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Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

In Brent Kern Family Trust v. The Queen (2014 FCA 230), the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal with reasons delivered from the bench. The taxpayer had argued that the decision of Canada v. Sommerer (2012 FCA 207) should not apply in this case and, in the alternative, that Sommerer was wrongly decided and ought not to be followed.

Brent Kern Family Trust was a case in which the taxpayer undertook a series of transactions whereby a taxpayer (Mr. K) completed an estate freeze for two corporations (the underlying facts are described in detail in the Tax Court decision (2013 TCC 327)).

Following the estate freeze, two family trusts were set up each with Mr. K and his family as beneficiaries as well as each trust having a separate corporate beneficiary. Next, each of the trusts subscribed for common shares in the corporate beneficiary of the other trust.

Once the structure was in place, a dividend was flowed through the structure and, as a final step, one of the trusts paid funds to Mr. K but relied on the application of subsection 75(2) of the Act to deem the dividend income received by the trust to be income in the hands of one of the corporate beneficiaries. Accordingly, if subsection 75(2) of the Act applied, the income would not be subject to tax as a result of section 112 of the Act and Mr. K could keep the gross amount of the funds.

In the decision rendered at trial, the Tax Court held that Sommerer case applied and subsection 75(2) of the Act did not apply on the basis that the trust purchased the property in question for valuable consideration and no “reversionary transfer” occurred.

In Brent Kern Family Trust, the Court of Appeal found that there was no reviewable error in the trial judge’s finding that Sommerer applied, that the Court of Appeal in Sommerer “spent considerable time analyzing the text, content and purpose of subsection 75(2)”, and no reviewable error had been brought to the Court’s attention in the present case.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal and upheld the Tax Court’s decision.

We note also that at least one taxpayer has brought an application in a provincial court to correct a transaction where the taxpayer never intended for Sommerer to apply. In Re Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 405), the B.C. Supreme Court rescinded two dividends, the effect of which was to eliminate the tax liability in the trust. Re Pallen Trust is under appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

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Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

Brogan Family Trust: CRA Not Entitled to Notice of Rectification Application

Is the CRA entitled to notice of a rectification application?

In Brogan Family Trust (2014 ONSC 6354), the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said “no”, and dismissed the Crown’s motion to set aside an earlier rectification order on the basis that the CRA had not been notified of the proceeding.

In Brogan, the taxpayer had restructured his business and settled a trust for family tax planning purposes in 2004. Subsequently, in 2010, the trustees became aware of an error in the trust agreement that prevented the distribution of trust property to intended minor beneficiaries. The trust made an application for rectification of the trust agreement so that the trust property could be distributed as intended. The trust’s tax litigation counsel advised that no notice to the CRA was required.

The rectification application proceeded in November 2010. Shortly before the rectification order was granted, the trust sold a business. In its 2010 tax return, the trust allocated the proceeds to the beneficiaries, who in turn reported the income in their returns.

The CRA commenced an audit of the sale of the business and the trust in June 2012, at which time it became aware of the 2010 rectification order that had corrected the trust agreement. In August 2012, the CRA was provided a copy of the rectification order. And then in May 2013, the CRA brought its motion for an order setting aside the 2010 rectification order.

The Court considered three issues:

  1. Did the CRA bring the motion “forthwith” after learning of the rectification order?
  2. Did the CRA have standing to bring the motion?
  3. Should the CRA have been notified of the rectification application?

The Crown argued that (i) the delay was not inordinate because there had been internal confusion at the CRA in respect of the rectification order, (ii) the CRA was a creditor and thus was affected by the rectification order, and (iii) the CRA’s own view and the custom among tax litigators is that the CRA should be given notice (see, for example, Income Tax Technical News No. 22, at pg. 6).

The taxpayer argued that (i) the CRA’s 10-month delay was unreasonable and not “forthwith”, (ii) the CRA was not affected by the rectification application, and (iii) in any event, there was no requirement the CRA be notified of the rectification application.

The Court agreed with the taxpayer and dismissed the Crown’s motion.

The Court stated that the CRA was not a creditor and thus was not affected by the rectification order. The Court contrasted the current case with Snow White Productions Inc. v. PMP Entertainment Inc. (2004 BCSC 604), in which the rectification proceeding had been launched in response to an adverse ruling by the CRA and it was thus appropriate for the CRA to receive notice and participate (see also Aim Funds Management Inc. v. Aim Trimark Corporate Class Inc. (2009 CanLII 29491 (ON SC)).

