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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

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?

Beware of Tax Phishing Scams

We have recently become aware (again) of fake emails purporting to emanate from the CRA and informing the recipient that he/she has received an Interac email money transfer (i.e., a surprise refund).

Generally, the text of these emails is as follows:

Dear TaxPayer,

Canada Revenue Agency has sent you an INTERAC e-Transfer
 (previously INTERAC Email Money Transfer).

Amount: $827.71 (CAD)
Sender’s Message: A message was not provided
Expiry Date: 10 October 2014

Action Required:
To deposit your money, click here: [fake URL here]

2014 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Online Support

These are scam emails and the recipients should never open any attachments or links that may accompany or be embedded in the emails.

The CRA has previously warned about these types of phishing scams:

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) warns all taxpayers to beware of telephone calls or emails that claim to be from the CRA but are not. These are phishing and other fraudulent scams that could result in identity and financial theft.

People should be especially aware of phishing scams asking for information such as credit card, bank account, and passport numbers. The CRA would never ask for this type information. Some of these scams ask for this personal information directly, and others refer the taxpayer to a Web site resembling the CRA’s, where the person is asked to verify their identity by entering personal information. Taxpayers should not click on links included in these emails. Email scams may also contain embedded malicious software that can harm your computer and put your personal information at risk.

Examples of recent telephone scams involve threatening or coercive language to scare individuals into pre-paying fictitious debt to the CRA. These calls should be ignored and reported to the RCMP (see contact information below).

Examples of recent email scams include notifications to taxpayers that they are entitled to a refund of a specific amount, or informing taxpayers that their tax assessment has been verified and they are eligible to receive a tax refund. These emails often have CRA logos or internet links that appear official. Some contain obvious grammar or spelling mistakes.

These types of communication are not from the CRA.

More information is available the CRA’s Security webpage.

Recipients of these scam emails should report the email to info@antifraudcentre.ca or contact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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Beware of Tax Phishing Scams

Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

Most tax rectification cases address situations in which a professional advisor has made a mistake in the planning and execution of a transaction with the result that an unintended tax consequence follows (i.e., payment of a capital dividend at a time when the company did not have a sufficient balance in its capital dividend account).

These are the relatively simple cases. However, in certain situations, the taxpayer and the CRA may take a different view on the interpretation and effect of a document, which could lead to an unintended tax result. Does the doctrine of rectification operate in these situations?

This was the situation considered by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kaleidescape Canada Inc. et al. v. Computershare Trust Company of Canada et al. (2014 ONSC 4983), in which the Court was asked to determine whether the parties intended that a company remain a Canadian-controlled private company (“CCPC”) for the purposes of obtaining certain scientific research and development tax credits under the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”).

The Court granted the rectification, and Kaleidescape is a helpful case for those situations in which the “mistake” in a transaction arises as a result of competing interpretations of a parties’ document(s).

Facts

Kaleidescape Canada Inc. (“K-Can”) was a research and development company in Waterloo, Ontario. Under the Act, a CCPC is a Canadian corporation that is not controlled by a public company or a non-resident (or a combination of such persons). K-Can was structured as a “deadlock” corporation so that it would not be controlled by a non-resident and therefore would qualify as a CCPC.

From 2006 to 2008, K-Can’s shareholdings were restructured. In 2008, K-Can shares were owned by Kaleidescape Inc. (“K-US”), a Delaware company with head offices in California, and Kaleidescape Canada Employment Trust (the “Trust”). Computershare Trust Company of Canada (“Computershare”) became the sole corporate trustee. A Restated and Amended Trust Deed was entered into with K-Can as the settlor and Computershare as the sole trustee.

K-US and Computershare held equal voting rights. Additionally, a unanimous shareholders agreement relieved K-Can’s directors of their powers and conferred those powers on the shareholders. There was no provision to resolve a deadlock, and neither the shareholders nor directors had the right to make unilateral decisions.

