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Gordon: CRA May Not Fetter Discretion on Interest Relief Application

In Gordon v Canada (Attorney General) (2016 FC 643), the Federal Court granted the taxpayer’s application for judicial review and reminded the CRA that it may not fetter its discretion when considering applications for interest relief.

The taxpayer, an individual, bought and imported vehicles using the dealer license of Coastal Collision, a local auto dealership. Both parties consulted their respective accountants, who advised the parties that Coastal Collision should collect and remit GST/HST on the auto sales.

Accordingly, in reporting periods from January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, Coastal Collision collected and remitted the GST/HST on all the vehicles sold in its arrangement with the taxpayer.

The CRA reassessed the taxpayer and Coastal Collision on the basis that the taxpayer was required to collect and remit GST/HST on the auto sales. The CRA reduced the GST/HST owed by Coastal Collision, and increased the taxpayer’s GST/HST owing to $46,650.84.

On October 27, 2011, the CRA refunded Coastal Collision’s overpayment, at which time the taxpayer paid a portion of his GST/HST owing, and paid the remaining amount on October 31, 2011.

The CRA assessed interest on the GST/HST assessed against the taxpayer.

The taxpayer made an application for interest relief in which he asked for cancellation of all interest accrued since 2008 except for the modest interest accrued from October 27 to 31, 2011, the period after the CRA refunded Coastal Collision and before the taxpayer had paid the full amount owing.

Under subsection 281.1(1) of the Excise Tax Act (see also subsection 220(3.1) of the Income Tax Act), the CRA may waive or cancel interest and penalties that have been assessed against a taxpayer. The CRA has published guidelines that describe the circumstances in which the CRA may grant relief (i.e., natural disasters, illness, emotional/mental distress, CRA delay, inability to pay/financial hardship, etc.) and certain factors to be considered on each application (i.e., taxpayer’s history of compliance, existence of unpaid balance, actions taken to remedy the omission, existence of reasonable care/diligence by taxpayer, etc.) (see the CRA’s guidelines here and here).

In Gordon, the CRA had denied the taxpayer’s request for interest relief on the basis that a “wash transaction” existed in this case (i.e., the GST/HST was collected and remitted by the wrong entity within a closely related group of commercial entities or associated persons), and the provisions of GST/HST Memorandum 16.3.1 “Reduction of Penalty and Interest in Wash Transaction Situations” allowed the waiver/cancellation of only that interest in excess of 4 percent.

On the application for judicial review in the Federal Court, the taxpayer argued that it was unfair to charge interest on payments that were at all times in the possession of the CRA, and the CRA had erred in refusing to grant relief. The Crown argued that the CRA had made no reviewable error in the decision, and moreover the decision was reasonable.

The Federal Court noted that fettering of discretion is always outside the range of acceptable outcomes and if therefore per se unreasonable (Stemijon Investments Ltd. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 FCA 299; JP Morgan Asset Management (Canada) Inc. v. M.N.R., 2013 FCA 250). A decision-maker may consider administrative guidelines, but a decision-maker will fetter his/her discretion if they consider the guidelines as binding (Waycobah First Nation v Canada (Attorney General) 2011 FCA 191).

In this case, the Federal Court noted the CRA had treated Memorandum 16.3.1 as binding, and as such the Minister had fettered her discretion. The CRA had failed to give any consideration to the taxpayer’s individual circumstances, including his history of compliance, the fact that GST/HST had been remitted promptly, and the error was not the result of any negligence on the taxpayer’s part (in fact, he had relied on professional advice).

The Federal Court granted the taxpayer’s application for judicial review, set aside the CRA’s decision, and returned the matter to the CRA for redetermination in accordance with the Court’s reasons.

The Gordon case is another reminder from the courts that the CRA’s administrative guidelines, while providing “consistency, transparency and fairness in the decision-making process”, are advisory only and the CRA may not rely on such guidelines in a manner that limits the discretion conferred under the statute.

Taxpayers who encounter such a response from the CRA on an application for interest relief may wish to remind the CRA of this important principle, as it has been the subject of several cases in recent years, and the courts have been clear about the role of such guidelines in the decision-making process.

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Gordon: CRA May Not Fetter Discretion on Interest Relief Application

CRA Creates New Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee

The CRA continues its efforts to strengthen tax compliance in Canada.

Following the CRA’s recent announcement of its efforts to crackdown on international tax evasion, the CRA announced the creation of a new Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee. From the CRA’s news release:

… The Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee (OCAC) will be composed of seven independent experts with significant legal, judicial and tax administration experience.