On the issue of delay, the Court stated that the CRA had not brought the motion forthwith. The 10-month delay was the fault of the CRA, and even after the rectification order was referred to counsel, it still took two months for the motion to be launched.

And finally, on the issue of whether notice should be provided to the CRA, the Court stated that it had been directed to no authority on the point that the CRA should be given notice, nor on the point that notice is required if the CRA is not a creditor. The Court was not persuaded that providing notice to the CRA was the practice of tax litigators, and nor was it the law.

Rather, in the Court’s view, the delivery of a Notice of Assessment creates rights for the CRA to participate in a rectification proceeding as a creditor (see, for example, Canada (A.G.) v. Juliar ((2000) 50 O.R. (3d) 728 (C.A.) (a case on which Dentons was counsel for the successful taxpayer)).

The Court concluded as follows:

[22] … the CCRA is only required to be given notice of a proposed rectification proceeding when the CCRA’s legal interests might be directly affected by the outcome of the rectification proceeding, such as where the CCRA is a creditor and the rectification would affect its rights. Otherwise, the CCRA might be made a party when so advised by counsel that notice should be given to the CCRA.

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Brogan Family Trust: CRA Not Entitled to Notice of Rectification Application

Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Tax Professionals Groups Breakfast Seminar (November 6, 2014)

On November 6, 2014 at the Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Tax Professionals Breakfast Seminar, representatives from the CRA provided an update on the Income Tax Rulings Directorate (“Rulings”) and discussed current topics of interest.

Income Tax Rulings Directorate Update

Mickey Sarazin, Director General of the CRA’s Income Tax Rulings Directorate in Ottawa, presented on recent developments at Rulings.

Mr. Sarazin noted that 10 years ago Rulings received approximately 500 ruling requests whereas today Rulings receives approximately 120 requests each year. As a result, there is an increased effort to engage with not only taxpayers but also the Department of Finance, Department of Justice, internal CRA employees, various accounting and legal professional organizations.

The slides from Mr. Sarazin’s presentation are available here.

Folios - In March 2013, 11 folios were published, which took approximately two years to draft and finalize. Ruling has partnered with the Canadian Tax Foundation and CPA Canada to increase the number and timeliness of Folios. Currently, there are 38 additional folios at the draft stage.

National Capacity Building Forums – Rulings is providing taped video sessions or webinars for all CRA employees in order to educate and raise awareness of certain tax issues and subjects. Attendees also include individuals from the Department of Justice and Revenue Quebec.

Pre-Rulings Consultations – This initiative was announced on November 26, 2013 at the Roundtable session at the 65th Annual Tax Conference of the Canadian Tax Foundation held in Toronto, Ontario. The initiative allows taxpayers to meet with Rulings to discuss potential transactions before a formal ruling application is filed. Although only 6-7 requests were received in the first nine months of the program, in the past three months 21 requests were received. Of these 21 requests, 17 have been concluded. In nine of the 17 requests, the CRA responded that a favourable ruling would not be issued.

Technical Capacity/Satellite Offices – Rulings is continuing efforts to hire new staff and reallocate existing staff. Rulings is also establishing satellite offices to attract new employees. For example, Rulings has recently established a presence in the Toronto Centre TSO and the North York TSO. In future years, Rulings expects that it will grow its presence in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

Stakeholder Engagement -In conjunction with CPA Canada, Rulings has established a framework for consideration of current issues. Seven committees have been struck under the framework:

  • Service Committee (i.e., how to improve services provided to taxpayers);
  • Compliance Committee (i.e., how to address early conflicts between auditors and taxpayers before the appeals stage);
  • Tax Administration Committee (i.e., dealing with flaws in the legislation);
  • SR&ED Committee (i.e., all issues relating to the scientific research and experimental development tax incentives);
  • HST/GST/Excise Committee (i.e., all issues relating to these areas of the law)
  • Training Committee (i.e., hiring new talent and training auditors)
  • Red Tape Committee (i.e., focusing on increasing efficiencies at a national level)

Current Topics of Interest

Vitaliy Anissimov, Industry Sector Specialist, Income Tax Rulings Directorate, discussed several topics that had been addressed in the CRA Roundtable at the recent APFF conference in Montreal (we expect that the full questions/answers will be published by the CRA in the future).