K-Can received notices from the CRA advising that, in its view, K-Can was not a CCPC for the tax years ending December 31, 2008 and December 31, 2009. As a result, K-Can’s federal SR&ED and Ontario ITCs were denied. The CRA’s position was that the combined effect of the provisions of the Restated and Amended Trust Deed was to give a non-resident authority to direct Computershare how to vote its shares of K-Can, such that a non-resident controlled K-Can and the definition of CCPC was not met.

In response to the CRA’s reassessments, K-Can and Computershare entered into a “Deed of Rectification”, which revised the wording of Restated and Amended Trust Deed to protect K-Can’s CCPC status.

At the rectification application hearing, the Applicants argued that their common and continuing intention at all times was to structure and operate the company in a manner that would establish and preserve its CCPC status. The Respondent argued that the Applicants could not prove common intention, did not admit that a mistake had been made, and could not show the precise form of a corrected document that would express their prior intention.

Decision

In its analysis, the Court cited only two non-tax cases dealing with rectification (Performance Industries Ltd. v. Sylvan Lake Golf and Tennis Club Ltd. (2002 SCC 19) and Shafron v. KRG Insurance Brokers (Western) Inc. (2009 SCC 6)). (For tax rectification cases see Juliar v. Canada (A.G.) ([2000] O.J. No 3706), 771225 Ontario Inc. et al. v. Bramco Holdings Co. Ltd. et al. ([1995] O.J. No 157), McPeake v. Canada (A.G.) (2012 BCSC 132)Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v. Canada (A.G.) (2014 ABQB 15), and Re: Pallen Trust (2014 BSCS 305)).

Turning the facts of the current case, in several short paragraphs the Court stated that, on the entire record and history of the Applicants, the intention throughout was to ensure that K-Can – as an R&D body, with no other functions than research and development – qualified for CCPC status and the relevant research tax credits.

The Court held that wording chosen in the Restated and Amended Trust Deed was chosen by mistake and did not give K-US de jure control over K-Can. In respect of the proposed correction, the Deed of Rectification corrected the mistake in the original wording. The Court stated that Deed made it clear that the decision-making body was the board of directors and that the trustee was only to accept a direction in written form.

The Court granted the rectification sought by the Applicants.

 

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Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

Finance Releases Annual Financial Report for 2013-14

The Department of Finance has released the “Annual Financial Report of the Government of Canada Fiscal Year 2013–2014″. Highlights include:

  • The Government posted a budgetary deficit of $5.2 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014, down from a budgetary deficit of $18.4 billion in 2012–13.
  • Revenues increased by $15.0 billion, or 5.9 per cent, from 2012–13, reflecting increases across all revenue streams. Program expenses increased by $2.4 billion, or 1.0 per cent, as increases in major transfers to persons and other levels of government were offset in part by a decrease in direct program expenses. Public debt charges were down $0.7 billion, or 2.3 per cent.
  • Direct program expenses, which include other transfer payments, the operating expenses of government departments and agencies, and the expenses of consolidated Crown corporations, have now decreased for four years in a row. This is the first time this has occurred since 1961–62, the earliest year for which records are available. This decline reflects effective control of government spending.
  • The federal debt (the difference between total liabilities and total assets) stood at $611.9 billion at March 31, 2014. The federal debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio was 32.5 per cent, down from 33.5 per cent a year earlier.
  • As reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada’s total government net debt-to-GDP ratio, which includes the net debt of the federal, provincial/territorial and local governments, as well as the net assets held in the Canada Pension Plan and Québec Pension Plan, stood at 40.4 per cent in 2013. This is the lowest level among Group of Seven (G-7) countries, which the OECD expects will record an average net debt of 84.3 per cent of GDP for the same year.
  • For the 16th consecutive year, the Government has received an unmodified audit opinion from the Auditor General of Canada on the consolidated financial statements.

For additional articles on the financial report see here and here, and see Ralph Goodale’s commentary and Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s response.