The members will provide input to the Minister and the CRA on additional administrative strategies for offshore compliance to build on the Budget 2016 investment.

The OCAC’s first meeting will be in spring, 2016, and its initial areas of focus will include:

  • Strategies to help alleviate and discourage offshore non-compliance;
  • Administrative policies being used by other tax administrations to address this global issue
  • Advice to the CRA in moving forward with its measurement of the tax gap;
  • Additional strategies and practices related to promoters of tax schemes; and
  • Potential ways to improve the CRA’s criminal investigation functions.

The OCAC will be chaired by Dr. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell is currently Associate Professor of Law at Western University and a published author on tax matters. The Committee’s Vice-Chair is Kimberley Brooks, Associate Professor of the Schulich school of Law at Dalhousie University. Ms. Brooks, a member of the Canadian Tax Foundation Board of Governors and a member of the International Fiscal Association, practiced law in Toronto and the United Kingdom.

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CRA Creates New Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee

CRA Provides Update on Efforts to Combat Tax Evasion

Following the release of the “Panama Papers” and the Canadian federal government’s budget announcement that additional resources will be directed to the CRA to collect existing tax debts and combat tax evasion, the CRA has provided an update on its “crack down on tax evasion and tax avoidance”.

The CRA stated that the first jurisdiction that will be investigated is the Isle of Man, which the CRA had identified as the recipient of CDN$860 million of electronic funds transfers by approximately 800 taxpayers. Additional jurisdictions and financial institutions will be included in a second investigative project starting in May 2016.

The CRA also announced several other aspects of its program including the hiring of new auditors/specialists, a focus on tax schemes targeted to wealthy taxpayers, investigations of high-risk multinational corporations, use of investigative tools and technology, larger investigation teams, international collaboration, and the formation of an independent advisory committee on tax evasion and aggressive tax planning.

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CRA Provides Update on Efforts to Combat Tax Evasion

Tax Court Introduces Common Books of Authorities Project

The Tax Court has implemented a new common books of authorities program for its Toronto courtrooms that will eliminate the need for taxpayers to print copies of certain frequently-cited (and lengthy) authorities. The pilot project will apply only to general procedure appeals in which both parties are represented by counsel.

Parties will not be required to include in their book of authorities those cases that are included in the Court’s list of 27 commonly-cited decisions (i.e., those on statutory interpretation, source, onus of proof, capital/income, GAAR, CPP/EI, etc.). However, the Court will require the parties to include in their book of authorities printed copies of the passages from those cases on which they intend to rely (rather that the entire decision). A list of the cases included in the Court’s common books of authorities is detailed on the Court’s Notice to the Public and the Profession (March 31, 2016).

The Tax Court stated that this pilot project may be expanded to other cities in the future.

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Tax Court Introduces Common Books of Authorities Project

CRA: Drones Depreciable at 25%

Aerial drones appear to have many commercial uses. If you use a drone in your business, you may be able to deduct capital cost allowance in respect of the drone.

In CRA Document 2016-0633111E5 “CCA Class of a Drone” (March 11, 2016), the CRA provided its views on the correct classification of a drone for the purposes of the capital cost allowance (“CCA”) provisions of the Income Tax Act.

Under the CCA provisions of the Act, a taxpayer may deduct an amount in respect of the cost of certain property used in a business. The classes of property and the applicable allowance rates are described in section 1100 and Schedule II of the Income Tax Regulations.

The CRA stated that, where the cost of a property qualifies for inclusion in the classes of property described in Schedule II, the specific class of the property is determined by reference to the specific functions of the property and the circumstances of its usage.

The CRA stated that “drone” is not defined in the Act or Regulations, but that the CRA understands that an aerial drone is a type of unmanned aircraft. The CRA also stated that the Canadian Aviation Regulations “describe aerial drones as a type of aircraft” (ed. note: we were unable to find a reference to “drone” in the Canadian Aviation Regulations, but the definition of “unmanned air vehicle” appears to include aerial drones).

Accordingly, in the CRA’s view, an aerial drone would be included in Class 9(g) (“an aircraft”) of Schedule II of the Regulations, which has a CCA rate of 25 percent of the undepreciated capital cost of the property in the class.

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CRA: Drones Depreciable at 25%

FC Dismisses JR Application for Delay

A party may bring an application pursuant to section 18.1 of the Federal Courts Act for review of a discretionary decision of a government board, commission or other tribunal.  Generally, the application must be made within 30 days of the decision.

