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TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

A pair of recent Tax Court of Canada judgments highlight the unsustainable position taken by the CRA that a statute-barred dividend refund that cannot be recovered by the taxpayer nonetheless reduces taxpayer’s “refundable dividend tax on hand” (“RDTOH”) balance.

We have written in this space before about the Tax Court’s strict interpretation of the three-year time limitation to receive a dividend refund under subsection 129(1) of the Income Tax Act. A consequence of this limitation is that where a taxpayer has missed the three-year filing deadline to obtain a dividend refund there can be “trapped” RDTOH which will require that the corporation pay a taxable dividend at some point in the future in order receive a dividend refund. The CRA, though, continues to take the position that the original taxable dividend reduces the RDTOH balance even where the dividend refund cannot be paid due to the three-year window being missed.

This issue was recently considered in two cases:  Presidential MSH Corporation v. The Queen (2015 TCC 61) and Nanica Holdings Limited v. The Queen (2015 TCC 85). In both cases, the issue was the same – whether the definition of “dividend refund” in subsection 129(3) refers to an amount that was paid or credited to the corporation or is merely a notional account that is automatically reduced notwithstanding that the corporation did not receive a refund. This latter position had been explicitly rejected by the Tax Court in Tawa Developments Inc. v. The Queen (2011 TCC 440). In Presidential and Nanica, the Tax Court held that an unpaid dividend refund is not a refund at all.

Yet the CRA apparently continues to enforce the Act as though the dividend refund is notional – no amount is required to be paid in order for the corporation to obtain a “dividend refund” and therefore the RDTOH balance is reduced without payment.

Fortunately, the Tax Court takes a more sensible interpretation in the recent decisions.

In Presidential, the Court undertook a textual, contextual and purposive analysis of the dividend refund concept, concluding that a payment was required before the RDTOH balance could be reduced. In rendering his judgement, however, Justice David Graham noted that the relevant provisions lack clarity and urged Parliament to take corrective measures to clear up the language in this area.

In Nanica, which was released after the decision in Presidential, Justice Valerie Miller reached the same conclusion, ultimately agreeing with the earlier decisions that “the phrase ‘dividend refund’ in section 129 is the refund of an amount”. There is no reduction of the RDTOH balance where the corporation does not receive a refund.

In light of these decisions, we hope the CRA will align its assessing position with the clear interpretation of the Tax Court.

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TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

FCA: TCC Erred in Awarding Costs on Basis of Pre-Appeal Conduct

The Tax Court has in recent years demonstrated a willingness to use cost awards to control the parties’ conduct. This includes awarding lump-sum amounts, which may depart markedly from the “tariff” amounts described in Tariff B of Schedule II of the Tax Court’s General Procedure Rules. Further, the Court has wrestled with the weight – if any – that the parties’ conduct prior to an appeal should carry in respect of a cost award.

In Martin v. The Queen (2013 TCC 38), the taxpayer successfully challenged a section 160 assessment in respect of certain amounts paid to her by her spouse. There was evidence the auditor had deliberately misled the taxpayer during an audit, and the taxpayer had spent considerable time and money enduring the audit and objection process before her ultimate success in the Tax Court.

On the issue of costs, the taxpayer asked for (i) solicitor-client costs, or (ii) a fixed amount under Rule 147, or (iii) the tariff costs. The Crown argued that only tariff costs should be awarded. Describing the case as “very unusual, difficult, and hopefully exceptional, case”, the Tax Court considered the pre-appeal conduct of the CRA (among other factors) and awarded the taxpayer a lump sum amount of $10,635 (2014 TCC 50).

The Tax Court repeated its view that costs may be awarded against the Crown where it pursues a meritless case in the Tax Court:

[21] … There are perhaps some arguments and some cases that the Canada Revenue Agency just should not pursue. The Crown is not a private party. By reassessing a taxpayer and failing to resolve its objection, the Crown is forcing its citizen/taxpayers to take it to Court. If the Crown’s position does not have a reasonable degree of sustainability, and is in fact entirely rejected, it is entirely appropriate that the Crown should be aware it is proceeding subject to the risk of a possibly increased award of costs against it if it is unsuccessful.

