is what's really interesting because just about everybody in this understands that don't ever lead an indictable crime, although indictable crime could be the basis for an article of impeachment. Rather the [unintelligible] quite advisedly did not put impeachment the courts. So it's a strictly legal process. They put it in a political body, the U.S. House and they fully recognize that impeachment would involve a combination of legal, political and moral judgement. Alexander Hamilton the greatest expositor of the Constitution explained 'impeachment occurs through any egregious abuse of power that threatens American society.' And certainly, I'm not going to use the word collusion because it does not mean anything, coordination with a hostile foreign power to manipulate and undermine American democracy, whether it involves a particular crime or not, would be an impeachable offense. And certainly obstruction of justice with Bill Clinton was impeached in part for obstruction of justice with virtually every Republican in the U.S. House voting and articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton on obstruction and of course on massively less serious than that confronting the nation today, for covering up a consensual sexual affair.
AMT: Right and Bill Clinton was impeached but then it wasn't followed. He was not removed.
ALLAN LICHTMAN: That's right. The second step is once impeached, a president is tried by the US Senate and removed only by two thirds vote of the senators voting. Two presidents have been tried after impeachment. Bill Clinton who was acquitted by a wide margin. Andrew Johnson who was acquitted by [unintelligible] in the U.S. Senate. And of course Richard Nixon resigned rather than facing certain impeachment and certain conviction.
AMT: Now there's also speculation that if anybody gets charged or if any of those around him have to pay for the Mueller investigation that Trump could pardon them or he could fire Mueller somewhere along the line. And then some say that would be an impeachable - like a reason to trigger.
ALLAN LICHTMAN: It is too late to fire a Mueller if he is going to do that, the investigation is so far along and I do think if he fired Mueller that would be part of a case against him for obstruction of justice. The same thing if he pardoned Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Junior or anyone else. Remember a presidential pardon extends only to federal crimes. These folks conceivably depending on what they did could also be charged with state crimes as well.
AMT: Now Allan Lichtman we know that Tom Steyer - we played a clip at the top of our show urging impeachment. There's stuff running on YouTube. It's running on certain U.S. TV stations urging people to join together and work toward impeachment. He is a Democrat, a billionaire Democratic activist - party activist among others. There are those who disagree with you who say it's not going to go to impeachment. It's getting messy but it's just not going to go there. What do you say to them?
ALLAN LICHTMAN: Well first of all they don't know yet. One of the critical elements of my prediction, right now, is we've only seen the tip of the iceberg of what Mueller has. He only gave us snippet of what Michael Flynn has revealed to him. He just put a little bit in the statement accompanying the guilty plea. There is much much more. He's subpoenaed a huge cache of documents from the White House. We don't know what he's learned from interviewing other figures. So to say that this isn't going to impeachment even though already I think we have a pretty airtight case for obstruction and a very close case for coordination with the Russians. By the way I strongly disagree with the commentator who seems to imply that the Logan Act is obsolete and doesn't apply to the present situation.
AMT: Okay well have to we'll have to see what happens. Allan Lichtman We're out of time. Thanks for speaking with us though. Bye bye.
ALLAN LICHTMAN: Take care.
AMT: Allan Lichtman professor of history at American University the author of The Case for Impeachment, still thinks there is one. He joined us from Bethesda, Maryland. Let us know what you think you can tweet us we are @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. The news is next. And then as Syrians who fled persecution by ISIS to settle in Canada worry about those who might be coming back. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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Assyrian activist calls government policy on returning ISIS fighters 'cruel joke'
Guests: Michael Youash, Younan Lazar, Raman Noori
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, we're speaking to a father in Monkton whose two daughters have autism. His family receives the Federal Government's disability tax credit for one daughter, not allowed for the other. We're asking why in half an hour. But first Assyrians fleeing genocide.
More than 3000 years of history obliterated in seconds. This video was released by ISIS. CNN cannot independently verify its authenticity but it purports to show the radicals destroying Nimrod one of the most important archaeological sites in Iraq. ISIS fighters used power tools to break down ancient statues, frescoes and walls. These are remnants of the ancient Assyrian civilization. Nimrod seems to be its capital. They stood since the 13th century B.C. and survived many wars but were destroyed by the militants, probably in less than a day.
AMT: That's a CNN report from April of 2015. For the Assyrians of Iraq and Syria, the war against ISIS has been heartbreaking. The Christian minority’s culture has survived thousands of years only to be assailed by Islamic Islamist militants famed for brutally enforcing their dogma. For those Assyrians who have come to Canada the Islamic State is an ever present reminder of ethnic cleansing and loss. As you're hearing on the news, there is debate over whether Ottawa could order the killing of Canadian ISIS fighters abroad. Right now the government says it will prosecute such people if it can be proven they took part in atrocities. But government officials say they hope to de-radicalize and reintegrate most of the so-called terror travellers who come back and to bring them back into Canadian society. And that is an idea many of the people who had to flee ISIS find abhorrent. Younan Lazar fled from his home country of Syria to escape ISIS. He, his wife and his daughter now live in Hamilton, Ontario. Younan Lazar joins us with translator Raman Noori. And Michael Youash is an Assyrian activist working to get Western governments to defend the dwindling Syrian community in Syria and Iraq. They're all with me in Toronto. Hello.