Finance Releases Annual Financial Report for 2013-14

McKesson: Trial Judge Recuses Self From Two Remaining Issues in Transfer Pricing Case

In McKesson v. The Queen (2014 TCC 266), Justice Patrick Boyle recused himself from the two remaining issues with which he was seized in the transfer pricing case – costs and the content of the court’s public file (i.e., the determination of whether certain information may be confidential).

This unusual decision arises as a result of the content of the Appellant’s factum filed in the Federal Court of Appeal in the appeal of Justice Boyle’s trial decision in McKesson (see our posts on the Tax Court case here and the Federal Court of Appeal proceeding here and here).

In his recusal reasons, Justice Boyle wrote:

[4]        As detailed below, I have, of my own motion, decided that I am compelled to consider whether I need to recuse myself from the two remaining issues before this Court. A consideration of this issue is required because I became aware that the Appellant and Appellant’s counsel, together with its co-counsel in the Federal Court of Appeal in respect of the appeal of the trial decision, had made certain public written statements about me in its factum in the Federal Court of Appeal (the “Factum”) which, upon reflection, appear to me to clearly include:

(i)         allegations that I was untruthful and deceitful in my Reasons;

(ii)         clear untruths about me, what I said and heard in the course of the trial, as well as the existence of evidentiary foundations supporting what I wrote in my Reasons; and

(iii)        allegations of impartiality on my part.

[5]        This requires me to consider whether:

(i)         I believe that a reasonable person reading the Factum, my Reasons, and the relevant portions of the transcript would believe that the trial judge so strongly complained of by McKesson Canada might not be able to remain impartial in his consideration of costs and confidential information;

(ii)         I believe I can impartially consider, weigh and decide the costs and confidential information issues before me; and

(iii)        whether the public challenge of my impartiality expressed by McKesson Canada and its co-counsel in the Factum is itself sufficient to warrant recusing myself at this stage.

 …

[133]     I view these as public allegations by a party to the costs and confidential information matters remaining before this Court that, regardless of the merits of their reasoning or their thoughts, I am unable to decide the remaining matters impartially. I believe that a reasonable person reading only these phrases from the Factum, without reviewing my Reasons or the trial Transcript, would believe that such strong complaints by McKesson Canada and its counsel may give rise to a serious doubt that I will be seen to be able to dispose of the two remaining issues and discharge my duties on an impartial basis.

[136]     For the Reasons identified above, I have decided I have to recuse myself from the remaining costs and confidential information issues in McKesson Canada’s proceeding in this Court.

[137]     It may be that some of the perceived untruths about the trial judge described above under heading II might individually not warrant recusal, and may be within an appellate advocate’s licence to overstate through the use of absolutes like ‘never’, ‘only’ and ‘any’.

[138]     However, I am satisfied that a reasonable fair-minded Canadian, informed and aware of all the issues addressed above, would entertain doubt that I could remain able to reach impartial decisions. I believe that such a reasonable fair-minded and informed person, viewing this realistically and practically would, after appropriate reflection, be left with a reasoned suspicion or apprehension of bias, actual or perceived. Canadians should rightly expect their trial judges to have broad shoulders and thick skins when a losing party appeals their decision, but I do not believe Canadians think that should extend to accusations of dishonesty by the judge, nor to untruths about the judge. Trial judges should not have to defend their honour and integrity from such inappropriate attacks. English is a very rich language; the Appellant and its counsel could have forcefully advanced their chosen grounds for appeal without the use of unqualified extreme statements which attack the personal or professional integrity of the trial judge.

[139]     For these reasons, I will be advising my Chief Justice that I am recusing myself from completing the McKesson Canada proceeding in the Tax Court. This extends to the consideration and disposition of the costs submissions of the parties in this case, as well as to the 2010 confidential information order of Justice Hogan in this case and its proper final implementation by the Tax Court and its Registry.

No date has been set for the hearing of the main matter by the Federal Court of Appeal.

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McKesson: Trial Judge Recuses Self From Two Remaining Issues in Transfer Pricing Case

Tax Reminders? Now There’s an App For That

We have previously blogged about litigation apps and the absence of Canadian litigation and tax litigation apps.

