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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

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

Yes, Those Emails are Tax Phishing Scams

We were alerted today that some individuals had received fake emails informing the recipient that he/she had received an Interac email money transfer (i.e., a surprise refund).

The emails arrive with the subject line “INTERAC e-Transfer from Canada Revenue Agency System” and appear to emanate from Interac, Dentons, or canadiantaxlitigation.com.

Those emails are a scam. If you receive one of these emails do not click any links in such emails, and do not confirm or provide any personal data. 

Several concerned individuals forwarded sample emails to us:

From: “notify@payments.interac.ca” <admin@canadiantaxlitigation.com>

Date: October 29, 2015 at 2:56:31 PM EDT

To: name@email.com

Subject: INTERAC e-Transfer from Canada Revenue Agency System

<>Dear Tax Payer,

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

<>Amount: $741.28
<>Sender’s Message: A message was not provided
<>Expiry Date: 30 October 2015

<>Action Required:
<>To deposit your money, click here: http:/www.cra-arc.gc.ca/confirm/interac/services/REF=IDREFCASE741.28

<>2015 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Support

Please see our previous post on fraudulent tax scams here and here.

The CRA’s Security page is available here.

These email tax scams should be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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Yes, Those Emails are Tax Phishing Scams

NHL Team Denied Deduction for Road Meals?

We noticed these recent items regarding the U.S. IRS denial of a 100% deduction by the NHL Boston Bruins hockey club in respect of the team’s provision of meals to employees during road trips.

In Canada, section 67.1 of the Income Tax Act limits the deduction of meals and entertainment to 50% of the lesser of the actual cost or a reasonable amount. There are several exceptions to this general rule (see subsection 67.1(2)), including exceptions for meals provided in the ordinary course of a business of providing meals and entertainment for compensation, fund-raising events, meal costs billed directly to a client, meals provided to employees at remote work locations, or holiday parties. If an exception applies, the taxpayer may deduct 100% of the cost.

We are reminded of the Canadian case of Pink Elephant Inc. v. The Queen (2011 TCC 396), in which the taxpayer was successful in establishing that the exception for meals provided in the course of a business of providing meals for compensation applied in respect of the taxpayer’s provision of meals during its information technology training seminars.

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NHL Team Denied Deduction for Road Meals?

Tax Court: CRA Employee May Not Testify as Expert

In HLP Solution Inc. v. The Queen (2015 TCC 41 ) the Tax Court held that a CRA employee lacked the necessary impartiality to testify as an expert witness because of her prior involvement in auditing the taxpayer.

Background

The taxpayer was a software company that claimed Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credits for the 2009 taxation year. The CRA reassessed to deny the SR&ED credit claims.

In the Tax Court, the taxpayer challenged the qualification of the CRA’s expert witness on the basis that she did not have the necessary impartiality to testify as an expert witness in the appeal. The Tax Court held a voir dire to determine whether the Crown’s proposed expert witness could testify in the appeal.

The proposed expert witness held a doctorate in computer science and was employed with the CRA as a Research and Technology Advisor (RTA). The taxpayer’s allegation of impartiality was not based on the fact that the proposed expert witness was employed with the CRA. Rather, the taxpayer argued that it was the proposed expert witness’s involvement in every stage of the file that impugned her impartiality.

The Crown submitted that it is rare for a court to refuse to hear the testimony of an expert witness, and that there must be clear evidence of bias, which, according to the Crown, was not present in this case. Moreover, the Crown submitted that it was in the capacity as an expert that the opinion was given, irrespective of whether this occurred at the audit stage, objection stage, or during appeal.

Analysis

In analyzing whether to admit the evidence by the Crown’s witness, the Tax Court reviewed the leading case on the admission of expert evidence, the Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Mohan ([1994] 2 SCR 9), in which the Court set out the criteria for determining whether expert evidence should be admitted, namely: relevance, necessity in assisting the trier of fact, the absence of an exclusionary rule, and a properly qualified expert.