RAMAN NOORI: Hello. Thank you for having us.
YOUNAN LAZAR: Hello Shana.
MICHAEL YOUASH: Thanks for having us.
AMT: Michael Youash let's begin with you. What is your reaction to the way Canada is handling returning ISIS fighters?
MICHAEL YOUASH: My personal reaction, but I also feel comfortable speaking for the Assyrian Canadian community leaders and activists that I reached out to when this policy became public is it's a cold slap in the face. It's something almost impossible to process or digest. The indignation, the feeling of just being fundamentally disrespected and fundamentally neglected in terms of our experience at the hands of a campaign of genocide that ISIS perpetrated against us.
AMT: And Raman Noori, you're translating for Younan Lazar, so let me ask Younan Lazar the same question. For Assyrians like you who have come to Canada in the midst of this war, first of all tell us what was life like for you in Syria before ISIS came?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] Life was organized and in order. And there was always shortcomings but nothing like what we experienced when ISIS came came in.
AMT: And when ISIS first came to your area what was it like? What changed?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] Everything changed when ISIS came in. Violence, kidnappings, killings. Thirty four Assyrian villages that existed for years, all of a sudden you are disturbed and people were kidnapped and violence in churches and...
AMT: When did you manage to escape?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via by Raman Noori] I left in the 20th of April in 2015.
AMT: So the war was under way and they were they already in your your home village when you got out?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] ISIS had at that point entered the 34 villages. However, I lived in the city that was 20 kilometers away from the villages but there was also large connections between the villages and the City of family. It is all the same families. So I felt the same thing that they were feeling.
AMT: How afraid were you knowing they were on their way?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] I was very afraid because prior to ISIS entering the city of Hasakah there were two or three attempts that they had actually tried beforehand of entering. So the fear was there.
AMT: And what was happening to those people in the villages were they had already managed to get in? What stories were you hearing from the people you knew in those areas?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] ISIS we did a lot of what ISIS attacked the villages on the 23rd of February in 2015 and kidnapped 228 hostages including women and children. 228 Assyrian people. Before the attack into the villages, ISIS had settled in a mountainous region about three kilometres away from these villages. And then while they were many incidents where they would come in and create some violence just as a warning or a threat so people there kind of saw what their intentions were.
AMT: They took more than 200 people. What happened to those people?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] ISIS asked the leader of the Syrian Church to be the negotiator, to take part in negotiations with ISIS as far as the futures of these kidnapped people.
AMT: Were they looking for money?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] I'm not sure, that information wasn't disclosed that wasn't shared especially in those negotiations that were very sensitive. A lot of information was not made public.
AMT: And were they also, in those villages that they went into, they took people I'm guessing they killed people too.
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori. During the attacks, there were young men that were put in charge of protecting these villages just for the sake of security and protection from intruders. So during these invasions and the attacks these gentlemen put up with some resistance protecting themselves. And some in a couple of villages for example [unintelligible] there was 11 casualties and then there were seven casualties. So these people did die during the invasion of those villages.
AMT: Did ISIS try to make a spectacle of that? We know what they did in Raqqa to people.
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] There was three of the ones that were killed. A video was taken of them and they were killed on October 8th of 2015, these three young men and one of them was actually a doctor. That video was broadcast as a spectacle all over the world.
AMT: Why did they do that video?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] They were dressed in orange clothing and kneeling down with somebody standing above them saying that this will be the outcome of the rest of them if we don't get what it is that we're asking for.
AMT: So in other words they were executed. The orange jumpsuits trying to look like American prisoners.
RAMAN NOORI: Yes.
AMT: Okay. You managed to get out before they came to your village. How hard was the journey to get out of Syria for you and your wife and daughter? Where did you go?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] My boy and girl in 2012 were sent to Europe, to Germany, just for education purposes and just to get out of the uncertainties that are happening there. Whenever I felt unsafe in Hasakah, we travelled to a nearby city, Qamishli, which is about 80 kilometers away which was a safer area to be. From Qamishli, I moved to Beirut in Lebanon and stayed there for nine months until my file as a as a refugee was accepted to Canada.
AMT: What kind of work were you doing in Syria before you left?
YOUNAN LAZAR: Insurance. [Via Raman Noori] So I was a car insurance agent.
AMT: And how long have you been in Canada now?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Rama Noori] Almost two years.
AMT: And as you hear the news about those Canadians who went over to join ISIS now coming back what do you think?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] As an Assyrian Christian, I don't want to see those people whatever their fate is I hope they meet it there because they're a cancer. They are a disease. And I don't want to see them and I don't want them a part of my life ever.
AMT: Michael Youash, what else are you hearing from members of the Assyrian community about Ottawas plan to try to rehabilitate those who might return and the view that it's going to be very hard to do anything about it because it's hard to prosecute.
