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The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) has gone through a number of organizational changes over the past few years. For many years, disclosures were made to the local Tax Services Office. More recently, the CRA has moved the handling of disclosures to Regional Centres; Shawinigan – Sud Tax Centre for the Atlantic, Quebec, and Ontario Regions, Winnipeg Tax Centre for the Prairie Region and Surrey Tax Centre for the Pacific Region.

With the move of the VDP to Regional Centres, the CRA has implemented a new screening process. Screeners are now reviewing disclosure packages soon after receipt and are comparing the package to a CRA developed checklist. If any item on the checklist is missing or incomplete, then the CRA returns the package to the sender, along with a covering letter and a checklist that identifies the missing or incomplete information. There are, however, certain issues that have arisen with respect to the CRA’s screening process and use of the checklist.

First, it prevents a disclosure from being made by a taxpayer who does not have a social insurance number, business number, etc. If an identification number is not available, the disclosure may need to be made on a no-names basis while the taxpayer applies for an identification number.

Second, the CRA will not accept a disclosure if the amount in issue is not identified. This is problematic as, often, disclosures are made before the work needed to calculate the omitted or under-reported amount has been completed. In the past, this information was forwarded within 90 days of filing the disclosure and was an approach acceptable to the CRA.

Third, where the disclosure package is large, screeners do not appear to be reviewing all of the documents before issuing the letter and checklist. Therefore, it is advisable to use a covering letter for each disclosure package which identifies compliance with each item on the CRA’s checklist and a detailed explanation as to why any checklist item is outstanding. It is not yet clear whether, even upon explanation, the CRA will accept a disclosure if a checklist item is outstanding.

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The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

Provincial Income Allocation: Salaries and Wages to Include All Taxable Benefits

In the Provincial Income Allocation Newsletter No. 4 (March 2013), the Canada Revenue Agency notes that the Allocation Review Committee (“ARC”) has changed its position on amounts previously excluded in calculating “salary and wages paid in the year” for provincial income allocation purposes:

Effective for the 2013 tax year, the amount of salaries and wages paid in the year for the purpose of provincial income allocation calculations will include all taxable benefits that are to be included in the employees’ income in the year. This includes deemed amounts such as stock option benefits under section 7 of the Income Tax Act (Canada), regardless of whether these benefits are deductible in calculating the employer’s income.

Corporations having a permanent establishment in more than one province will need to consider the ARC’s change in position when preparing their next income tax return.  Applying the previous year’s method of calculation salaries and wages may fail to include all of the amounts now required to be included in the calculation.

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Provincial Income Allocation: Salaries and Wages to Include All Taxable Benefits

Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection

Since 1995, the Large Corporation Rules found in subsections 165(1.11), 169(2.1) and 152(4.4) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) have applied to discourage large corporations from objecting to tax assessments as a means of keeping tax years “open”. In Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 94, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s tax appeal on the basis that it failed to comply with the Large Corporation Rules. Basically, these rules require that an objection fled by a large corporation must reasonably describe each issue to be decided and, for each issue, must specify the relief sought as the amount of change in a balance. The rules also limit the issues and relief sought in a subsequent appeal to those set out in the objection. The locus classicus on the interpretation of these provisions is the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc., 2003 FCA 471.

In Bakorp, the corporation owned shares of another corporation that were redeemed in 1992 for $338M. As the proceeds from the redemption were received over a number of years, Bakorp reported in 1995 the portion of the deemed dividend related to proceeds received in 1995. The Minister reassessed Bakorp’s 1995 tax year to reduce the deemed dividend from $53M to $25M, a reduction of $28M. The corporation objected to the Minister’s reassessment and the Minister confirmed the reassessment. The corporation then filed a Notice of Appeal taking the position that the $28M deemed dividend remaining in its 1995 income was actually received in 1993 and should be included in the corporation’s 1993 tax year, not the 1995 year.

The Minister was, no doubt, surprised by Bakorp’s position to reduce the 1995 deemed dividend to zero. In response, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s appeal, arguing that the issue and relief set out in the Notice of Appeal were not those set out in the Notice of Objection.

Bakorp argued that it had complied with the Large Corporation Rules because the issue in both its objection and appeal was, fundamentally, the amount of deemed dividend to be included in its 1995 income. The Court disagreed noting that it could not “imagine a fuller reconstruction than making a 180 degree turn in what is to be included in income.” In the Court’s view, applying such a general approach to identifying the issue would render the Large Corporation Rules meaningless. In respect of specifying the relief sought, the Court was not prepared to accept that a complete reversal from wanting $53M included in income to wanting nothing included in income could be seen as complying with the Large Corporation Rules.

As a notice of appeal has been filed with the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court’s reasoning will not be the last word in this particular matter. However, it is safe to say that the Bakorp decision is a timely reminder that large corporations must take particular care in preparing a Notice of Objection. Failure to do so may seriously impact a later appeal to the Tax Court of Canada.

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Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection

Foreign-based Requirement Under Section 231.6 of the Income Tax Act Upheld by the Federal Court

The Canada Revenue Agency had an important win this week in its efforts to access information outside of Canada.  On March 20, 2013, the Federal Court issued its decision in Soft-Moc Inc. v. M.N.R.  2013 FC 291, dismissing Soft-Moc’s judicial review application to have the CRA’s decision to issue a Foreign-Based Information Requirement set aside or varied.

The CRA has broad powers to access information related to the determination of a taxpayer’s tax obligations.  Under subsection 231.6 of the Income Tax Act, these powers include the issuance of a Foreign-Based Information Requirement to obtain information or documents located outside of Canada.

In Soft-Moc, the CRA was conducting a transfer pricing audit and sought information from corporations in the Bahamas who provided services to Soft-Moc.  These corporations and their individual Bahamian resident shareholder owned 90% of the common shares of Soft-Moc.  The CRA issued a Foreign-Based Information Requirement to Soft-Moc under subsection 231.6(2) of the Income Tax Act.

The Requirement requested substantial amounts of information related to the Bahamas Corporations including extensive details of the services provided, customers, financial statements, costs and profits and employee data.  Soft-Moc applied for judicial review of the decision to issue the requirement.

Primarily, Soft-Moc argued that the information requested went well beyond that necessary to enable the CRA to complete the transfer pricing audit and that the decision to issue the requirement was, therefore, unreasonable.  Soft-Moc argued that a portion of the information requested was irrelevant and that some portions were confidential or proprietary.

The Court was not sympathetic to Soft-Moc’s arguments, noting the wide-ranging statutory powers of the CRA to collect information and the low threshold to be met in determining whether the requested information is relevant and reasonable.

This win, which was not surprising in light of the Federal Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in Saipem Luxembourg S.A. v. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, 2005 FCA 218, will encourage the CRA to continue to use foreign-based requirements more frequently and earlier in the audit process.

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Foreign-based Requirement Under Section 231.6 of the Income Tax Act Upheld by the Federal Court