In Mohan, the Supreme Court established that the question of relevancy is a threshold requirement for the admission of expert evidence and a matter to be decided by the judge as a question of law. There must first be logical relevance in order for the evidence to be admitted. The judge must then perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the value of the testimony is worth the costs, in the sense of its impact on the trial process.

The Tax Court also reviewed R. v. Abbey (2009 ONCA 624), in which the Ontario Court of Appeal applied Mohan but also distinguished between the preconditions to admissibility and the judge’s role as a gatekeeper. The Ontario Court of Appeal noted that while the inquiry into the preconditions to admissibility is a rules-based analysis that tends to yield “yes” or “no” answers, the gatekeeper function does not involve the application of bright line rules and frequently requires the exercise of judicial discretion. The gatekeeper function is more subtle and involves weighing the benefits of the probative value of the evidence against the prejudice associated with admitting the evidence.

In HLP, the Tax Court held that it was preferable to disqualify the expert at the qualification stage. The Court based its conclusions on many of the taxpayer’s allegations, including the following:

  • the proposed expert witness was involved with the audit and objection;
  • the proposed expert witness delivered the opinion (the technical review report) that served as the basis for the assessment;
  • following the taxpayer’s representations, the proposed expert witness also wrote an addendum to the technical review report in which she maintained the same position;
  • the proposed expert witness participated in every meeting with the taxpayer as the CRA’s representative;
  • the proposed expert witness confused her role as an RTA with that as an expert witness; and
  • the proposed expert witness reproduced word-for-word paragraphs from her technical review report.

The Tax Court was careful to note that it was not disqualifying the expert on the basis of her employment with the CRA but rather on the basis of her close involvement throughout the audit and objection stages of the file.

The Tax Court allowed the Crown to submit a new expert report.

The Tax Court’s decision in HLP will have a direct impact on future cases in which proposed expert witnesses were involved in the audit and objection processes as CRA employees. Such employees – though they may have the required professional qualifications to testify as an expert witness – cannot be qualified as expert witnesses because they lack the necessary impartiality to testify.

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Tax Court: CRA Employee May Not Testify as Expert

Beware of Telephone Tax Scams

Several clients have contacted me in recent weeks after receiving telephone calls from individuals who claim to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Typically, the caller will provide his name, an employee ID, a CRA office address and telephone number with a Canadian area code.

The caller is aggressive, alleges that the taxpayer owes an amount to the CRA, and demands immediate payment. The caller also threatens arrest or other punishments if the amount is not paid.

These telephone calls are a scam. If you receive one of these calls, do not provide or confirm any personal data.

The CRA has recently issued a warning about this type of telephone scam, and a news report on the scam is available here.

These telephone tax scam calls should be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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Beware of Telephone Tax Scams

FCA Dismisses Appeal of Revocation of Charity Status

In Public Television Association of Quebec v. M.N.R. (2015 FCA 170), the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the Public Television Association of Quebec (“PTAQ”) of the CRA’s decision to revoke PTAQ’s registered charity status.

Background

PTAQ was constituted to advance education through the production, distribution and promotion of non-commercial, educational television programs and films.

Generally, PTAQ carried out its charitable activities through an intermediary: Vermont ETV Incorporated (aka Vermont PBS) (“VPT”) pursuant to a fundraising agreement and a broadcasting agreement.

Under these agreements, PTAQ would purchase a slate of educational programming from VPT, and such programming would then be broadcast on certain television stations. VPT would, in the course of various fundraising activities, raise funds from Canadian donors as an agent of PTAQ, which would issue donation receipts to the Canadian donors.

Charitable Activities

Generally, a Canadian charity may carry out its charitable activities in two ways: directly, or through the use of an intermediary. If the charity uses an intermediary to carry out charitable activities, the charity must maintain direction and control of its resources (see CG-004 “Using an Intermediary to Carry out a Charity’s Activities within Canada” (June 20, 2011)). The CRA’s scrutiny of a charity’s use of an intermediary is greater where the activities are carried on outside Canada (see CG-002 “Canadian Registered Charities Carrying Out Activities Outside Canada” (July 8, 2010)).