MICHAEL YOUASH: You know it is Assyrian Canadians, it's also Yazidi Canadians who are so traumatized by this decision by this policy and the prospects of it. And that's not to say that there weren't all types of victims of ISIS. Muslims were victims of ISIS, Sunni and Shia, the secular, the religious, the indigenous and the Christian. But the significance for Assyrians and Yazidi is that they were part of a genocidal campaign against our peoples. What separates our plight from the plight of others in the Middle East is that there is the very real prospect of being completely wiped out. And to you hear this policy by the Canadian government of disengagement and reintegration of a group whose very existence was premised on the annihilation of our people, it's beyond shocking. I personally refer to it as as a as a cruel joke. You know it's not just what the Canadian government is saying it's what it hasn't said in the past.
AMT: What would you like to have heard them say?
MICHAEL YOUASH: The conversation right now and I'll take this from the CBC reports news reports on this issue. Minister Ralph Goodale talks about those who pose a security risk and he quote 'will be dealt with the greatest seriousness' and the defense minister saying 'we will make sure that we put every type of resource into place so Canadians are well protected'. Of course we are all Canadians here and we all care about our personal security and our collective security. Absolutely, that's an issue. What's not being discussed is justice. These people perpetrated genocide. In 2016 the United States Congress designated this a genocide. In 2016 the European Parliament designated ISIS's actions as genocide. On March 17th 2016 Secretary of State John Kerry designated this a genocide. In June 14th 2016 the House of Commons took a no vote on a motion for genocide. On June 16th a UN panel designated ISIS's crimes in Syria as a genocide and only then did Minister Stephane Dion, at the time the foreign minister, acknowledged in public, on June 17th, that ISIS is guilty of genocide and yet the policy conversation here has nothing to do with our suffering, has nothing to do with our experience, has nothing to do with justice.
AMT: What do you say to those who have characterized some of those who left Canada to fight ISIS and maybe back, or to fight or support ISIS and maybe back in Canada as confused, traumatized by their experience may maybe remorseful?
MICHAEL YOUASH: Right now Prime Minister Trudeau is apologizing for egregious violations against the LGBT community. Right now the Canadian government is acknowledging injustices against first nations, first peoples of Canada. The Canadian government has a sense of justice has a sense of right and wrong and in this case it's not being consistent. Every individual deserves a day in court. And I think this is what's really important because I did say it's about justice. The U.N. Human Rights Council took a decision in 2015 that members of ISIS need to be captured and tried for crimes of genocide. Get them into the court, hold UN decisions that these people are guilty of genocide and need to be taken to court. This is part of the conversation that needs to be happening right now the Canadian government is talking about reassuring Canadians that we will be safe. What's missing and what I believe the Canadian government failed to do is to consult the victims of ISIS that are now here in Canada and making a life in Canada and who are eager to contribute to pluralism diversity. What makes Canada great and the Canadian government is taking a stand that is fundamentally and principally inconsistent with its own values in that respect.
AMT: Are you saying that Ottawa has not reached out to anyone in your community to at least touch base on what you might know about who might be here?
MICHAEL YOUASH: When I got the news, after I processed it in shock, I immediately reached out to Assyrian Canadian community leaders. No one was consulted on this on this policy decision. There was no outreach within the Assyrian Canadian community. The president of the Center for Canadian Assyrian relations, a devoted and committed Canadian and Assyrian, Mr. Aneki Nissan, was not consulted in this process. This is someone who has been called to Ottawa to testify at immigration committee hearings. This is someone known to the Canadian government. This is an organization that has a proven track record in Canada, was not consulted in this process. But Anna Maria if I may, you know in addition to the International Criminal Court needing to be engaged and my sense that what Canada needs to be doing is incarcerating these individuals to process them as potential perpetrators of the crime of genocide - is you know I'm a board member I'm a board member of an organization called The Nineveh plain Defense Fund. We're registered and situated in the United States and we fund a fighting force that was part of Operation conquest, the Nineveh plain protection units. The Nineveh plains was ethnically cleansed in a genocidal attack by ISIS in August of 2014. The Nineveh Plain Protection Units participate in Operation Conquest to help liberate their own lands their villages from this genocidal attack that was in court in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve. Canadians, Canadian officers, the Canadian military served through Operation Inherent Resolve. These Canadian terrorists travellers are they not guilty of treason? Did they not fight against a military force in which Canada was a participant?
AMT: These are the questions you want to ask.
MICHAEL YOUASH: This is the conversation that is missing. This is not just a conversation for Assyrians. It’s a conversation for all Canadians.
AMT: Younan Lazar, if the government were to ask you what needs to be done on this front, as someone who who had to flee that area as ISIS advanced. What would you tell them?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] From my personal experiences in what I've seen and witnessed there, including the killing and the butchering and the 11 churches that were bombed and burned down and vandalized and the killing of children and doctors, I don't want to see them here. But if the government policy is to bring them back here I would like them to be judged for their actions.
