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GAAR Did Not Apply In Respect of Capital Gains Allocated to Minor Beneficiaries of a Family Trust

On March 21, 2012 the Tax Court of Canada issued judgment in the decision of McClarty Family Trust et al v. The Queen. The Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) had applied the general anti-avoidance rule (the “GAAR”) in section 245 of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) to re-characterize capital gains reported by the McClarty Family Trust (“MFT”) as taxable dividends. However, the Court agreed with the appellants’ submissions that the transactions in issue were undertaken primarily for the purpose of placing Darrell McClarty, the father of the minor beneficiaries of the MFT, beyond the reach of creditors and allowed the appeal.

The Minster’s argument was that pursuant to a series of transactions, Darrell McClarty was able to split business income with his minor children in a manner that avoided the tax on split income in section 120.4 of the Act (as it existed in 2003 and 2004).

Darrell McClarty was the owner of all of the issued and outstanding Class A voting shares of McClarty Professional Services Inc. (MPSI). The MFT owned all of the issued and outstanding Class B, non-voting common shares. MPSI, in turn, owned 31% of Projectline Solutions Inc., which earned business income from the provisions of geotechnical engineering services.

In 2003 and 2004, the MFT received stock dividends consisting of Class E common shares of MPSI. The Class E shares had low paid-up capital and a high redemption value. After the Class E shares were received by the MFT, the MFT sold them to Darrell McClarty for fair market value, realizing capital gains. The capital gains were then distributed to the minor beneficiaries of the MFT, and thereby not subject to tax under section 120.4 of the Act.

Through a series of loans between Darrell McClarty, MPSI and the MFT, Mr. McClarty ended up owing $104,400.37 in outstanding promissory notes to the MFT and the MFT had outstanding promissory notes in the amount of $96,000 owned to its minor beneficiaries. The Minister argued that the creditor protection objectives were essentially ineffective and that the circular flow of loans disguised the true intention of the plan, which was to distribute funds to minor beneficiaries in a manner that would not subject them to the tax on split income in section 120.4.

However, the Court accepted Mr. McClarty’s evidence that he was motivated to protect assets from his former employer, who was a potential judgment creditor in relation to allegations of improper use of software belonging to the former employer. The Court also agreed that because of the liabilities of Mr. McClarty and the MFT noted above, the creditor protection objectives were achieved.

It was also argued that the protection from creditors would have been achieved simply by paying dividends to the beneficiaries of the MFT and therefore the declarations of stock dividends amounted to avoidance transactions. However, the Court accepted the Appellants’ argument that the transfer of wealth from MPSI was undertaken to provide protection from creditors without attracting significant tax costs. The transactions were not avoidance transactions because it was acceptable to undertake creditor proofing transactions in a manner that attracted the least possible tax. Furthermore, the transaction would never have occurred in the absence of the need to protect MPSI’s assets.

The Court therefore concluded that because there were no avoidance transactions under subsection 245(3) of the Act, there was no need to continue the analysis to determine if there was abusive tax avoidance. However it did note that to the extent that there was a gap in the legislation, which allowed for the distribution of capital gains to minor beneficiaries of a trust in a manner that was not taxable under section 120.4 of the Act, it was inappropriate for the Minister to use the GAAR to fill in the gaps.

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GAAR Did Not Apply In Respect of Capital Gains Allocated to Minor Beneficiaries of a Family Trust

Federal Court of Appeal Reserves Judgment in Transalta Corporation v. The Queen (Allocation of Goodwill in Arm’s-Length Transaction)

The Federal Court of Appeal heard the appeal in Transalta Corporation v. The Queen (Court File No. A-350-10) on December 13, 2011 in Calgary. The panel consisted of Justices Evans, Layden-Stevenson and Mainville.

The case concerns the allocation to goodwill of $190 million of a $818 million purchase price paid by AltaLink LP (“AltaLink”) to Transalta to purchase an electricity transmission business.  The Tax Court (2010 TCC 375) partially upheld the application of section 68 of the Income Tax Act  (the “Act”) to re-allocate a portion of the amount allocated to goodwill to tangible assets, despite the fact that the goodwill amount was approximately the amount in excess of the amount that all parties accepted as the net book value of the business assets and working capital.