Yesterday, the Canada Revenue Agency introduced a new tool for tax compliance with the release of the first CRA app for businesses.

From the CRA’s mobile apps webpage:

The Business Tax Reminders mobile app is recommended for small and medium-sized businesses with annual revenue of $20 million or less and fewer than 500 employees. The app was created based on consultations with small and medium-sized businesses, and allows business users to:

  • create custom reminders for key CRA due dates related to instalment payments, returns, and remittances.
  • customize and tailor the reminder system for their personal business deadlines with either calendar or pop-up messages.

The Canada Revenue Agency is committed to improving services for small and medium-sized businesses by reducing red tape. We have listened to these businesses across the country and created our Business Tax Reminders mobile app to ensure the CRA’s online services meet the needs of businesses by helping them fulfil their tax obligations.

We applaud the CRA for its commitment to helping Canadian taxpayers comply with their tax obligations, and we look forward to seeing how this new app is used by Canadian businesses. For tax advisors, we expect that apps, downloads, and mobile reminders will likely become a new aspect of our tax dispute discussions with the CRA.

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Tax Reminders? Now There’s an App For That

Communications With Experts: Moore v. Getahun and the Advocates’ Society Report

An expert does not draft his/her report in a vacuum. Communication with counsel is required. Ultimately, an expert must provide independent and objective evidence at a hearing. So the question arises as to what amount of communication is appropriate between counsel and the expert during the drafting stage. This was an issue considered by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Moore v. Getahun (2014 ONSC 237).

In Moore, the plaintiff suffered a wrist injury in a motorcycle accident, and claimed medical negligence against the treating doctor. The defendants called an expert to testify on the medical treatment of the plaintiff following the accident. During the preparation of the expert’s report, the expert and defence counsel had a 90-minute conference call during which the draft report was discussed.

In 2010, sections 4.1 and 53.03 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to (among other things) codify the expert’s duty to the court and to require the execution and filing of an expert’s certificate acknowledging this duty.

These amendments are similar to the recent amendments to the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure): Section 145 (“Expert Witnesses”), Form 145(2) (“Certificate Concerning Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses”) and Schedule III (“Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses”).

In Moore, the court considered the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure amendments and concluded:

Whether it is appropriate for counsel to review experts’ draft reports

[519]      Defence counsel reviewed Dr. Taylor’s draft report during a one-and-a-half-hour telephone conference call.

[520]      The purpose of Rule 53.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure is to ensure the independence and integrity of the expert witness. The expert’s primary duty is to the court. In light of this change in the role of the expert witness under the new rule, I conclude that counsel’s practice of reviewing draft reports should stop. There should be full disclosure in writing of any changes to an expert’s final report as a result of counsel’s corrections, suggestions, or clarifications, to ensure transparency in the process and to ensure that the expert witness is neutral.

(See also the court’s discussion of this issue at paragraphs 47-52 of the Moore decision.)

Not surprisingly, the Ontario court’s narrow interpretation of Rule 53.03 attracted the attention of litigators across the country.

In response, the Advocates’ Society has drafted a position paper (and a set of nine principles) regarding communications with expert witnesses. The Advocates’ Society has taken the position that the view expressed by the court in Moore (i.e., that the amendments constitute a change in the role of expert witnesses) is mistaken. The case law prior to Moore on the subject of experts’ testimony had established that experts must testify independently and objectively. Further, the amendments were likely responding to the specific problem of “hired guns” or “opinions for sale”, and thus codified the expert’s duty and imposed the certificate requirement so that testifying experts clearly understand their duty to the court.

The report also notes the problems and unintended consequences of the court’s ruling in Moore – namely, that the ruling fails to recognize the “important and entirely appropriate role” of advocates in ensuring that expert evidence is presented in a cogent, succinct and well-organized fashion that will assist the trier of fact; further, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to communications with experts is discordant with the realities of modern litigation.

Given the similar language in the Tax Court’s rules regarding expert evidence, Moore could have an impact on the manner in which expert reports are to be prepared for a Tax Court proceeding.