The slides from Mr. Anissimov’s presentation are available here. A general summary of some of the issues discussed is as follows:

  • In response to the interest deductibility discussion in Swirsky v. The Queen (2013 TCC 73), the CRA noted that as long as there is a reasonable expectation that a corporation will pay dividends then interest can be deducted on loans to acquire common shares of that same corporation (see paragraph 31, of IT-533). Each case will, however, be decided on its own facts.
  • The CRA’s position on the use of average exchange rates has not changed for the purposes of gains or losses on account of income (see CRA Document No. 2014-0529961M4 ” Capital gains on property in foreign currency” (June 10, 2014)).
  • The CRA noted that interest paid by a trust on a note issued by it to a beneficiary in settlement of a capital interest of the beneficiary in the trust is not deductible by the trust for the purposes of calculating its income under 20(1)(c)(ii) of the Act because there is no income-earning purpose;
  • In response to D&D Livestock v. The Queen (2013 TCC 318), which allowed a taxpayer to take into account twice the amount of safe income in the context of subsection 55(2) of the Act, the CRA noted that it would consider using GAAR in this type of case where there is a duplication of tax attributes by the taxpayer.
  • Subsection 98(3) would not apply where a partnership ceases to exist as a result of an acquisition by a single partner of all partnership interest. The requirements of subsection 98(3) would not be met in this type of case.
  • The CRA will consider the reasonableness of maintaining surplus accounts in a particular currency on a case by case basis (see also Regulation 5907(6) and section 261 of the Income Tax Act).

 

Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Tax Professionals Groups Breakfast Seminar (November 6, 2014)

McKesson: Taxpayer Seeks to Raise Additional Issue on Appeal

“Judges are expected to decide cases as framed by the parties, then step back and allow the appellate process to unfold. In this case, the trial judge did neither.”
- Taxpayer’s Supplemental Memorandum of Fact and Law

The transfer pricing case of McKesson v. The Queen has raised procedural issues that are without precedent in Canadian tax cases. This week, those procedural issues became a central part of the matters that will be considered by the Federal Court of Appeal.

In a Notice of Motion (and other materials) filed this week, the taxpayer has asked for a new trial before the Tax Court.

Background

McKesson is a case involving transfer pricing adjustments under section 247 of the Income Tax Act (Canada) in respect of the factoring of accounts receivable as well as the limitation period in Article 9(3) of the Canada-Luxembourg Tax Convention. The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

After the taxpayer had commenced an appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal, Tax Court Justice Patrick Boyle recused himself (2014 TCC 266) from the two remaining issues before the lower court (i.e., costs and the content of the Tax Court’s public file) on the basis that the taxpayer had, in its materials filed in the Court of Appeal, accused of him of bias (see our previous post here).

Notice of Motion

On November 3, the taxpayer filed a Notice of Motion in the Federal Court of Appeal for leave to file (i) an Amended Notice of Appeal, and (ii) a Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law. In its Motion, the taxpayer states that Justice Boyle’s reasons for recusal raise a further ground of appeal in addition to those already set out in the original Notice of Appeal. The proposed Amended Notice of Appeal and Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law address the following additional ground of appeal:

Do the trial judge’s Recusal Reasons compromise the appearance and reality of a fair process in this case such that a new trial is necessary?

Specifically, the proposed Amended Notice of Appeal states,

8. The Trial Judge’s Reasons for Recusal dated September 4, 2014 interfere with the fairness of the appellate process and compromise the appearance and reality fairness of both the trial and appeal.

The taxpayer has also hired additional counsel in respect of the motion, namely Henein Hutchison LLP, a Toronto-based litigation law firm.

Taxpayer’s Arguments

The taxpayer’s Written Representations in support of its Motion argue that the recusal reasons were directed at the Court of Appeal and have compromised the fairness of the case. The taxpayer argues that this “improper intervention” has compromised the integrity of the appeal process.

The taxpayer’s Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law states that the trial judge’s “intervention in this appeal was ill-advised and improper”. The taxpayer argues that the trial judge should have remained “above the fray” and should not have “put himself into the appellate arena”.

The taxpayer characterizes the recusal reasons as a “post-hoc attempt to justify to an appellate court a decision given many months earlier” [emphasis in original]. The taxpayer states that the “Recusal Reasons are nothing less than an explicit attempt by the trial judge to insert himself into the appellate process as an advocate against the Appellant and its lawyers.”