On appeal, the Crown maintained its argument that not everything that increases the price of a business above its net book value must be regarded as goodwill, since goodwill is a distinct asset of the business with a value.  The Crown argued that the owners of a business would not receive any additional benefit from items such as a skilled employee force.

Transalta argued that the Tax Court had erred by adopting a new test for goodwill as something other than the established residual definition, i.e., the value of a business in excess of its realizable assets.  The test adopted by the Tax Court would require undue and costly subjective analysis and would be commercially unworkable.  Furthermore, one side of a transaction would usually be unaware of the reasons that another party would pay an amount in excess of the realizable value of the business assets.

Transalta argued that where sophisticated arm’s-length parties have agreed to an allocation, for the purposes of section 68 of the Act, there should effectively be a shift of the onus to the Minister of National Revenue to demonstrate that the allocation was not reasonable.  Translta argued that the test for section 68 should be whether a reasonable business person would have agreed to the allocation, having only business considerations in mind.  This would extend the test in Gabco Ltd. v. The Queen (68 DTC 5210), which is well-established as the test for the purpose of section 67 of the Act.

At the conclusion of the parties’ submissions, the panel reserved judgment.

The taxpayer’s Memoranda of Fact and Law are here and here.

The Crown’s Memorandum of Fact and Law is here.

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Federal Court of Appeal Reserves Judgment in Transalta Corporation v. The Queen (Allocation of Goodwill in Arm’s-Length Transaction)

Tax Court of Canada: The GAAR Does Not Apply to Disallow Deduction of a $5.6 Million Business Loss

On October 28, 2011 the Tax Court of Canada released Judgment and Reasons for Judgment of the Honourable Justice Judith Woods in Global Equity Fund Ltd. v. Her Majesty The Queen, 2011 TCC 507.  Global Equity Fund Ltd. (“Global”) had appealed the application of the General Anti-Avoidance Rule (the “GAAR”) by the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) to disallow the deduction of a $5,600,250 business loss incurred on the sale of shares in a private corporation.

The Court found that the loss was produced after Global subscribed for shares of a new subsidiary corporation, which then issued preferred shares to Global which were redeemable and retractable for $5,600,250 but had a paid up capital of $56 and which resulted in an income inclusion of $56.  The stock dividend had the effect of reducing the fair market value of the shares of the new subsidiary to a nominal amount but did not affect Global’s adjusted cost base in those shares.  Global then disposed of the common shares to a newly settled family trust at a loss in the amount of $5,600,250.

The Court did not accept Global’s argument that the transactions leading up to the loss were implemented for creditor protection purposes.  Accordingly the Court held that a number of transactions in issue were avoidance transactions within the meaning of subsection 245(3) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”).

The Court also noted that this case was similar to two recent decisions of the Tax Court of Canada where similar strategies were used by other taxpayers to create capital losses. In both cases (Triad Gestco Ltd. v. The Queen, 2011 TCC 259 and 1207192 Ontario Ltd. v. The Queen, 2011 TCC 383) the Tax Court upheld the application of the GAAR to deny the losses.  The Court noted that both of these decisions are under appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal.

However, in Global’s case the Court was not prepared to accept the Crown’s argument that the object and spirit of the provisions of the Act identified by the Crown evidenced a policy to disallow losses realized within an economic unit to real losses.  The Court held that Parliament did not intend that the object and spirit of provisions identified by the Crown which targeted capital losses were intended to inform as to the object and spirit of the provisions relied upon by Global in the facts of this case.

Relying on the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Canada Trustco Mortgage Co. v. The Queen (2005 SCC 54), Justice Woods held that the provisions in the Act relied upon by Global to produce the losses had not been misused and she was also unable to discern a general policy from these provisions that restricted business losses in the manner suggested by the Crown.  The Tax Court rejected the Crown’s argument that there was a general restriction against the deduction of artificially-created business losses.  For all of these reasons the Tax Court held that the Minister had not met the onus of establishing abusive tax avoidance under subsection 245(4) of the Act and allowed the appeal.

[Note: The author, along with Jehad Haymour of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, acted as counsel for Global – Ed.]

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Tax Court of Canada: The GAAR Does Not Apply to Disallow Deduction of a $5.6 Million Business Loss