The Crown appealed and the taxpayer cross-appealed.

The Federal Court of Appeal noted that a discretionary cost award should only be set aside if the judge made an error in principle or if the award is plainly wrong (see Hamilton v. Open Window Bakery (2004 SCC 9) and Sun Indalex Finance LLC v. United Steelworkers (2013 SCC 6)).

In the Court of Appeal, the Crown alleged that the Tax Court judge had made an error of fact  (i.e., the finding that the CRA auditor had been deceitful in providing incorrect information), and an error of law (i.e., relying on the auditor’s deceitful conduct as a basis for awarding increased costs).

On the first issue, the Court held there was no error of law because the Crown admitted the auditor had engaged in deceitful behavior. On the second issue, the Court noted that conduct that occurs prior to a proceeding may be taken into account if such conduct unduly and unnecessarily prolongs the proceeding (see Merchant v. Canada (2001 FCA 19) and Canada v. Landry (2010 FCA 135)). However, the Court stated that the audit and objection stages are not a “proceeding”, which is defined in section 2 of the Rules as an appeal or reference. Accordingly, the Court stated, “the Judge erred in principle in allowing an amount incurred in respect of costs unrelated to the appeal which were incurred at the objection stage. Those expenses, by definition, were not incurred as part of the appeal ‘proceeding’”.

In respect of the cross-appeal, the Court of Appeal considered whether the lower court had erred in declining to award solicitor-client costs. The Court held there was no error because such costs could not include pre-appeal costs, and even if such costs could be awarded, solicitor-client costs are awarded only where there has been reprehensible, scandalous or outrageous misconduct connected with the litigation (see also Scavuzzo v. The Queen (2006 TCC 90)).

The Court allowed the appeal, dismissed the cross-appeal, set aside the lower court’s cost award and substituted a cost award of $4,800 plus disbursements and taxes (2015 FCA 95).

The Court of Appeal decision in Martin may have failed to address all relevant provisions of Rule 147, which arguably provide for very broad discretion for awarding costs. For example, paragraph 147(3)(j) of the Tax Court Rules states the Court may consider “any other matter relevant to the question of costs”.

The Court of Appeal’s decision also raises an issue regarding the circumstances in which deceitful pre-appeal conduct may unduly or unnecessarily prolong a proceeding – wouldn’t such a hindrance follow in every case of deceitful conduct by a party?

Further, the Court of Appeal appeared particularly concerned that the taxpayer’s pre-appeal expenses could not be addressed in the cost award, but it seems clear that the Tax Court had exercised its discretion to award a lump sum based not only on the quantum of the pre-appeal costs but on the existence of the auditor’s deceitful behavior and the Crown’s obstinate approach and refusal to resolve – at any stage – an uncomplicated tax dispute.

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FCA: TCC Erred in Awarding Costs on Basis of Pre-Appeal Conduct

Loss Determinations: No Time Like the Present

Under subsection 152(1.1) of the Income Tax Act, a taxpayer may apply for a determination of losses for a tax year.

A taxpayer typically requests a loss determination after the CRA has issued a nil assessment. This is because no objection may be filed against a nil assessment, and thus one of the ways to challenge the adjustments underlying the nil assessment (i.e., the adjustments to losses or other tax balances) is to force the issuance of a Notice of Determination/Redetermination of Losses, which then triggers the right to file a Notice of Objection. If the taxpayer does not request a loss determination, the taxpayer may challenge the quantum of the losses in a subsequent year in which the losses are applied.

However, the timing of the loss determination request is an important issue – if the losses cannot be applied until several years after the tax year at issue, this could create uncertainty and additional (and perhaps burdensome) record-keeping requirements for the taxpayer.

This issue was considered in CRA Document No. 2014-0550351C6 (November 18, 2014), in which the CRA was asked whether it would issue a determination of loss to a taxpayer who requests one upon filing of its return (i.e., rather than at the later time when a nil assessment is issued).