The taxpayer argues that the recusal reasons must be considered part of the record in the case before the Federal Court of Appeal. A new trial would, in the taxpayer’s view, give it “an opportunity to make its case at trial, free of the unfairness that has now tainted this proceeding.”

The taxpayer also argued that the recusal reasons have undermined the solicitor-client relationship, and retrospectively reveal the trial judge’s disposition against the taxpayer.

The taxpayer has requested that the appeal be allowed and the matter remitted to the Tax Court for a new trial before a different judge.

*     *     *

The Crown has not yet filed its response to the taxpayer’s Notice of Motion.

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McKesson: Taxpayer Seeks to Raise Additional Issue on Appeal

Maddin: Failure to Inquire Leaves Director Liable

In Maddin v. The Queen (2014 TCC 277), the taxpayer was a director of a corporation in the marble and granite industry (the “Corporation”) which failed to remit nearly $300,000 of source deductions related to salaries, wages and other remuneration paid to employees. The sole issue before the Tax Court was whether the taxpayer could make out a due diligence defence under subsection 227.1(3) of the Income Tax Act (Canada).

For earlier blog posts on directors’ liability see our blog posts here and here.

The evidence established that the taxpayer intended to play a limited advisory role in the Corporation. Mr. Barker, another director, was in charge of managing the daily operations of the Corporation. However, the Tax Court also noted the following additional facts:

  • The taxpayer was in the office 2-3 days a week;
  • The taxpayer was familiar with the Corporation’s business structure, its banking operations and the accounting systems;
  • The taxpayer executed various letters on behalf of the Corporation;
  • The taxpayer had a close relationship with the initial bookkeeper and communicated with her generally throughout the period at issue;
  • When a new bookkeeper (the mother of another director) was hired, the taxpayer was aware that she did not necessarily understand the bookkeeping systems; and
  • The taxpayer knew of the Corporation’s financial difficulties.

Ultimately, the Tax Court held that these factual circumstances should have prompted Mr. Maddin to inquire into the financial health of the Corporation. Mr. Maddin did not exercise the appropriate standard of care, diligence and skill required of a director to avoid being held personally liable for the unremitted source deductions.

This case is another reminder that the Courts will, in general, hold directors to a relatively high standard of conduct. In order to successfully argue a due diligence defence, directors involved in the business must take active steps to inquire into the financial state of affairs and communicate regularly with staff to obtain reports that source deductions are being remitted in a timely manner.

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Maddin: Failure to Inquire Leaves Director Liable

Guindon: SCC Hearing Scheduled for December 5, 2014

The highly-anticipated appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in Guindon v The Queen has been scheduled for hearing on December 5, 2014, and the parties have now filed their factums in the appeal.

For our prior posts on this decision, refer to our summary of the Tax Court decision (2012 TCC 287), our guest blogger’s summary of the Federal Court of Appeal decision (2013 FCA 153), and our summary of the Supreme Court leave application (Docket No. 35519).

The Appellant’s (Ms. Guindon’s) Factum is available here, and the Respondent’s (Crown’s) Factum is here.

The appeal concerns the “third party” penalties under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act.  In short, the Tax Court found that the penalty imposed under section 163.2 is a criminal penalty, not a civil one, and therefore subject to the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Federal Court of Appeal reversed on the basis that Ms. Guindon did not provide notice of a constitutional question, and thus the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction to make an order on the nature of section 163.2.  In any event, the Federal Court of Appeal also stated that the penalty under section 163.2 was not criminal in nature, and hence, was not subject to Charter protections.

Taxpayer’s Arguments

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Ms. Guindon has framed her appeal as follows: based on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Wigglesworth and Martineau, section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter on the basis that section 163.2 is (1) an offence provision “by nature” and (2) an offence provision by virtue of its true “penal consequences”.

In addition, if section 163.2 is an offence provision, then Ms. Guindon argues that her section 11 Charter rights were breached in a manner that cannot be justified under section 1 of the Charter (applying the Oakes test).

Finally, Ms. Guindon asserts that a notice of constitutional question did not need to be filed in this case, since she was not seeking a declaration that section 163.2 was unconstitutional, but was rather merely asserting her Charter rights (and in the alternative, if notice of constitutional question was needed, Ms. Guindon argues that no prejudice resulted to the Crown and the Supreme Court can simply replace the lower court’s decision with its own).