AMT: Michael Youash, you are Canadian born, your heritage is Assyrian. Your parents were born there?
MICHAEL YOUASH: Yes. My parents are from Iraq.
AMT: Okay. And so how many Assyrian communities are actually left in Syria and Iraq right now?
MICHAEL YOUASH: The numbers are devastating. In Syria, the Syrian community to my knowledge my numbers are not as concrete on Syria, but to my knowledge the numbers are below 100,000 now. And that's a community that's been cut more than in half. But in Iraq the numbers are even more devastating. Before the United States entered Iraq to remove the Baathist regime there was approximately estimated one point forty one point five million Christian Assyrians in Iraq, from all denominations, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Assyria Jacobite church, all these different denominations, Protestant denominations of Christian Assyrians. That number now is below 400,000. So upwards of a million Christian Assyrians have been dislocated and in terms of ISIS just their entry in June of 2014 into Mosul and then August of 2014 into the Nineveh where planes, dislocated about 175 to 200 thousand remaining Christian Assyrians. So the numbers have been absolutely devastated and that's why we say this is genocide. There is an intent to wipe us out.
AMT: And those those places where they lived, are there any buildings standing? Is there anywhere to go home to for the ones who have survived this?
MICHAEL YOUASH: You know if I may I'd like to tell you the story of general Behnam Aboosh, who was the founding and original commander of the Nineveh Plains Protection Units. His hometown is Baghdadeh and then in the Nineveh Plains, the largest Christian Assyrian town remaining in Iraq. And he was interviewed about this and he was asked about his experience and what he saw upon his return after his town was liberated by his own forces by Christian Syrians. And he said 'when I entered my home I saw that it hadn't been looted. Nothing was stolen.' He said 'if it had been stolen, if my home had been looted I would have been okay with that.' But what they did is they burned the structure. Now if you know how homes are built in the Middle East, if you know how homes are built in that area with a concrete mortar and the metal bindings, the steel girders inside by burning the home what ISIS is doing is making it uninhabitable for a potential return. It was pure malice and it was pure hate. This is the experience of what happened to our structures. And as this show opened with; when you look at Nimrod, when you look at the ancient city of Nineveh, this is where we derive our indigeneity. This is our IDE our pre-Christian identity. We have almost 7000 years of continuous history in that land. We are indigenous to that land. And ISIS did everything to wipe it out. When you opened with that segment about Nimrod I would quote Irina Bokova who is the UNESCO's director general when she said 'either minority groups conform to Islamic State views of religion or belief or they have to disappear'. It is cultural genocide, in addition to physical genocide. And for the Canadian government to take this policy position it's that part of the conversation that's not happening. Where's the justice?
AMT: Younan Lazar do you know if you have a home, even left in your village now?
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] My house in the city is still there.
AMT: But you can't get in there.
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] I could go back but I don't want to. The order is gone. The community is gone. The Family, the Christian Assyrian community has been driven out and I wouldn't want to go back because it's not the same.
AMT: Gentlemen it's important to hear your voices. Thank you.
YOUNAN LAZAR: [Via Raman Noori] Thank you very much.
MICHAEL YOUASH: Anna Maria, thank you very much.
AMT: Younan Lazar fled ISIS in Syria. He now lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Raman Noori translated for us. And Michael Youash is an Assyrian activist in Toronto. We've requested an interview with Ralph Goodale the Minister of Public Safety. We hope to have him on the program in the coming days.
Want to tell you about a conversation we'll have later this week. It was 100 years ago this week that two ships collided in Halifax harbor. As one of the ships burned in the harbor. Hundreds of Haligonians gathered to watch the spectacle. And then just after 9:00 in the morning the ship, munition ship the Montblanc exploded. Here is American historian John Bacon explaining what happened.
The explosion itself which a firecracker would give off. You've also got basically a gas bubble typical of atomic bombs themselves which you know moves invisibly through the city busting houses in front of it. Houses, schools, stone structures just blow up seemingly unseen. So that happens next. Then you've got the tsunami because it went down and exposed the seabed floor, that generates a 35 foot tidal wave which washes up of course the shore of the Richmond neighbourhood in Halifax and draws survivors down into the water and drowns them. And then comes the fires of course because all stoves were burning from breakfast and now the whole city is a fire. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, he studied this at a conference at Cal Berkeley in 1942. They determined that the explosion Halifax the only real model they head for Hiroshima was three of one third to one fifth the power of the atomic bomb.
AMT: On the 100 anniversary of one of the biggest catastrophes in this nation's history, we will speak with John Bacon and Canadian historian Ken Cuthbertson. They each have new books looking at the bravery, betrayal and horror of the day that destroyed Halifax. That's this Wednesday on The Current. And stay with us. Coming up in our next half hour, disability advocates voice their frustrations with the Federal Government's disability tax credit system and even beyond that specific credit. We examine a system in which those who are entitled to a tax break and benefits can often miss out. We're asking why. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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Canada Revenue Agency needs to be 'more consistent' with disability tax credits, say advocates
Guests: Cathy Publicover, Rex Baldwin, James Hicks, Jennifer Robson
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
VOICE 1: How can I get that cheque of fifty thousand dollars?