Under subsection 152(1.1), where the CRA ascertains the amount of a taxpayer’s non-capital loss or net capital loss (or certain other losses), and the taxpayer has not reported that amount on the taxpayer’s return, the taxpayer may request that the CRA determine the amount of the loss and the CRA must make that determination and send a notice of determination to the taxpayer.

In the present case, the CRA stated that subsection 152(1.1) provides that two requirements must be satisfied before a loss determination may be made: First, the CRA must ascertain the amount of the taxpayer’s loss to be an amount that differs from the amount reported by the taxpayer in its return, and (ii) the taxpayer requests the loss determination.

In Inco Limited v. The Queen (2004 TCC 373), the Tax Court stated,

[13] … subsection 152(1.1) of the Act clearly contemplates and establishes a procedure involving sequential steps or events that must take place in order for there to be a valid loss determination. These steps are: (a) the Minister ascertains the amount of a taxpayer’s non-capital loss for a taxation year in an amount that differs from the one reported in the taxpayer’s income tax return; (b) the taxpayer requests that the Minister determine the amount of the loss; (c) the Minister thereupon determines the amount of the loss and issues a notice of loss determination to the taxpayer.

We also note that, in a previous technical interpretation (CRA Document No. 2011-0401241I7 “Adjustments outside the normal assessment period” (September 7, 2011)), the CRA stated,

Paragraph 4 of Interpretation Bulletin IT-512 “Determination and redetermination of losses” also clarifies the CRA’s position on the requirements for a loss determination to be issued:

4. Where at the initial assessing stage or as a consequence of a reassessment arising from an audit or other investigative action by the Department the Minister ascertains a loss in an amount other than that reported by the taxpayer, a notice of assessment or reassessment (including a notice of “nil” assessment or reassessment) will be issued with an explanation of the changes. As well, the notice will inform the taxpayer that upon request the Minister will make a determination of the loss so ascertained and issue a notice of determination/redetermination. In this context, the Minister will not be considered to have ascertained that the amount of a loss differs from an amount reported by the taxpayer where the difference fully reflects a change requested by the taxpayer as a result of amended or new information.

Therefore, where the difference in the amount of a loss for the year reflects an amendment by the taxpayer, this is not considered to be “ascertained” by the Minister, and therefore, on its own, does not meet the requirements for subsection 152(1.1) loss determination. Therefore, in this case, because the taxpayer is requesting the changes and the Minister would not be “ascertaining” the amount of the loss, the taxpayer cannot request a loss determination.

In CRA Document No. 2014-0550351C6, the CRA restated that, if it accepts the amount of the loss reported in the taxpayer’s return, the CRA has not ascertained the loss to be an amount that differs from the amount reported in the return. Accordingly, the first condition of subsection 152(1.1) would not be met, and the CRA could not issue a loss determination at the time the return was filed.

In the CRA’s view, the Act would need to be amended to allow for the issuance of a loss determination at the time the taxpayer files its return.

In other words, the present is no time to request a loss determination. Unless the Act is amended to alter the timing requirements, such a request must wait until the time at which the CRA determines the taxpayer’s loss to be an amount different from the amount reported in the return.

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Loss Determinations: No Time Like the Present

CRA Charities Directorate Publishes 2015 Program Update

The CRA Charities Directorate has published its 2015 Program Update (previous updates are available here).

The CRA Charities Directorate has in recent years been actively updating and promoting the dissemination of its charity information, seeking the views of charities and other entities, and using technology to connect with charities and donors. However, the highest profile news stories in recent memory have focused on the Charities Directorate’s review/audit of charities that may be engaged in political activities and the allegation that these audits may be politically motivated (see our previous post here).