In R & S Industries (2016 FC 275), the Federal Court dismissed a taxpayer’s application for judicial review of a discretionary decision of the CRA because the Court held that the taxpayer had missed the 30-day deadline and no extension of time should be granted.

In R & S, the taxpayer made some errors in a T2059 form in connection with a subsection 97(2) rollover of property to a partnership. The CRA reassessed, and the taxpayer objected.

The CRA Appeals Officer told the taxpayer that an amended T2059 must be filed in order to properly deal with the reassessment.  Accordingly, the taxpayer filed an amended T2059 pursuant to subsection 96(5.1) of the Income Tax Act, which allows a subsection 97(2) rollover election to be amended where “in the opinion of the Minister, the circumstances of a case are such that it would be just and equitable” to permit the taxpayer to amend an election.

A CRA officer (other than the Appeals Officer) denied the application under subsection 96(5.1) and various letters were sent to the taxpayer to that effect.  The Appeals Officer then confirmed the reassessment on the basis that the taxpayer’s request under subsection 96(5.1) had been denied.

When the taxpayer appealed the reassessment to the Tax Court, the Crown alleged that the Tax Court had no jurisdiction to review the CRA’s decision to reject the taxpayer’s application under subsection 96(5.1) to amend the T2059 because it was a discretionary decision of the Minister of National Revenue and not subject to an appeal to the Tax Court.

The taxpayer then commenced a judicial review application in the Federal Court on the basis that the decision under subsection 96(5.1) was both procedurally unfair and unreasonable. The Crown rejected both arguments and further argued that the application was out of time and no extension should be granted.

In dismiss the taxpayer’s application, the Federal Court stated that it was clear that the taxpayer had missed the 30-day deadline because there had been a lengthy delay from the date of the decision (January 31, 2014) to the filing of the application for judicial review (May 19, 2015).

The Federal Court refused to consider the subsequent correspondence between the taxpayer and the CRA as having created a later date on which the decision was communicated.

The Court did not accept the taxpayer’s argument that the character of the decision as an exercise of Ministerial discretion was not conveyed to the taxpayer until sometime after January 2014. Further, the Federal Court noted that the taxpayer had counsel throughout the process, and counsel was knowledgeable about the CRA’s decision-making process. The Court held that the CRA had no obligation to inform the taxpayer of the availability of judicial review of the discretionary decision.

In respect of an extension of time to file the application, the Federal Court held that the taxpayer had failed to establish that (i) it had a continuing intention to pursue the judicial review application, (ii) no prejudice arose to the Minister of National Revenue, (iii) there was a reasonable explanation to the delay, and (iv) there was merit to the application (see Exeter v. Canada, 2011 FCA 253).

Despite having found that the taxpayer was out of time to pursue a judicial review application, the Federal Court considered the taxpayer’s arguments in respect of the merit of the application, and held that the CRA’s decision was neither unfair nor unreasonable.

The appeal in the Tax Court continues. It is still an open question whether or not the Tax Court has jurisdiction to consider the taxpayer’s arguments regarding subsection 96(5.1) in the context of an appeal of the reassessment.

This case is an important reminder to tax professionals that if the CRA communicates a discretionary decision to a taxpayer, the appropriate relief is sometimes in Federal Court rather than Tax Court. Identifying and quickly responding to those discretionary decisions is key to preserving the client’s right to pursue a remedy.

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FC Dismisses JR Application for Delay

Taxpayers’ Ombudsman Addresses CBA Meeting

On January 27, 2016, Sherra Profit, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, addressed a meeting of the Canadian Bar Association Tax Section on the subject of assisting taxpayers in resolving their service complaints.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman handles individual complaints from taxpayers where he/she was not able to resolve a service complaint through the CRA’s internal process or if the complaint process hasn’t been tried and there are compelling circumstances for the Ombudsman to review it. Such compelling circumstances could include, for example, situations in which an auditor repeatedly contacts a taxpayer when the taxpayer has asked them to deal with their authorized representative, or unexplained delays by the CRA in processing a refund.

The Ombudsman’s mandate with respect to individual complaints is strictly on the service side, and no technical tax issues will be considered in the investigation.

