Nunavut and Canada's most populous province have agreed to take part in a federal initiative to ensure the viability of Canada's organ and tissue donation system.
Ontario and Nunavut have agreed to the addition of a question to income tax returns asking filers for permission to share contact information with provinces and territories.
When people in those jurisdictions mark a box on the form, provincial governments will send those people information about how they can register for organ and tissue donation.
"Donation rates have been improving in Canada, but more work needs to be done," said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a media statement.
"Initiatives like this one are key to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation … and ensure Canadians have timely and effective access to quality organ and tissue donation services wherever they live across the country."
Only 35 per cent of Ontario residents registered
While those who tick the box will get information about organ and tissue donation, doing so does not sign them up as organ donors.
The federal government says the initiative is necessary because less than a quarter of Canadians are registered organ and tissue donors. Advocates say that's not enough to ensure all Canadians who need a donation get one.
Be A Donor, an Ontario-based organ and tissue donation advocacy organization, says that while up to 35 per cent of Ontarians are registered, medical needs are not being met.
"Today, in Ontario, there are about 1,400 people waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant," the group's website says. "This is their only treatment option, and every three days someone will die because they did not get their transplant in time."
Be A Donor said every donor can save up to eight lives and improve the quality of life for up to 75 additional people.
An organ and tissue shortage
The group is in the midst of a campaign to register 120,000 more organ donors in Ontario by April 1, 2023. So far, the campaign has signed up a little over 61,000 new donors.
Be A Donor says that the Ontario community with the lowest registration rate is Markham, with a registration rate of 16 per cent, while the jurisdiction with the highest registration rate is Russell, Ont, where 60 per cent of residents are registered.
Of the 170 jurisdictions ranked, the bottom ten are dominated by communities in and around Toronto, which has a donor registration rate of just 25 per cent. Others include Mississauga (22 per cent), Ajax (24 per cent), Richmond Hill (18 per cent) and Brampton and Vaughn (17 per cent).
"Through this new collaboration, we hope to get Ontarians the information they need to make an informed decision about becoming an organ and tissue donor," said Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones in a media statement.
People in Ontario who agree to receive information through the 2022 income tax return will have their names and email addresses shared with the provincial government.
People in Nunavut will see their names, email and postal addresses shared with their regional governments.
Diane Lebouthillier said governments realize that more work is needed to address the shortage of donations and increase the potential of saving lives.
"We are committed to collaborating with provinces and territories to implement this initiative, as early as possible, for all provinces and territories that want to opt in," said Lebouthillier.
More provinces needed, Tory MP says
CRA's move to share information with the provinces was made possible by C-210, a private member's bill introduced by Len Webber, a Conservative MP from Alberta who represents the riding of Calgary Confederation.
Webber, whose bill received royal assent last year, told CBC News that the legislation was designed to make organ donation easier. He said more provinces need to sign on.
"I am disappointed more provinces did not step forward to make it happen this year," he said. "I have, and will continue, to lobby the provinces and territories that chose not to participate to ensure they will in the future.
"Every province has people dying while waiting for a life-saving transplant. We need to get everyone participating and there is no reason not to participate."
The tax program stands in contrast to steps taken in Nova Scotia, which implemented the country's only presumed consent organ donation program through legislation that took effect in mid-January, 2021 in an attempt to improve donation rates.
Under Nova Scotia law, people are presumed to agree to donate their organs when they die unless they opt out. There is also an option to proactively register a wish to donate.