Selected highlights from the 2015 update include:

  • The Charities Directorate will, pursuant to subsection 241(3.2) of the Income Tax Act, disclose public information about every charity, including governing documents, registration applications, directors/trustees lists, financial statements and CRA communications;
  • The Charities Directorate has produced 22 videos and webinars for donors and charities, including videos addressing political activities and the first-time donors super-credit;
  • In 2014, the Charities Directorate sent over 70,000 reminders to charities to file their annual returns, over 8,000 reminders to file their financial statements, and over 5,000 notices to charities that they had not properly completed parts of their returns;
  • The Charities Directorate audits approx 1% of charities each year. In 2013-14, 845 audits were completed and which resulted in a variety of outcomes;
  • The Charities Directorate revokes the registered status of approximately 1,870 charities each year, of which 54% were voluntary, 43% were for failure to file an annual return, 2% were for cause following an audit, and 1% for loss of corporate status;
  • Of the 86,000 charities in Canada, 22% are organized and operated for the relief of poverty, 16% for the advancement of education, 38% for the advancement of religion, and 23% for other purposes beneficial to the community;
  • The Charities Directorate is in the third year of a four-year review of political activities of registered charities. The screening process for selecting charities for audit is based on the content of a charity’s T3010 form, complaints and concerns from the public, internal referrals, related files discovered during audit, media reports and other publicly-available information, and self-identification. The Charities Directorate has identified 60 charities for political activity audits, including 2 for relief of poverty, 12 for advancement of education, 7 for advancement of religion, and 37 for other purposes beneficial to the community (i.e., animal welfare, upholding human rights, protecting the environment, international development, promoting health, and community development);
  • Of these 60 audits, 21 have been completed, 28 remain on-going, and 11 will be started before the end of the project. The completed audits have resulted in six education letters, eight compliance agreements, five notices of intention to revoke, one voluntary revocation, and one annulment.

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CRA Charities Directorate Publishes 2015 Program Update

CRA Appoints New Ombudsman

The CRA has appointed a new Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, the second since the position was created in 2008.

From the CRA news release:

April 10, 2015 – Ottawa – Canada Revenue Agency

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue, today announced the appointment of the new Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, Ms. Sherra Profit. Minister Findlay underscored the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) commitment to maintain its strong relationship with the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman in order to provide Canadians with fair, equitable and respectful service.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman was established in 2008 and operates independently from the CRA. Its mandate is to uphold the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and provide an impartial review of unresolved taxpayer service complaints. This Government created the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, as well as the Office of the Taxpayer’s Ombudsman, and is committed to offering the highest level of service to Canadians.

Ms. Profit has more than 15 years of experience practicing law in a wide range of areas. Ms. Profit holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from St. Francis Xavier University. She was called to the bar on April 14, 2000, in Prince Edward Island.

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CRA Appoints New Ombudsman

ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

In ConocoPhillips Canada Resources Corp. v. The Queen (2014 FCA 297), the Federal Court of Appeal overturned a Federal Court decision (2013 FC 1192) and dismissed an application for judicial review by the taxpayer finding that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction in this case.

ConocoPhillips had commenced an application for judicial review as a result of a dispute between the CRA about whether a Notice of Reassessment had been validly sent to the taxpayer.  The CRA alleged that it mailed a Notice of Reassessment on November 7, 2008. ConocoPhillips alleged that it never received the Notice of Reassessment and that it first learned of the reassessment on April 14, 2010.

Accordingly, when ConocoPhillips filed a Notice of Objection on June 7, 2010, the CRA advised that it would not consider the objection on the grounds that it was not filed within 90 days of the alleged mailing date (i.e., November 7, 2008) and that no request for an extension of time was made within the year following the alleged mailing date of the reassessment.

The Federal Court considered the question of jurisdiction and found that it had jurisdiction because the Court was not being asked to consider the validity of the reassessment (which can only be determined by the Tax Court of Canada) but rather, was only being asked to review the CRA’s decision not to consider the objection.

Based on the standard of reasonableness, the Federal Court found in favour of ConocoPhillips on the basis that the CRA had not sufficiently engaged the evidence to appropriately render an opinion whether or not the reassessment was mailed on the alleged date. The Court set aside that decision.

