23 June 2008

Harper Government mines Citizens' Tax Data

Am surprised this story has not received more play in the blogosphere.

To buttress its position that salaries for federal judges are generally higher than the income they earned as lawyers in private and public practice, the Justice Department took the unprecedented step of giving the Canada Revenue Agency a list of the names of 627 judges the federal cabinet appointed to the bench between 1995 and 2007.

The agency was able to match 567 of those judges to their tax records as lawyers, and provided the Justice Department with an aggregated version of the information, with no names attached. A consultant used the data to calculate what the department claimed was an indication of the average increases in salaries and benefits lawyers received after they became judges.

Several aspects of this story should disturb Canadians:

  • that Canada's tax agency would make such refined aggregated data available
  • that the federal government would solicit the CRA to provide such data
  • the assumption that judges should be paid no more than lawyers

First, the excuse used by the CRA that the data was aggregated doesn't wash, not given how few citizens' names would get caught in the data mining. The practice raises questions regarding how refined a search the Agency will accept.

Second, regardless of the federal government's legal footing in this matter, the ethics of this approach to salary negotiations merits questioning, not least because the Harper Conservatives ran in 2006 on an ethics and accountability platform.

Finally, why should it strike anyone as odd that judges' incomes would improve over the incomes they made as lawyers? Granted, there's a strong cynicism on the part of the public concerning the legal profession. However, it makes no sense that someone who holds such a position of responsibility as a judge would be paid equal to or less than other players in the courtroom.

Recommend this post