The Ombudsman also handles systemic investigations in respect of which she reports directly to the Minister of National Revenue. Such investigations have addressed processing delays, or system-wide mistakes (i.e., a large number of individual taxpayers being erroneously classified as deceased in the CRA’s database). These systemic investigations could arise out of recurring complaints, requests from tax professionals, or otherwise.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman operates independent of the CRA and attempts to be impartial and fair in the review of service-related complaints. The Ombudsman is ultimately accountable to the Minister, not the CRA.  All information communicated to the Ombudsman through the complaint process is kept confidential, except to the extent a taxpayer gives consent to its release to assist the investigatory process.

Ms. Sherra also provided a list of tips for tax professionals for assisting their clients with service-related complaints:

  1. Manage the taxpayer’s expectations
  2. Use the CRA Service Complaints Program first, unless compelling circumstances exist
  3. Provide a signed consent to authorize a representative
  4. Submit detailed information

Contact information, if a complaint is contemplated, can be found on the Ombudsman’s website.

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Taxpayers’ Ombudsman Addresses CBA Meeting

Kruger: Appeal Allowed … Crown Awarded Costs

How should the Tax Court award costs where the taxpayer’s appeal was allowed but no changes were made to the assessment at issue?

This unusual situation was considered by the Tax Court in Kruger Incorporated v. The Queen (2016 TCC 14).

In the main appeal (2015 TCC 119, under appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal (A-296-15)), the Tax Court had allowed the taxpayer’s appeal on the basis that certain foreign exchange option contracts should be valued in accordance with subsection 10(1) of the Income Tax Act (see our previous post here). However, success in the appeal was divided because certain of the taxpayer’s other foreign exchange option contracts were to be valued on a realization basis, as assessed.

The Tax Court asked the parties to provide submissions on costs.

The taxpayer asked for costs on the basis that the appeal had been allowed. The Crown asked for costs on the basis that the result of the proceeding was substantially in its favour as to the amounts in issue and the determination of the issue.

Interestingly, after the Court’s decision allowing the appeal, the parties discovered that the underlying assessment would not change. The Tax Court called this an “anomaly”.

The Tax Court stated that, despite its decision allowing the appeal, the Crown was the successful party. The case law on costs cautions against awarding amounts based on the success of particular arguments (see, for example, General Electric Capital Canada Inc. v. The Queen (2010 TCC 490)). However, the Tax Court noted that this was not a case in which a party won a Pyrrhic victory, as each party had been successful to different degrees.

The Court considered the factors listed in section 147 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure), including the amounts in issue, the volume of work, the complexity of the matter, and the conduct of the parties. The Court noted that two of the Crown’s witnesses were of significant assistance to the Court.

The Court concluded that no rule prohibits a judge from distributing costs between the parties, although this is not encouraged. In this case, it was appropriate to recognize the Crown’s success.

The Court awarded costs to the Crown in respect of two witnesses, and 50 percent of all other costs. In the Court’s view, this was an unconventional but reasonable award.

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Kruger: Appeal Allowed … Crown Awarded Costs

Tax Court Establishes Motion Days in Toronto

The Tax Court of Canada has established a pilot project for regular motion days in Toronto for the period of February to September 2016. The Court will review the initiative in September 2016. The project may be expanded to other cities.

The first motion day is scheduled for Monday February 22, 2016, followed by Monday March 21 and Tuesday March 29. Subsequently, motions will be scheduled every first and third Monday through to the end of September. If the motion day falls on a statutory holiday, the motion day will be scheduled the following week.

The Court also reminded the public and counsel of the Court’s practice for the requirements and scheduling of motions under the General Procedure, as described in the Court’s Practice Note No. 2 (amended).

Tax Court Establishes Motion Days in Toronto

CRA Ends Political Activities Audit Program for Charities

On January 20, the CRA announced that its controversial political activities audit program for charities has been wound-down.

From the CRA news release:

The results of the political activities audit program have shown substantial compliance with the rules regarding charities’ involvement in political activities. In light of these outcomes, the political activities program will be concluded once the remaining audits have been finalized.

Our Government’s commitment to openness and transparency includes providing more information on the regulation of charities to the public and the charitable sector in a timely manner and in ensuring the engagement of the sector. In order to achieve this, Minister Lebouthillier also announced that the CRA will publish an annual report to provide the public with more information about its activities and its contribution to an effective regulatory framework for registered charities.

Minister Lebouthillier is committed to engaging with key stakeholders and has asked CRA’s Charities Directorate to find ways to further clarify the rules governing a registered charity’s involvement in political activities. Details of the consultations will be made public as they become available.

See our previous posts on the political activities audit program here and here.

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CRA Ends Political Activities Audit Program for Charities