Let’s talk about doctor’s pay

Doctors have been given benefits under incorporation in lieu of receiving wage hikes and that’s not right. Doctors are on both sides of the issue. The Canadian Medical Association has come out against any changes to these benefits while 450 doctors signed an open letter to Finance Minister Morneau in favour of tax reform.

  Dr. Rita McCracken supports tax reform. Photo: Huffington Post

The existing tax system allows for the questionable practice of “income sprinkling” where family members are paid even when they don’t contribute to the doctor’s business. In Ontario, children and spouses are allowed to be paid as members of doctor’s corporate boards.

Doctor practices are unlike other small business. They operate private businesses while being paid through the public healthcare system.

Some doctors are uncomfortable the existing breaks. Dr. Hasan Sheikh says:

“There is nothing unique about a physician’s work that makes income sprinkling okay for them and not for others (Globe and Mail Sept. 22, 2017.)”

As usual, proposed tax changes are political fodder. Some premiers have condemned them, even though the details have yet to be released. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister calls them “class warfare.” Nova Scotia Premier Stephan McNeil worries about the ability to attract doctors and small business to the province. B.C. Finance Minister Carole James concerns are more nuanced:

“I certainly believe in closing tax loopholes, I believe that’s important, but I also don’t believe there was good consultation done.”

That’s Morneau’s failing. He announced the changes in the downtime of summer and faces a storm brewing in the fall. Only now is he consulting provinces.

One of the doctors in favour of tax reforms is Dr. Ritika Goel. The existing system doesn’t even benefit all doctors fairly:

“So, for example, if you have a single mother who is a physician she would be paying higher tax rate than a mother with a spouse that she’s able to income sprinkle and we don’t believe that’s fair (CBC’s The Current, Sept. 19, 2017).”

Another doctor is opposed to the changes. While acknowledging the issue of tax-fairness, she is bitter about existing compensation. Dr. Brenna Velker told The Current:

“I think that as physicians, you know, we all understand that those who make more money need to pay more tax, that’s how society works. The problem that I think a lot of us are running into is that we’re feeling really beat down. So, any of the forms that I fill out and of the phone calls that I make, or you know, e-mails, or anything like that, any other communication with my patients is unpaid. You know, it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Doctors deserve fair wages. They are dedicated and hard working. They incur more student debt and they start earning money later in their career.

“Let’s stop talking about propping up a broken tax system that benefits some Canadians and not others based on the title of their profession and not the nature of it,” adds Dr. Sheikh.

Instead of granting doctors dubious tax breaks, they should be given appropriate pay and benefits that dignify their profession.


Solitary confinement is torture

Canada’s dirty little secret is out. We torture one out of every four federal prisoners for no good reason. Sure, solitary confinement doesn’t seem like torture on the scale of, say, waterboarding but the effects are devastating.


Nelson Mandela reflects in his memoir: “I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one’s mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything.”

Torture serves no purpose other than dehumanize its victims. Waterboarding was supposed to save lives by extracting valuable information from the enemy but much of the information was useless because victims will say anything to stop the torture. Solitary confinement is supposed to protect prison staff and other inmates but instead, they become unstable and a greater risk to themselves and others.

People in solitary confinement for long periods report a degradation of the mind, says Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail. “They lose themselves, and their power to think. They become, weirdly, both hostile and lethargic. They give in to despair.”

In a recent editorial titled Cruel And Usual Punishment, the Canadian Medical Association says: “Long-term effects include impaired memory, confusion, depression, phobias and personality changes, which may affect the offender’s ability to successfully reintegrate into society upon release.”

Just as torturing victims fails get at the truth, torturing prisoners by solitary confinement is not improving the likelihood of reintegration. And do we really want former inmates less stable when they leave prison then when they entered?

Prisons are overrepresented by the mentally ill. If the intention of solitary confinement is to demonstrate the error of an inmate’s ways, it’s not working. They are being driven insane, or more likely, increasingly insane.

One-half of all federal prison suicides are while in solitary confinement. Some of them are prominent such as the case of Edward Snowshoe and Ashley Smith. However, most of those who are driven to take their own lives by solitary confinement remain face anonymity.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told parliament that Canada’s solitary confinement policies are “fully aligned with Western countries’ modern practices.”

If only it were true. Most civilized countries are trying to reduce the use of long-term solitary confinement.  In Denmark, confinement is limited to four weeks. In the U.S., it’s subject to court challenges. In Britain, long-term solitary confinement is rare. “The number of people who are in what we can really call solitary confinement is four,” said Sharon Shalev, a research associate at Oxford University’s Centre for Criminology. All the while, use of long-term solitary confinement in Canada is increasing.

Britain is a signatory to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The UN’s special rapporteur on torture, is harshly critical of countries that use solitary confinement for periods of longer than 15 days, saying it was “subject to wide abuse” around the world and caused “harmful psychological effects” among inmates.

The BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada have launched a constitutional challenge to the use of solitary confinement in Canadian federal prisons. I, for one, will be supporting it.