Under subsection 118.5(1) of the Income Tax Act, an individual taxpayer may claim a tax credit in respect of certain qualifying tuition fees. Pursuant to paragraph 118.5(1)(a), the following requirements apply: (i) the student must be enrolled at an educational institution in Canada; (ii) that educational institution must be a university, college or “other educational institution”; and, (iii) the educational institution must provide courses at a post-secondary school level. Tuition credits may be transferred to a parent or grandparent under section 118.9 of the ITA. (See also Income Tax Folio S1-F2-C2 “Tuition Tax Credit” (March 2013)).
In Van Helden v. The Queen (2014 TCC 196), the taxpayer had claimed the tuition credit in respect of fees paid for weekly private piano lessons for his two daughters.
In an earlier case (Tarkowski v. The Queen (2007 TCC 632)), the Tax Court had determined that the Mississauga School of Music was an “educational institution” for the purposes of subsection 118.5(1), and the relevant music courses were “at a post-secondary school level” because a Grade 12 high school credit was a prerequisite to taking these courses.
In Van Helden, the taxpayer argued that, just as the Mississauga School of Music was found to be an “educational institution” in Tarkowski, the private instructors in this case should be found to be educational institutions.
However, the Tax Court disagreed and dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal (see also Kam v. The Queen (2013 TCC 266)). The Tax Court cited the Parliamentary debates (from 1961) regarding the intent and scope of the term “educational institution” and stated:
 In conclusion, the original intent of the tuition credit was to make post secondary education more accessible to students by lessening their financial burden. Although subsection 118.5(1) should be interpreted broadly, it is clear that Parliament did not intend that the provision should apply to fees which students paid for private piano lessons at an instructor’s home.