Award-wining Canadian author Varda Burstyn suffers from environmental sensitivities. The more than one million Canadians diagnosed with environmental sensitivities (also called multiple chemical sensitivities) experience strong, adverse effects when exposed to mold toxins and various chemicals, such as flame retardants and fabric softeners, found in our homes and workplaces. For people with environmental sensitivities, exposure to these chemicals can lead to major health harms such as chronic illnesses and reproductive and neurological disorders.

Medical experts believe the best treatment for this condition is to remove materials and products that contain certain chemicals from the home. Varda and her husband spent more than $200,000 to make their home a safe environment. In order to offset the cost, Varda applied for disability tax credits, which the government offers to people who need to retrofit their homes for medical reasons. But the Canada Revenue Agency rejected Varda’s claims, saying the alterations needed by people with environmental sensitivities do not qualify for the credit.

Ecojustice lawyers John Swaigen and Robert Peterson partnered with ARCH Disability Law Centre to help Varda bring her case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She argued that denying her disability tax credits violated her right, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, to be free from discrimination on the basis of disability. In 2012, Varda Burstyn won a confidential settlement from the Canadian government over discrimination related to her environmental sensitivities

Why was Ecojustice involved?

More than a million Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities. We were concerned that if the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal rejected Varda’s case, the Canada Revenue Agency would continue to discriminate against people with similar disabilities, making it financially impossible for them to take steps to protect their health.

We believe that it is important for the government to recognize that there is a link between the chemicals and pesticides that are approved and human health.

What does this victory mean?

Terms of the settlement are confidential, but we believe this case may prevent future discrimination against those with environmental sensitivities.