By Marvin Ross
Lembi Buchanan’s book is described by Dr David Goldbloom, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto as “an Erin Brokovitch style memoir”. In his Foreword, Murray Rankin who got to know Lembi when he was a Member of Parliament from Victoria and National Revenue critic in the House of Commons said:
Lembi’s memoir is a David and Goliath account of what a single, determined “accidental advocate” can achieve. While it is inspiring at that level, it is also a deeply personal story about the challenges of living with a person with bipolar disorder. Her love shines through as brightly as her tenacity.
Lembi set out to advocate for tax fairness for Canadians with disabilities over 20 years ago thinking that it would be an easy task. What she found was that “common sense and practical solutions do not prevail in government” What she encountered was “an obstructionist bureaucracy obsessed with balancing the budget, even when it meant denying a modest tax credit to the very people who need it the most. In order to achieve its goals, our government was systematically breaking the law and getting away with it.”
Canada has a disability tax credit which enables those with significant disabilities and their families to get some tax breaks to help make their lives easier. But, qualifying is no easy task. Over the years, the criteria have changed making it, at times, more difficult to qualify. Many doctors have even refused to fill out the necessary forms claiming that it would be senseless as their patient will be refused anyway.
The medical certificate that Lembi received from her husband’s psychiatrist was one of the subjects in her Tax Court case Buchanan VS the Queen, 2001. Not only did she win but she also successfully fought off an appeal by the Government. In that case, her husband’s psychiatrist appeared as a witness for the Crown and did not impress the judge. Her Honour, Judge Campbell stated that “To go on to state in writing that most of his patients will not qualify for the credit based on the information he provides is clear and blatant bias, and for this reason I conclude that he misapprehended his responsibilities in completing the form when he stepped into the shoes of judge and jury. In doing so he not only misinterpreted his role but misinterpreted the relevant sections of the Act as well.”
Today, doctors who refuse to fill out the tax form can be sanctioned by their regulatory college in Ontario at least.
Lembi has been fighting for over 20 years and is still fighting today with allies from a number of Canadian health groups. Her husband and her adult children are highly supportive of her efforts which were recognized when she was awarded with the Meritorious Service Medal for her contributions to Canada in 2016 by then Governor General David Johnston.
Aside from demonstrating that it is possible for a private individual to fight the government bureaucracy, this book is also a love story and an excellent description of the impact of bipolar disorder.
It was just before Christmas in 1972 when Lembi and Jim found themselves stuck at LaGuardia in New York waiting for the same flight to Toronto to visit family. Lembi admits to approaching the “very good looking, dressed impeccably in a Bill Blass suit, peach coloured shirt and a nice matching silk tie” man waiting for the flight in a standing room only crowd. They moved to the bar while they waited and when the flight was cancelled, they headed off to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch a Greyhound to Toronto together. That was the beginning of a relationship that has endured despite the ups and downs of Jim’s bipolar disorder that often threatened to sabotage their happiness.
The book is a must read on many levels and an inspiration to all. For more information, check out the book website at https://anaccidentaladvocate.ca/
An Accidental Advocate, Lembi Buchanan, Beresford Press, ISBN 978-1738947621 Distributed by Ingram and available from your favourite bookstore.