In this case, the CRA reviewed PTAQ’s corporate objects and activities and determined that PTAQ had failed to devote all of its resources to its own charitable activities. The CRA issued a Notice of Intention to Revoke pursuant to paragraph 168(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act. PTAQ filed a Notice of Objection under subsection 168(4) of the Act, and the CRA confirmed the proposal to revoke PTAQ’s registration.

Pursuant to subsection 172(3) of the Act, an appeal of the CRA’s decision to revoke a charity’s registration is made directly to the Federal Court of Appeal (rather than the Tax Court).

Appeal

On appeal of a proposed revocation in respect of a charity that has used an intermediary to carry out charitable activities, the charity must adduce evidence that it was carrying on charitable works on its own behalf and not merely acting as a conduit (i.e., the charity must establish that it maintained direction and control of its resources).

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and held that PTAQ had failed to establish the CRA’s conclusion that PTAQ was not devoting all of its resources to its own charitable activities – which was a question of mixed fact and law – was unreasonable.

The Court of Appeal stated:

[55] Based on the evidence outlined above, I conclude that it was reasonable for the Minister to determine that PTAQ failed to maintain direction and control over its resources as it did not devote all its resources to its own charitable activities. The provisions of the broadcasting and fundraising agreements were not followed or respected. PTAQ has not adduced evidence that it exercised proper control over the activities of its agent by demonstrating how it monitored the cost of the broadcasting activities, the donations received and the fundraising. It has not established how the Minister erred in coming to the conclusion that PTAQ is only used to issue receipts for donations received by VPT from Canadian donors, as the documentation contained in the record does not overturn the factual findings noted above with respect to the broadcasting and fundraising agreements.

The CRA’s revocation and the Court of Appeal’s decision are stern reminders of the necessity for Canadian charities that are essentially “friends of” foreign charitable organizations to implement measures that will ensure that direction and control of the Canadian charity’s resources remain with the Canadian charity.

Further, such direction and control must in fact be exercised by the Canadian charity, and evidence of such direction and control should be recorded in the Canadian charity’s corporate documents (i.e., meeting minutes, reports, correspondence, etc.).

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FCA Dismisses Appeal of Revocation of Charity Status

SCC Dismisses Appeal in Tax Advisor Penalty Case

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the appeal of the taxpayer and determined that the tax advisor penalty in section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act is administrative in nature.

The Court’s 4-3 decision in Guindon v. The Queen (2015 SCC 41) (Docket No. 35519) has far-reaching implications for Canadian taxpayers and their professional advisors.

While the majority of the Court (Rothstein, Cromwell, Moldaver and Gascon) exercised its discretion to consider the taxpayer’s constitutional arguments despite the taxpayer’s failure to provide notice of constitutional question, the Court held that the penalty under section 163.2 was not criminal in nature:

[89] We conclude that the proceeding under s. 163.2  is not criminal in nature and does not lead to the imposition of true penal consequences. We agree with Stratas J.A., writing for the Federal Court of Appeal, that “the assessment of a penalty under s. 163.2  is not the equivalent of being ‘charged with a [criminal] offence.’ Accordingly, none of the s. 11  rights apply in s. 163.2  proceedings”: para. 37.

[90] Finally, we note that even though s. 11  of the Charter  is not engaged by s. 163.2  of the ITA , those against whom penalties are assessed are not left without recourse or protection. They have a full right of appeal to the Tax Court of Canada and, as the respondent pointed out in her factum, have access to other administrative remedies: R.F., at para. 99; see, e.g., ITA , s. 220(3.1) .