VOICE 2: Still dreaming of that new bike, eh?
VOICE 1: Maybe.
VOICE 2: Well this is money that our government wants medically impact to Canadians to have.
VOICE 1: So they can buy their kids new bikes, right?
VOICE 2: Actually, it's to help them overcome obstacles they face living with their medical condition.
VOICE 1: I could jump a lot of obstacles with a new bike.
VOICE 2: Nice try kid.
VOICE 3: Get your check for fifty thousand dollars gotohelpcanadian.ca.
AMT: That's an ad by a company called the National Benefit Authority and the fifty thousand dollar check, they are promising, well that's the Federal Government's disability tax credit sometimes referred to as the DTC. If a person can medically prove they are disabled and then outline the effect of that disability, the disability tax credit could help to reduce their tax bill. The process of applying for the DTC requires paperwork and for a cut of the check at the end of the line the national benefit authority and companies like it will do all the administrative work. Critics are asking why Canadians who qualify for government support require the assistance of such companies in the first place. That's what Cathy Publicover wondered after she contacted the national benefit authority. She joins us from our studio in Halifax, Hello.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Hello. How did you first hear that you might be eligible to get a tax credit for your disability?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Well I was on Facebook and this came out for the Disability Tax Authority. And I thought 'well gee maybe that's something I can look into'. So it didn't take it very far the first time but the second time I did apply and was given a call by them and they said that they would send out the paperwork. Not to worry about the doctor's part of it because they would take care of it. And anything I would get back they would take 30 percent. So I got the paperwork and I called them and then I thought it doesn't sound right if it's the government taxation credit, why am I paying somebody to get this credit for me? So I called my brother and I said 'this doesn't sound right can you look into it for me?' So a little bit later I went to my doctors and asked him about it. He got the form. He filled out his portion and then I filled out my portion and sent it in and I got the disability tax credit.
AMT: Okay before we go any further what can you tell me what your disability is?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: My disability COPD.
AMT: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: That's right.
AMT: Okay. And so you applied and you actually got what you applied for. You got a tax credit you reduced your overall tax bill.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Most certainly.
AMT: Okay. So you got the tax credit without going through the National Benefit Authority.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Yes.
AMT: Now the National Benefit Authority is a private company did you know that?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: I didn't know it at the time no.
AMT: Because of the name?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: That's right.
AMT: But you didn't go through them because of the 30 percent charge.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Right.
AMT: And you just thought that was too high?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No. It just doesn't sound right to.
AMT: Me. Well we spoke with Paul Rosen who's a spokesperson for the National Benefit Authority and he thinks they offer a much needed service and the cost is worth it.
National does a fantastic job. They have an enormous amount of people that do the job that it sometimes takes six months to up to eight-nine months to get your refund back. We still live in Canada. This is a country where you can choose what you want. People say this to me about the company 'they're charging too much'. You can do it yourself. You can go to other companies. For me when I retired, I felt it was a difficult situation that I was having trouble with. They did mine. I had no issue with the 30 percent because of what I was getting which still was 70 percent of something that I wasn't going to get because I didn't know what I was doing.
AMT: What do you think of what he says?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Well you know that could be like I said, I started out with them and then I just didn't think 30 percent was for me.
AMT: Did you find the forms hard to fill out at the end?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No.
AMT: And what about the part where your doctor filled it out. Was there any complaint?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No I just went in my doctor's office and asked him about it. He got the forms he filled out his section. I filled out my section and then I said it all.
AMT: And can I ask you how much of a reduction you ended up getting? How much money you got back from government?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Well I went back two years because that's when they developed the COPD and I got just over 3200.
AMT: And you didn't have to pay anyone any extra for that.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No.
AMT: So 30 percent of 3200, did you do the math?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Yes 973 dollars.
AMT: You saved that.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Yes.
AMT: There are people who think the forms are too onerous. You didn't find that.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No.
AMT: What does that money mean to you to get that kind of reduction on your tax bill?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Oh it means a lot. Especially where I don't make a whole lot and let the different things that I have going on with me other than the COPD. It's a great savings for me.
AMT: And with the COPD how does that affect what you can do, how you live?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Well I'm working. But the only jobs that I can take are call center jobs because I'm not moving around.
AMT: You can't move around because you get out of breath, do you?
CATHY PUBLICOVER: That's right.
AMT: So your experience has been good with the disability tax credit system.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Certainly.
AMT: But you didn't need a company to do the paperwork for you.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: No.
AMT: Cathy Publicover thank you.
CATHY PUBLICOVER: Oh you're welcome.
AMT: Cathy Publicover now receives a tax credit for her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She joined us from Halifax. The disability tax credit is also available to families with children with autism. Some families say they're frustrated by inconsistency in government decisions and the decision making process. Rex Baldwin is the father of two daughters with autism. The family gets a tax credit for one yet not for the other. Rex Baldwin joins me from Moncton, New Brunswick. Hello.
