Nearly 2.5 million Canadians sign up as organ donors, thanks to tax form change

Nearly 2.5 million Canadians have indicated they want to be organ and tissue donors, thanks to a Conservative private member’s bill that lets people tick a box on their annual tax return.

The question appeared on forms for the first time this past tax season in Ontario and Nunavut and 2,450,000 Canadians have declared they want to be donors, said Calgary MP Len Webber, the sponsor of Bill C-210.

“I was shocked. I had no idea that it would be the number that it is, as high as it was,” Webber told CBC News Thursday. “It’s fantastic.”

Webber said he hopes the high turnout from Ontario and Nunavut will encourage other provinces and territories to include the option on their tax returns as well.

The process works much like another option during tax season: when filing, a person can consent to allow the CRA to send their current address to Elections Canada to ensure it’s up to date.

In this case, once someone has agreed to be an organ donor, their updated contact information is sent to the registry in their province or territory to finalize their registration.

The change to tax forms aims to increase the low number of Canadians who are signed up to be donors.

Less than 25 per cent of people living in Canada are registered, according to the federal government. That’s despite the fact that 90 per cent of Canadians say they support organ donation, according to Canadian Blood Services. 

A close up photo of Conservative MP Len Webber.
Calgary Conservative MP Len Webber hopes the high turnout from Ontario and Nunavut will encourage other provinces and territories to include the organ donor option on their tax forms. (Monty Kruger/CBC News)

Webber notes some of those 2.45 million people may have signed up to be donors in their respective provinces before. He said he’s hoping to find out later how many new donors the tax forms have brought in.

He also said he hopes using tax forms will ensure people who have previously signed up are on the correct registries.

“If you move from one province to the next, you will be asked the question during tax season in your new province or new territory,” Webber said. “The ability to keep you on the registry or put you on a new registry, the tax form is the perfect venue for that.”

Unanimous support

Webber’s legislation passed in June 2021 with unanimous support from all political parties.

“It shows we can do great things when we work together. The impact of this change is significant,”said Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of national revenue and a supporter of the legislation.

Bibeau was responding to a question from Webber in the House of Commons on Thursday about how many people had participated during the 2022 tax season. The exchange across party lines led to a standing ovation.

Private members’ bills tend to be hard to pass because they are given less priority than government legislation, and are chosen for debate based on a lottery system.

Webber has spent years working to get his bill passed.

Webber began advocating for organ donation after his wife passed away from cancer in 2010. Before coming to Ottawa, he helped establish Alberta’s donor registry in 2013 as a member of that province’s legislature.

According to Canadian Blood Services, more than 4,000 Canadians are waiting for lifesaving transplants. Hundreds die every year waiting.

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