The Crown appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction on this issue.  The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

Section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act provides that judicial review in the Federal Court is not available where, inter alia, an appeal is permitted on the issue before the Tax Court of Canada.  In the present case, the Federal Court of Appeal stated that, pursuant to subsection 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada), ConocoPhillips could have appealed to the Tax Court after 90 days had elapsed following the date its objection was initially filed and the Tax Court would have been the correct forum to determine if, or when, the Notice of Reassessment was mailed and when the time for filing a Notice of Objection expired.

The Federal Court of Appeal clarified that the Minister’s obligation to consider a Notice of Objection is triggered regardless of whether a Notice of Objection may have been filed within the required time-frame. Further, the Minister’s decision on this issue is not an impediment to filing an appeal to the Tax Court pursuant to paragraph 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada). Accordingly, judicial review of this issue was not available in the Federal Court.

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ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

Lau: BC SC Corrects Articles of Incorporation After $17.3 Million Reassessment

Many tax rectification cases address situations in which certain transaction documents contain errors that do not accord with the parties’ intent to minimize or avoid taxes. However, there are several cases in which the courts are asked to correct errors in a company’s constating documents – errors that lead to unintended and adverse tax results for the company or its shareholders.

In Lau v. A.G. (Canada) (2014 BCSC 2384), the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether a mistake in the drafting of a company’s Articles of Incorporation could be corrected under BC corporate law and/or the doctrine of rectification.

0777020 B.C. Ltd. was incorporated in 2006. The Articles of the company stated, among other things, that the Class E preferred shares could be issued (i) as a stock dividend, or (ii) in exchange for property. The directors of the company could establish the redemption amount of the Class E shares, but the Articles stated that this power of the directors existed only in respect of the issuance of the shares for property (i.e., no redemption amount could be determined where such Class E shares were issued as a stock dividend).

In 2008, the company issued 100 Class E shares as a stock dividend. The directors determined the redemption value to be $17,635,000. There were several subsequent transfers of these Class E shares among the individual shareholders and companies in the corporate group, and certain pre-existing liabilities were cancelled as a result of the Class E share transfers.

Subsequently, the CRA alleged the Class E shares had never been validly issued because no power to determine a redemption value existed in the company’s Articles. The CRA reassessed an individual shareholder to include $17.3 million in his income for 2008.

The individual shareholder objected and eventually appealed to the Tax Court. In the meantime, the company brought proceedings in the British Columbia provincial court to correct certain errors in the corporate documents, including the provision in the Articles addressing the directors’ power to determine the redemption value of the Class E shares. There were several proceedings that addressed the various errors:

  • May 21, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate first proceeding to correct various corporate documents
  • September 17, 2013 – Court grants requested relief in first proceeding
  • December 4, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate second proceeding to correct various corporate documents and Articles
  • April 10, 2014 – Taxpayer amends second proceeding to remove requested relief in respect of Articles
  • April 30, 2014 – Court grants requested relief in second proceeding
  • May 2, 2014 – Taxpayers initiate third proceeding to correct provision in Articles addressing Class E share redemption value

In the third proceeding, the taxpayers had revived the relief originally requested in the second proceeding in respect of the Articles. However, they adduced and relied on more extensive evidence concerning the drafting error. In response, the CRA argued that (i) the issue was barred by cause of action estoppel, (ii) the BC Court should decline jurisdiction, and (iii) rectification should not be granted.

On the first two issues, the BC Court held that (i) cause of action estoppel did not apply to prevent the taxpayers from seeking rectification of the Articles, and (ii) the BC provincial courts have exclusive jurisdiction to consider the requested relief (i.e., under the British Columbia Business Corporation Act or the doctrine of rectification) and it was not appropriate to decline jurisdiction in favour of the Tax Court of Canada.

On the third issue, the BC Court noted that the taxpayers had sought relief based on ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA and the court’s equitable jurisdiction. The BC Court held that the evidence of the individual shareholders and their counsel clearly established that the parties intended for the company’s directors to have the power to determine the redemption price of the Class E shares when issued as a stock dividend and in exchange for property. The absence of language in the Articles in respect of this power was a result of an error by the company’s solicitor.