REX BALDWIN: Good morning.
AMT: How old are your daughters?
REX BALDWIN: Just turned 7 and 4.
AMT: And which one is eligible to do under the disability tax credit.
REX BALDWIN: The seven years old.
AMT: And what happened when you applied for credit for your younger daughter?
REX BALDWIN: Well we're still in the process. We're about to put in our fourth application. We applied and we called. You put it in, you do the first page. The paediatrician fills in the rest of the form then he posted off. So we posted it off and it's a 14 week lead time. So we called you know a few weeks in and they said 'call back after 14 weeks'. So we called back after 14 weeks and they said 'we didn't receive your application'. We put in the second one which means the paediatrician has to fill in the form again - lucky our pediatrician doesn't charge - and send it this time registered. So we knew it was delivered wait a certain period called up 'we didn't receive your application'. So then we called the paediatrician again and he said 'well how can that be because they sent me a request for more information'. And I am 'How can that be because they denied receiving the application. How can they send out a request for more information which is sent back to them?' So we do a third time. This is from June last year. This is now around the November December time. And he gets another request for information. And this is a person that saving children's lives that shouldn't be doing paperwork. He gets another request. I meet with him and we go through the form etc. He goes 'you've got to get approved this time' because the diagnosis is identical. So we send it off and we get a letter back saying they received it this time, again registered. And then a few weeks later it was pretty fast this time we get the pro form rejection letter that basically says 'your daughter is not eligible' and we're looking at each other 'how can she not be eligible when my other daughter has got it till she's 18, 2028 when it's exactly the same diagnosis?'
AMT: What did they say? What was the reason for that? Did they tell you or did they not tell you?
REX BALDWIN: They just said 'based on the information submitted this time, unintelligible.' It's a very long winded form but the way I view is how can an accountant supersede a paediatrician.
AMT: Okay so now we did ask for an interview with the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier. She wasn't available for us today but her office sent a statement and it says 'that more than 80 percent of the applicants for this tax credit are approved and those who are not approved have access to an appeal process'. Are you appealing?
REX BALDWIN: Yes we're going to submit another application but it's been 18 months now and it will be our fourth one. My question is why did - it just went through the first time for Emily a 7 year old. Why? There's two things. How can the process be that bad that they deny receiving all they didn't receive? They don't know. They send out requests for information to the paediatrician where they don't have a record of application, when you've got it the first time your younger daughter needs it because it helps. It doesn't solve a problem. It just helps us out financially. It's- you start questioning any we expect to get it. Because you got it last time.
AMT: Right. And so is your youngest daughter's autism identical to your oldest daughter?
REX BALDWIN: Yes they're both high functioning autistics.
AMT: So that whole issue of the way that the effects of the impairment would be identical.
REX BALDWIN: Yes. And it's actually personified because when you have two, especially a younger sibling, when the elder one is good the younger one to be good. When the elder one is bad like has a meltdown - And I have videos of meltdowns for medical practitioners. When one has a meltdown the other has a meltdown. And this is a case where one plus one equals three, just two meltdowns. It's just a very stressful environment.
AMT: What would it mean to you to receive the tax credit for each of your daughters?
REX BALDWIN: Well the most important thing is one of the things that we've been told is our children won't do very well in the public school system. And the way to relate that is I don't know if you had a parent who is left handed where they used to tie your left hand behind your back and force you to write with the right hand. But basically forcing our children who can't sit down for very long periods of time, have interaction issues - and I'm not talking negative. They just don't initiate interactions or hold conversations. They don't do eye contact. They can't handle loud noises. They can't handle crowds. We went to sensitive center yesterday which is an amazing thing. It's where they open the mall especially for children on the spectrum. You can go see Santa without the crowd. So you can book an appointment. So you're dealing with that all the time. So for us coming back to the public school site we've been recommended to put them in Montessori. No that's great. This really is the best place for them. But Montessori for my 7 year old is in full time, it’s twelve thousand dollars a year. If you include summer camps. Now for socialisation, which is one of their weaknesses. My youngest has in-home therapy four hours every morning during the week at home and she goes to Montessori in the afternoon. That is another five thousand dollars.
AMT: You pay for all of that.
REX BALDWIN: Yes. And the tax credit benefits, it goes towards that right.
REX BALDWIN: We're a single income family because I've had to sacrifice my career to stay home for the therapy.
AMT: So you need that tax credit.
REX BALDWIN: We should get it under the logic of the system. And yes we need it. Our debt has gone up by seven times.
AMT: So how would you like to see the Canada Revenue Agency change its policy on this front?
REX BALDWIN: Well it should be more consistent. It's interesting because when it's children. Well I actually had a teacher say to me 'I'm sorry' a retired teacher I'm going 'nothing to be sorry about you know it's not a disease. It's not something to catch something that can be cured.' There is two folds. Number one is I think they need to be more consistent. And that 80 percent stat and I am a former stats person, I don't believe but.