Moore has been appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

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Communications With Experts: Moore v. Getahun and the Advocates’ Society Report

CRA: Tax treatment of Ponzi scheme investments

We have previously written about court decisions on the tax results arising from taxpayers’ (failed) investments in Ponzi schemes (see our posts on Roszko v. The Queen (2014 TCC 59), Johnson v. The Queen (2011 TCC 54) and (2012 FCA 253), Hammill v. The Queen (2005 FCA 252) and Orman v. Marnat (2012 ONSC 549)).

These decisions raise questions as to how the CRA may assess all aspects of the income earned and losses suffered by the duped investors. For example, while the cases focused on whether the taxpayer was required to report some of the returned funds as income, the tax treatment of losses after the collapse of the fraudulent scheme has not been considered.

The CRA has now provided some guidance on how it will administer the Income Tax Act (Canada) in respect of the income and losses arising from Ponzi schemes. In CRA Document No. 2014-0531171M6 “Fraudulent Investment Schemes” (July 3, 2014), the CRA stated:

  • Income inclusion – Amounts paid to a taxpayer that are returns on their investment should be included in the taxpayer’s income. The fact that the funds were not invested on behalf of the taxpayer does not change the nature of the transaction for the taxpayer.
  • Bad debt – If the investment was a fraudulent scheme, the taxpayer may be able to claim a bad debt under paragraph 20(1)(p) of the Act in respect of the lost investment funds. The amount of the bad debt claim will be subject to certain adjustments. The bad debt should be claimed in the year the fraud is discovered (i.e., the year in which fraud charges are laid by the Crown against the perpetrator, or at such earlier time as the debt is established to have become bad).
  • Losses – The taxpayer may be able to claim a capital loss or business investment loss:
    • Capital loss – The taxpayer may be able to claim a capital loss under paragraph 39(1)(b) of the Act, which may be carried back three years or forward indefinitely. A net capital loss may only be applied against a taxable capital gain.
    • Business investment loss – Under paragraph 39(1)(c), a business investment loss is a capital loss from a disposition of a share of a small business corporation or a debt owing to the taxpayer by a Canadian-controlled private corporation that was a small business corporation. Under paragraph 38(c) of the Act, one-half of a business investment loss is an allowable business investment loss, which may be deducted against all sources of income.
  • Other deductions – The taxpayer may be able to claim interest expenses or other carrying charges not previously claimed by filing a T1 Adjustment Request form.
  • Recovered amounts – Where the taxpayer recovers funds from a scheme (i.e., through a legal settlement or otherwise), these recovered amounts may be taxable as recovery of a previously deducted bad debt, recovery of a previously deducted business loss, or recovery of a previously deducted capital loss.
  • Taxpayer relief – The CRA will consider requests for taxpayer relief on a case-by-case basis.

This guidance is helpful, but there are many technical requirements for the operation of these provisions, and further it is not clear how the CRA’s administrative views accord with the case law. For example, at least two cases (Roszko, Orman) have held that amounts paid out a fraudulent scheme are not income to the duped investor. A third case (Hammill) held that a fraudulent scheme cannot give rise to a source of income. In future cases, we expect the courts will continue to clarify the tax treatment of income and losses arising from failed Ponzi schemes.

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CRA: Tax treatment of Ponzi scheme investments

Health Quest: Appeal allowed where Crown failed to properly plead assumptions

What is the result of the Crown’s failure to properly plead its assumptions in the Reply? This issue was considered by the Tax Court in Health Quest Inc. v. The Queen (2014 TCC 211) in which the Crown’s Reply included “assumptions” that were statements of mixed fact and law rather than facts alone.

The taxpayer was a distributor of modified and “off-the-shelf” therapeutic footwear for relief of various disabling conditions of the feet. During the reporting periods at issue, section 24.1 in Part II of Schedule VI of the Excise Tax Act stated that zero-rated supplies included footwear designed for use by an individual who has a crippled or deformed foot or other similar disability when the footwear is supplied on the written order of a medical practitioner. (The provision was amended in 2012 to broaden the definition to include written orders by a “specified professional”.) The taxpayer considered that most or all of the footwear it sold was zero-rated under s. 24.1.