Crown’s Arguments

The Crown, not surprisingly, has focused its primary argument on the fact that no notice of constitutional question was made by the taxpayer.  Accordingly, the Crown argues that the Supreme Court should dismiss the appeal on that basis alone and need not consider the substantive issues.

Alternatively, the Crown argues that section 163.2 is not an offence provision “by nature”, as its objects are purely administrative, the purpose of the penalty is to deter non-compliance under the Income Tax Act, and the process by which to challenge the penalty (i.e., the objection and appeal process under the Act) is not criminal in nature.

Moreover, the Crown asserts that section 163.2 does not impose true “penal consequences”, since (i) prosecution could have resulted in harsher sanctions (including prison time), and (ii) the magnitude of the penalty must be assessed in the context of the malady it intends to remedy (notwithstanding the lack of a penalty “ceiling”).  If the Supreme Court finds that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter, then the Minister will not seek to uphold it under section 1 of the Charter.

Potential Implications

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s finding on the issue regarding the notice of constitutional question, it would be surprising if the Supreme Court did not consider the substantive issue – it would be puzzling for the Court to grant leave and consider only the preliminary question. Accordingly, even if Ms. Guindon’s appeal fails on technical grounds, we expect the Court to offer much-needed guidance on the nature of section 163.2.

If the Court determines that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter (regardless of its finding on the “notice” issue), we can expect the Department of Finance may consider amendments to 163.2 (and the parallel provision under the Excise Tax Act) in a manner that takes into account the Supreme Court’s reasons.

The Court’s decision will also have implications for the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”).  Section 285.1 of the ETA imposes a similar planner/preparer penalty for GST/HST purposes. At the CPA Commodity Tax Symposium in Ottawa (held on September 29 and 30, 2014), the CRA announced that it had recently issued the first penalty under section 285.1 of the ETA.

And for both the ITA and ETA, we expect there may be other potential penalty reassessments issued – or not – depending on the result of the Guindon case.

For these reasons, we eagerly await the hearing on December 5, 2014 and the Court’s subsequent decision.

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Guindon: SCC Hearing Scheduled for December 5, 2014

Foreign Charities and the Changing Landscape of CRA Charity Audits

There has been a flurry of recent scrutiny and activity in the areas of foreign and domestic charities – few foreign charities remain on the list of qualified donees since the changes to the definition of “qualified donee” in the Income Tax Act, and the CRA’s Charities Directorate appears to have taken a keen interest in the political activities of certain domestic charities.

Donors and charities would be prudent to monitor these developments and obtain professional advice where necessary.

Foreign Charities

Before 2013, a “qualified donee” under the Income Tax Act automatically included those foreign charities to which the Canadian government had made a gift in previous years (within a certain timeframe). However, that changed when the definition of qualified donee was amended to include only those foreign organizations that have applied to the CRA for registration, which would be granted if the foreign charity received a gift from the Canadian government and the CRA was satisfied that the foreign charity is carrying on relief activities in response to a disaster, providing urgent humanitarian aid, or carrying on activities in the national interest of Canada.

The CRA website lists only one foreign charity that has been registered – The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The CRA website also lists those organizations that had received gifts from the Canadian government before the changes to the definition of qualified donee.

Political Activities and CRA Charity Audits

The foreign charity changes occurred around the same time the CRA Charities Directorate increased its “political activities compliance efforts”. In general, charities are restricted from engaging in or supporting political activities unless those activities are wholly subordinate to their other charitable purposes. The CRA’s administrative position is that a charity must devote less than 10% of its total resources in a year to political activities.

The CRA focus on charities and political activities sparked many media articles raising the issue of whether the CRA’s auditing practices were themselves inherently politically-motivated (see articles here, herehere and here).

Cathy Hawara, the Director General of the CRA’s Charities Directorate, has denied accusations that these charity audits were politically motivated (see Ms. Hawara’s speech to the CBA Charity Law Symposium on May 23, 3014). The CRA also publicly stated that recent audits of charities were intended to focus on all types of charities and not only those with certain political inclinations. Further, the CRA has recently published a Charities Program Update which (among other things) aims to increase the transparency of its audits in the charitable sector and provide guidance as to how audits for charities involved in political activities are conducted. However, at the same time, the CRA has publicly stated that it will not divulge the guidelines for political activity audits of charities.