In a concurring opinion that dissented on the issue of the notice requirement, Justices Abella, Karakatsanis and Wagner held that the taxpayer’s failure to provide notice of constitutional question in the Tax Court or Federal Court of Appeal was fatal to her appeal.

See our previous posts on the Guindon case here and here.

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SCC Dismisses Appeal in Tax Advisor Penalty Case

SCC to Decide Tax Advisor Penalty Case on July 31

What is the nature of the third-party penalty in section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act? That question will be answered by the Supreme Court of Canada when it decides the case of Guindon v. The Queen (Docket No. 35519) on Friday July 31.

See our previous posts on the Guindon case here and here.

In Guindon, 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.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Guindon in December 2014, and the Court’s decision will have significant implications for tax professionals across Canada.

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SCC to Decide Tax Advisor Penalty Case on July 31

Fairmont: OCA Dismisses Crown’s Appeal in Rectification Case

The Ontario Court of Appeal has dismissed the Crown’s appeal in Fairmont Hotels Inc. v. A.G. (Canada) (2015 ONCA 441).

In Fairmont (2014 ONSC 7302), the taxpayer was successful on an application for rectification of certain corporate transactions (see our previous post here).

On appeal, the Crown argued that the lower court had misapplied the test for rectification because the parties had not determined the specific manner in which their intention to avoid tax would be carried out. In the Crown’s view, the lower court’s judgment sanctioned retroactive tax planning.

The Court of Appeal disagreed:

[8]          In these circumstances, relying on this court’s decision in Juliar, the application judge held that the respondent was entitled to rectify the relevant corporate resolutions to correct the mistaken share redemptions.  This result, the application judge noted, would avoid the imposition of an unintended tax burden that the respondent had sought to avoid from the outset, as well as an unintended tax revenue windfall to the CRA arising from the mistaken share redemptions.

[9]          On the factual findings of the application judge, set out above, and the binding authority of Juliar, we see no basis for intervention with the application judge’s discretionary decision to grant rectification.

[10]       Juliar is a binding decision of this court.  It does not require that the party seeking rectification must have determined the precise mechanics or means by which the party’s settled intention to achieve a specific tax outcome would be realized. Juliar holds, in effect, that the critical requirement for rectification is proof of a continuing specific intention to undertake a transaction or transactions on a particular tax basis.

[11]       In this case, on the application judge’s findings, the respondent had a specific and unwavering intention from the outset of its dealings with Legacy to ensure that the Legacy-related transactions were tax neutral and, to that end, that no redemptions of the relevant preference shares should occur.  Nonetheless, by mistake, the redemptions were authorized by corporate resolutions.

[12]       Contrary to the appellant’s argument, in these circumstances, it was unnecessary that the respondent prove that it had determined to use a specific transactional device – loans – to achieve the intended tax result.  That the respondent mistakenly failed to employ an appropriate transactional device to achieve the intended tax result does not alter the nature of the respondent’s settled tax plan: tax neutrality in its dealings with Legacy and no redemptions of the preference shares in question.

[13]       At the end of the day, therefore, Juliar and the application judge’s factual findings, described above, are dispositive of this appeal.  It is not open to a single panel of this court to depart from a binding decision of this court.

[14]       The appeal is dismissed. …

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Fairmont is an important affirmation of the result and reasoning in Juliar v. A.G. (Canada) ((2000), 50 O.R. (3d) 728 (Ont. C.A.)) (Dentons was counsel for the successful taxpayer).

Recently, the Crown has been aggressively arguing in rectification cases that Juliar was either wrongly decided or should be narrowly applied (two Alberta cases have followed this argument – see, for example, Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) and Harvest Operations Corp. v. A.G. (Canada) (2015 ABQB 237)).

However, in TCR Holding Corporation v. Ontario (2010 ONCA 233) and Fairmont, the Ontario Court of Appeal has clearly rejected those arguments. This should put an end to the Crown’s arguments about Juliar – at least in Ontario.

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Fairmont: OCA Dismisses Crown’s Appeal in Rectification Case