AMT: Okay. Well you know what Rex Baldwin, I'm going to actually talk to someone with more stats. So I hear your frustration. I appreciate you speaking with us today.
REX BALDWIN: Thank you very much I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to let you know where we at.
AMT: Okay well take care.
REX BALDWIN: Thank you.
AMT: That is Rex Baldwin. He is the father of two daughters with autism. He only receives a tax credit for one. He joined us from Moncton, New Brunswick. Well many disability advocates feel the process of applying for the disability tax credit through the Canada Revenue Agency is cumbersome and antiquated, James Hicks is the national coordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. He joins me from our Ottawa studio. Hi.
JAMES HICKS: Hello.
AMT: Well we heard one woman say it was really easy and we just heard another person say like they had to go through it so many times. What are you hearing?
JAMES HICKS: Well it's always been a problem when they identify certain things that people can and can't do. And if it's not consistent or they don't use the right words then it doesn't go through. The same is true for most of the programs for people with disabilities. If you talked to anyone who's tried to get on Canada Pension Plan disability they'll say the same thing. They can use the words in one way or another even if it's the same words that that are sent in. So there's always going to be a problem with discrimination until they can figure out, or discriminating against certain applications, if they don't have a better way to actually identify who should be eligible and who should not.
AMT: Well how do they define disability now?
JAMES HICKS: It's a series of things that book sort of what your daily activities are, whether you could do them independently, whether you need assistance for it. It looks sort of how you can participate in regular activities of daily living.
AMT: So you're talking about the effects of impairment that they talk about.
JAMES HICKS: Yes.
AMT: So once you have a diagnosis of a disability it doesn't mean you get the tax credit. They want to know what the effect it has on your life.
JAMES HICKS: Yes. So for instance I've had arthritis since I was a kid and I've had numerous operations in and out of the hospital. I'm not eligible for the disability tax credit because it doesn't stop me from using a washroom or being able to cook for myself or being able to get places and drive. So although I definitely have a person with disability I'm not eligible for the disability tax credit.
AMT: And do you think that's fair?
JAMES HICKS: There are times when I am or I'm okay with it. And there's other times when it would be helpful. So for instance I recently had to have my hip replaced. I've had three in one leg and this other leg I had to get. And I had to pay for the rent, for all of the supports that I would need in home.
AMT: And you argue that those surgeries are related to your disability.
JAMES HICKS: Oh yes.
AMT: I see. So in other words if it's episodic, it's not covered. It has to be kind of a daily thing.
JAMES HICKS: Yes folks who have disability that are not consistent all the time probably have the most trouble. And I'm not sure if that was an indication of what happened to the to the family with the daughter who's autistic. That happens all the time and if you look at sort of where things are going these days. I mean look at MS, you look at a number of disabilities and it's difficult to to say one person should get it and one person shouldn't.
AMT: Because the episodic events are around have their own consequences for people's income.
JAMES HICKS: Oh yes very much so.
AMT: What proportion of Canadians with disabilities are unemployed or living with a low income?
JAMES HICKS: Well it varies over time. What I can tell you is that if you look out without a disability and with a disability in working age periods - and the DTC is most effective for people who are disabled themselves - while it's effective for parents, but the majority of people on the DTC are people who are living with a disability and trying to sort of maintain. So just to give you some idea, if you look at sort of as people go into their working years and 15-19 without a disability, people have a low low wage 11.3 are below the poverty level. And for people with disability it is 17. So the numbers who are on, I don't have numbers for who was on the disability tax credit.
AMT: But you’re arguing that people who might be able to take advantage of it might have a low income so they can't really take advantage of it anyway because it's a tax credit.
JAMES HICKS: Exactly.
AMT: So you're asking for something that would be called something refundable you'd actually get the money for what you spend because of your disability as opposed to a tax credit.
JAMES HICKS: Well actually it's when they say refundable, there's a limit to what you can get. And what we were advocating for is that because of the fact that right now 375,000 people receive the disability tax credit but 755,000 don't. So there's a very small number of people who are actually benefiting from this in the way it is.
AMT: So how do you know that that number? How do you know how many don't?
JAMES HICKS: Statistics.
AMT: And they don't because they're not claiming it on income tax.
JAMES HICKS: Or they're too poor.
AMT: They're too poor to actually have enough income tax to get some money back.
JAMES HICKS: Exactly.
AMT: Right. So you're asking for some kind of fund that would allow them to be reimbursed up to a point for the help they need, the equipment they need are the help they need.
JAMES HICKS: Exactly.
AMT: Any uptake on that?
JAMES HICKS: No not really. But we're going to continue to suggest it. It's been something that has been studied by a number of different organizations including Caledon Institute which is a research institute and a number of others. Iris which is also a research institute.
AMT: OK. Well James Hicks, I'll pick this up with our next guest. Thank you.
JAMES HICKS: Okay.