The controversy surrounding the CRA’s audit selection process persists. On September 15, 2014 a letter signed by 400 academics was released, demanding that the CRA halt its audit of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (“CCPA”). This letter was sent in response to the release of a CRA document obtained by the CCPA pursuant to an access to information request wherein the CRA states the reason for audit as follows: “A review of the Organization’s website… suggests that the Organization may be carrying out prohibited partisan political activities, and that much of its research/educational materials may be biased/one-sided.”

In their letter, the academics counter that “critical policy analysis does not equate with political activism, nor is it ‘biased’ or ‘one-sided’.” They argue that there is legitimate concern that charities are now self-censoring to avoid aggravating auditors and this audit activity will stifle sound, effective, and legitimate research.

On October 20, 2014, the Broadbent Institute released a report that adds further momentum to the speculative argument that the CRA is less interested in compliance and more interested in politically-motivated retribution against government critics (see also here).

The report highlights 10 “right-leaning” charities that have apparently escaped CRA audit, despite making public statements that may indicate that such charities are carrying out political activities without reporting them. The report concludes by suggesting that an impartial inquiry into the CRA’s audits of charitable organizations is the only way to come to a clear conclusion on this controversial matter.

The message is clear. The CRA is increasing scrutiny on political activities in the charitable sector. Charities should take active steps to ensure that they are compliant with applicable legislation.

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Foreign Charities and the Changing Landscape of CRA Charity Audits

Federal NFP Corporations Act: What’s Next?

Companies incorporated under the Canada Corporations Act (Part II) were required to be continued under the new Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act on or before October 17, 2014.

Industry Canada has published a Q&A on the next steps for those entities that have not yet continued under the new Act.

A company that has not yet completed its continuance may do so after the deadline, provided that Corporations Canada has not dissolved the company.

Corporations Canada will be sending a “Pending Dissolution Notice” to a company that has failed to continue to inform the company that it has 120 days to transition. Companies that do not complete the transition before the end of the 120-day notice period will be assumed to be inactive and will be dissolved.

Registered charities that are required to be continued under the new Act should consider the steps required to advise the Canada Revenue Agency of the continuance and any changes to the charity’s constating documents.

Any company that intends to be continued under the new Act should consult a professional advisor about completing the continuance as soon as possible.

Federal NFP Corporations Act: What’s Next?

Tax Court: Mini Storage Not a “Small Business”

The small business deduction (“SBD”) is a tax-preference provided to certain privately-held Canadian corporations, and only in respect of certain types of income. More specifically, the SBD provides for a reduction of the rate of federal income tax on the first $500,000 of active business income earned in Canada by a “Canadian-controlled private corporation”, in accordance with the rules established in the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”). The provinces generally offer a similar rate reduction, although the threshold below which the rate applies may vary.

The definition of “active business carried on by a corporation” in subsection 125(7) of the Act excludes a business that is a “specified investment business” (“SIB”). In general, this prevents a corporation from accessing the SBD where the principal purpose of the corporation’s business is to derive income from property, subject to limited exceptions.

In 0742443 B.C. Ltd. v. The Queen (2014 TCC 301), the Tax Court considered whether the taxpayer’s business of providing mini-storage and associated services was a SIB.

The Crown’s position was that the taxpayer clearly earned income from property – the storage units were rented out for a fee based on an established schedule, and the presence of some ancillary services did not change this principal purpose. The taxpayer disagreed, arguing that it was providing numerous services akin to those provided by a hotel, which is generally understood to be a services business and not a SIB.

The taxpayer’s counsel argued that the Crown’s assumptions were fundamentally misguided. Further, the rules in the Act permitting (and denying) the SBD were ambiguous, and such ambiguity should be given a liberal interpretation in favour of the taxpayer (i.e., the legislation should be read with the assumption that the intention of Parliament was to enable taxpayers to access the deduction wherever possible).

In a thorough analysis, the Tax Court disagreed with the arguments put forth by the taxpayer. The Court held that the income was clearly rent. The entire pricing structure of the taxpayer’s business was from monthly rental income based on the size of a storage unit rented. While the taxpayer was commendable in his efforts to give clients a positive experience, this did not change the nature of the business. In the words of the Court: “a few services to a few customers does not change the inherent nature of income from property”. The Court also concluded that there is no ambiguity in the relevant legislation.

