In June of 2018, John Konecny packed his belongings into a beat-up, blue canoe at the public docks in Whitby, Ont. and set off for Ottawa. The retired teacher was on a mission to test the limits of Canada’s tax laws.
Konecny has been moving between the two cities for work for the past 30 years. During the school year, he worked as a full-time teacher with the Toronto District School Board, and in the summers, he taught summer school with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
This arrangement had been going on since 1989 after he and his wife moved from Ottawa to Toronto when his wife received a promotion with the Royal Bank of Canada. Assuming they’d eventually move back to Ottawa, Konecny kept his hat in the Ottawa school board ring by teaching summer school.
“The Ottawa summer school experience was keeping me active with all of the people hiring, and the higher-ups all tended to do summer school because they had the opportunity,” Konecny says.
Each time he moved from Whitby to Ottawa and then Ottawa back to Whitby, Konecny would deduct the moving expenses on his taxes. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) allows tax payers to deduct moving expenses if they are moving 40 kilometres closer to work.
The expenses were accepted for years and even survived an audit in 1994. Konecny claims that the CRA employee who performed the audit even called him and said: “I’m allowing what you’re doing because ever since our constitution, we’ve been trying to promote mobility in our work force. No school board is paying your moving expenses, so that’s why the government allows you to deduct between cities.”
But this all came crashing down in 2011 when the CRA suddenly rejected Konecny’s deduction of $1,400 for moving expenses. “They threw the book at me,” he says.
Konecny took the case to Canada’s Tax Court, challenging the CRA’s decision. The judge, however, told Konecny that he was on a working vacation and had not taken necessary steps like changing his driver’s license or banking information. Konecny’s expenses were denied, and he was left with $3,000 in court fees.
“The fact is, in reality, there are nuances. There are people every day being told that they can’t deduct moving expenses. And then there are people doing the exact same thing and they’re being told they can. That drove me crazy,” he says.
Instead of deterring Konecny from attempting future moves, the experience inspired him. During the 2011 ruling, the Tax Court judge asked Konecny if he thought he could make the move in a canoe. “He was sincerely asking. He was prodding me on my opinion of the tax law,” Konecny says.
As a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek message to the government, Konecny took the question seriously. In the preceding years, he made the move from Whitby to Ottawa by biking and by walking, claiming the moving expenses. Finally, in 2018, he took the judge up on his question and made the move in a canoe.
Departing from Whitby in June, Konecny travelled through five of Ontario’s Provincial Parks, including Darlington, Presqu’ile, Sandbanks, Charleston Lake, and Murphy’s Point, arriving in Ottawa just in time for Canada Day. When filing his taxes, he deducted expenses like the provincial parks’ fees, food—the fuel required to power the canoe—and ice for his insulin. “One of the things I claimed that no one has claimed in Canadian history is firewood,” Konecny says. The deductions totaled $838.30.
Konecny received a letter from the CRA at the beginning of November informing him that his moving expenses had been accepted. While the success was validating, he didn’t do it as a way of undermining the tax system. “I support a tax system where we share the wealth,” Konecny says. “I would like to say I’m working with [the CRA] for the benefit of all future moving Canadians.”
Konecny retired from full-time teaching this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to give up the moves. He continues to supply teach, and he plans on testing the limits of the tax law further with different modes of travel.
“Next year, it’s going to be a total winter theme,” he says. “No one has used a dogsled. I’d like to test that.”