The CRA audited the taxpayer for the period of January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2009. Based on a sampling of the taxpayer’s sales (in the months of August and December 2009), the CRA assessed additional GST owing of $42,274.72 for the period.

In the Tax Court, the taxpayer argued that all of the shoes it sold were for a prescribed diagnosis and thus zero-rated. The Respondent argued that the “off-the-shelf” shoes sold by the taxpayer (i.e., sold “as-is” without modification) were not zero-rated and thus subject to GST.

Under section 6 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules of Procedure Respecting the Excise Tax Act (Informal Procedure), every Reply to a Notice of Appeal must contain (among other things) a statement of the findings or assumptions of fact made by the CRA when making the assessment and the reasons the Crown intends to rely on in support of the assessment. (The Tax Court’s other procedural rules contain substantially identical provisions – see, for example, section 49 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure)).

In Health Quest, the Crown’s Reply stated, “In so assessing the Appellant, the Minister relied on the following …

(a)        the facts stated and admitted above;

(b)        the Appellant was a GST/HST registrant;

(c)        the Appellant was required by the Excise Tax Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-15, as amended (the “Act”) to file its GST/HST returns on a quarterly basis;

(d)       the Appellant was a corporation involved in the supply of footwear which were specially modified by the Appellant or were specially designed by the manufacturer for persons with physical disabilities;

(e)        the products described in subparagraph 7(d) above are zero-rated for HST pursuant to Schedule VI of the Act;

(f)        the Appellant also supplied other products which were not zero-rated pursuant to Schedule VI of the Act; and

(g)        during the periods under appeal, the Appellant failed to collect tax of not less than $42,274.72 on its supply of products which were not zero-rated pursuant to Schedule VI of the Act.”

The Tax Court noted that paragraphs (f) and (g) were problematic in that they both contained statements of mixed fact and law, which the Federal Court of Appeal has stated have no place in the Minister’s assumptions (see Anchor Pointe Energy Ltd. v. the Queen (2003 FCA 294) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. The Queen (2013 FCA 122)). In Anchor Pointe, the Court of Appeal stated,

[23] The pleading of assumptions gives the Crown the powerful tool of shifting the onus to the taxpayer to demolish the Minister’s assumptions. The facts pleaded as assumptions must be precise and accurate so that the taxpayer knows exactly the case it has to meet.

In Health Quest, the Tax Court determined the Crown’s key “assumptions” were merely the Respondent’s view on the application of the law to the facts of the appeal.

The Court noted that where the Crown has not set out any proper assumptions of fact in the pleadings, the evidentiary onus reverts to the Crown to establish the correctness of the assessment (see Pollock v. Minister of National Revenue (94 DTC 6050 (Fed. C.A.) and Brewster v. the Queen (2012 TCC 187)). In other words, the normal requirement that a taxpayer must adduce evidence to “demolish” the Crown’s assumptions is reversed and the Crown must prove its case.

In Health Quest, the Respondent’s only evidence was the testimony of the appeals officer. The Tax Court held the testimony did not establish, on a balance of probabilities, that the footwear in question was not zero-rated. The Court noted that it would have been beneficial to have product literature, scientific studies, or the testimony of medical professionals, and this type of evidence would have been essential to engage in a meaningful textual, contextual and purposive analysis of the applicable legislation (there are no previous cases that have considered the interpretation of section 24.1).

The Tax Court allowed the appeal.

The Court’s decision in Health Quest is a helpful reminder of the importance of including only facts and not legal arguments in the assumptions in a Reply. Taxpayers and their counsel should closely scrutinize the assumptions and reasons described in a Reply to ensure the pleading conforms with the Tax Court’s rules.

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Health Quest: Appeal allowed where Crown failed to properly plead assumptions