AMT: James Hicks national coordinator with the Council of Canadians with disabilities. He joined us from Ottawa. Well my next guest researches tax policy and inequality and she sees long term economic consequences for people who miss out on the tax credits to which they're entitled. Jennifer Robson is an associate professor of Political Management at Carleton University. She's in our Ottawa studio, hello.
JENNIFER ROBSON: Hello.
AMT: Well what are some of the barriers that exist in people getting access to tax credit, then? He just was talking about the fact that if you don't make a lot of money you don't get a tax credit because you don't have enough income to get the credit on it.
JENNIFER ROBSON: Yes. So thanks very much for having me on this morning. I think the focus on the disability tax credit is absolutely worthwhile. I just wanted to make the point that it is one of about 40 different benefits or credits that the Canada Revenue Agency administers and there are about another 80 where the CRA is responsible for making sure that somebody is eligible. So there's like a lot of different benefits and credits that are on the line when somebody files taxes or doesn't file taxes. And in terms of you know some of the obstacles here, I thought it was really interesting when Cathy was talking about how she first heard about the disability tax credit it was kind of word of mouth. So there are barriers in terms of people just being aware of what benefits they might be entitled to and then as your second guest was talking about, there are obstacles in terms of sometimes the complexity of the application form. Then as your third guest from the Council of Canadians with Disability was talking about, in some instances the design of the tax credits or the benefits themselves are such that if you don't have a high enough taxable income you're really not going to get any benefit out of it.
AMT: And that clearly has consequences then.
JENNIFER ROBSON: It absolutely does. You know there's pretty compelling evidence in the states and some growing anecdotal evidence here in Canada that tax filing is a really powerful way to actually increase people's incomes. So for example there's an organization in Toronto that runs something called the financial empowerment on problem solving service. One of the big things that they do is people people are low income come in and they say I'm having a really hard time making ends meet or I've got some sort of financial struggle. One of the biggest things that they do is help people actually file taxes and claim benefits that they've been owed. And when the Ontario government ran an evaluation of that program they found that 14,000 clients had been able through that help filing taxes had been able to claim about 40 million dollars worth of benefits. That's about 2700 dollars per client. That's going to make a significant difference in their financial stability.
AMT: And so these are people who might think that they have such a low income that they shouldn't file or they just they don't realise that there are things embedded in that tax return that actually could help them.
JENNIFER ROBSON: I think it's probably a combination and you know I've got to say this is an area that has been really under studied in Canada. So I'm hoping to do more work on it myself. I think there are issues in terms of barriers to filing, so getting the support that they need to file. So I know CRA runs a network of volunteer tax preparation clinics across the country every year. They do help thousands of Canadians file their returns. But it's not always possible for low income people to find where those clinics are, to be able to access them and they don't always qualify for help. So there's that issue. There's also the issue of like I don't know if any of your listeners have ever taken a look at for example the application form for the working income tax benefit. If you fill this out on paper it is 42 different calculation steps that you have to go through before you find out if you might qualify to get that benefit.
AMT: So just way too complicated.
JENNIFER ROBSON: I think that that is really complicated. Look there are trade-offs here between trying to design these benefits and these credits in a way that is very targeted. So that we're trying to make sure through our tax system that only people who are truly eligible are getting the credit. But there are trade-offs with simplicity and for as long as you know we continue to expect people to complete their own returns, and I think you know CRA is trying to make some changes with regards to being more proactive providing more support trying to simplify the communications with Canadians. But there really are these trade-offs where we're asking people to effectively take on a lot of the burden of tax administration themselves. You know then we might be in effect replicating a lot of disadvantage where people who can't afford fancy tax help - I was really struck by that, that stat at the beginning where - I can't even remember the name of the firm - but basically the firm that was helping clients fill in the DTC application was charging 30 percent. That's expensive.
AMT: That's right and what the suggested they could get as much as 50 thousand dollars back through the system.
JENNIFER ROBSON: That would obviously sound like a very appealing hook wouldn't it. And so if if we sort of think about that model and obviously if they're in business it sounds like there's a market for the service they're providing. I think we should be asking a good questions about do we want to run a system that is so complicated that people need fancy tax help in order to be able to claim and qualify for these benefits.
AMT: Good questions for us to ask the government officials responsible when they agree to talk to us. Jennifer Robson thank you for speaking with me today it's important to hear your voice.
JENNIFER ROBSON: Thank you.
AMT: Jennifer Robson Associate Professor of Political Management at Carleton University. She joined us from Ottawa. That's our program for today's day with radio 1 for q. Host Tom Power is speaking with the acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson. He's a bestselling author. He's previously examine the lives of great thinkers such as Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin. His new book explores the creativity and diverse passions of Leonardo da Vinci. So Walter Isaacson on Leonardo da Vinci with Tom Power today on Q. Now earlier we spoke with two Assyrians concerned about the safety of their communities both in their homelands and in the new places they call home. We're going to leave you today with an Assyrian singer Linda George. She dedicated her song 'Hayir' meaning help to those in need and suffering across the Middle East. Will leave you with that. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.
[Song: Hayir by Linda George]
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