In addition, the Court rejected the taxpayer’s assertion that it should succeed in the appeal because it had been treated unfairly by the Crown, specifically in respect of the Respondent’s “bad and misleading pleadings”. The Court noted that pleadings are often imperfect but that does not necessarily prejudice the other side or impede that side’s ability to understand the case that needs to be met. There were some concerns regarding the pleading of the assumptions in the Crown’s Reply, but the issue was clear, the parties knew what the case was about, evidence was properly led, and the Court was able to determine the correctness of the assessment.

The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

Tax Court: Mini Storage Not a “Small Business”

B.C. Supreme Court Rescinds Land Transfers

In Re 0741508 BC Ltd and 0768723 BC Ltd  (2014 BCSC 1791), the British Columbia Supreme Court (“BCSC”) considered whether rescission should be granted in respect of two real estate transactions in which the applicant corporations had transferred several parcels of land to a partnership.

The transactions were undertaken as part of a proposed commercial development of the land. The parties intended – in accordance with industry practice – that there would be no net GST/HST payable on the land transfers (i.e., the GST/HST payable would be offset by an input tax credit).

However, the partnership was not registered for GST/HST purposes under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) and accordingly the input tax credit was not available. The CRA audited members of the corporate group and reassessed nearly $6 million in GST/HST and penalties.

The parties brought an application to the BCSC for rescission of the transfers (i.e., to effectively put the property back in the hands of the selling corporations).

The application was opposed only by the CRA, which argued that rescission should not be available as the mistake in question was not related to the purpose of the transaction but only its consequences. In Gibbon v Mitchell ([1990] 1 W.L.R. 1304 (Ch.), a U.K. court held that rescission would be granted for a mistake where “the mistake is as to the effect of the transaction itself and not merely as to its consequences or the advantages to be gained by entering into it”. Similar reasoning was followed by the Ontario court in 771225 Ontario Inc. v Bramco Holdings Co Ltd. ([1994] 17 O.R. (3d) 571 (Gen. Div.)), which held that an assessed land transfer tax “was a consequence of the transaction, rather than its purpose, and therefore the case did not fall within the strict confines of the rule for granting relief.”

In considering whether to exercise its discretion to order equitable rescission, the BCSC cited McMaster University v Wilchar Construction Ltd. ([1971] 3 O.R. 801 (H.C.)):

In equity, to admit of correction, mistake need not relate to the essential substance of the contract, and provided that there is mistake as to the promise or as to some material term of the contract, if the Court finds that there has been honest, even though inadvertent, mistake, it will afford relief in any case where it considers that it would be unfair, unjust or unconscionable not to correct it.

In the present case, the BCSC noted that, in Re: Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 305) the court had rejected Gibbon and instead relied on the test adopted in the U.K. Supreme Court decision in Pitt v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs ([2013] UKSC 26) to determine whether to rescind a voluntary transaction.

Equitable rescission, under Pallen, would be available where there was a “causative mistake of sufficient gravity” as to the “legal character or nature of the transaction, or as to some matter of fact or law which is basic to the transaction” such that it would be unconscionable, unjust or unfair not to correct the mistake.

The BCSC noted that, in the transactions at hand, the intention of the parties had always been that the partnership would be registered under the ETA so that no net GST/HST would be payable. This was distinguishable from Bramco, where there had never been a specific intention to minimize the applicable tax.

The BCSC reiterated the principle set out in McMaster and Pallen that “if there has been an honest, even though inadvertent mistake, equity will afford relief in any case that the court considers that it would be unfair, unjust, or unconscionable not to correct it” and held that it would be unfair and unjust for either Canada and/or the Province to gain over $6 million plus accruing interest solely because of a mistake in not registering under the ETA.

The BCSC granted the rescission and held that there was “no adequate legal remedy available, the petitioners are not seeking to carry out retroactive tax planning, and there is no prejudice to third parties.”

The Court did not explicitly consider whether the mistake met the threshold of being of sufficient gravity as to the legal character, nature of the transaction, or as to some matter of fact or law which is basic to the transaction.  Presumably, the punitive and negative results of the transaction were sufficiently grave – that is, the mistake about the fact as to whether ETA registration had been completed was sufficiently grave – that the Court found rescission should be granted.

Pallen has been appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal.  It will be interesting to see if the present case is appealed as well.  Either way, the equitable doctrine of rescission continues to develop in the context of unintended tax consequences.

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B.C. Supreme Court Rescinds Land Transfers