The BC Court stated that ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA provide a court with the ability to correct any corporate mistake. Further, the BC Court was satisfied that the taxpayers had proven they had a common intention to empower the directors to determine the redemption amount and that the company’s Articles did not reflect this true intention.

The BC Court ordered that the Articles were corrected nunc pro tunc from 2006 to include language that established the proper powers of the directors.

On a sub-issue, the BC Court considered whether the CRA should have been named as a party in the third proceeding (the taxpayers had named the CRA as a party in the first two proceedings, but had refused to name the CRA as a party in the third).

The BC Court noted that there did not appear to be any consensus or consistent approach on this issue. The BC Court stated that the CRA need not be named as a party in every BC BCA or rectification proceeding. In the appropriate circumstances, the CRA may apply to be named as a party, and a court may exercise its discretion to join the CRA as a party. In this case, it was appropriate that the CRA be named as a party.

In light of the mixed success on the application, the BC Court did not award costs to either party.

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Lau: BC SC Corrects Articles of Incorporation After $17.3 Million Reassessment

Fairmont: Ont SCJ Unwinds Share Redemption and Substitutes Loan Arrangement

The common law doctrine of rectification operates to correct mistakes in transactions that produce (or may produce) unintended and adverse tax results. This was established in the landmark case of Juliar et. al. v A.G. (Canada) (50 O.R. 3d 728) (Ont. C.A.) (Dentons was counsel to the successful taxpayers).

In Fairmont Hotels Inc. et al. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ONSC 7302) the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has provided another example of the manner in which rectification can be used to unwind certain impugned steps in a transaction and substitute the proper steps that accord with the parties’ intention to avoid tax.

Legacy Hotels REIT owned a collection of hotels, which were purchased from Fairmont in or around 1997. Fairmont continued to manage these hotels. In 2002 and 2003, Fairmont was involved in the financing of Legacy’s purchase of two hotels in Washington and Seattle. Through the use of several reciprocal loans between Legacy, Fairmont and several subsidiary companies, Legacy purchased the Washington hotel for $67 million USD and the Seattle hotel for $19 million USD. Fairmont hedged its loans to eliminate or reduce its foreign exchange tax exposure in Canada.

In 2006, Fairmont was acquired by two companies and its shares ceased to be publicly traded. This acquisition of control could have frustrated the parties’ intention that no entity would realize a foreign exchange gain or loss in connection with the reciprocal loan arrangements. A tax and accounting plan was created that would have allowed the companies to complete the acquisition and continue the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure. However, this plan was modified before implementation with the result that certain foreign exchange exposure was not hedged.

In 2007, Legacy asked Fairmont to terminate the reciprocal loan arrangements on an urgent basis so that the Washington and Seattle hotels could be sold. A Fairmont officer mistakenly believed that the original 2006 plan had been implemented (i.e., the plan that continued the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure) and agreed to the unwinding of the loans (which involved the redemption of certain preferred shares of the subsidiaries involved in the loan arrangements). Subsequently, the CRA reviewed the transactions and reassessed Fairmont on the basis that the 2007 share redemptions triggered a foreign exchange gain.

Fairmont brought an application to rectify the 2007 share redemptions and to substitute a loan arrangement. Fairmont argued that its intent from 2002 was to have the original reciprocal loan arrangements unwound on a tax-neutral basis. In response, the Crown argued that Fairmont had never intended the proposed substituted loan arrangement and thus was engaged in retroactive tax planning.

Fairmont relied on the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Juliar for the principle that the exact method to achieve a common intention to avoid tax is not required at the time of the transaction. In response, the Crown argued that the Alberta Court of Queens’ Bench in Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) had been critical of Juliar and had stated that rectification is granted to restore a transaction to its original purpose and not to avoid an unintended effect.

However, in the present case, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stated that, unlike the Alberta court, Ontario courts “do not have the luxury of ignoring” the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Juliar. Further, the Ontario court stated that the Alberta court had not accurately described what happened in Juliar, and that another recent Alberta decision had in fact followed the reasoning in Juliar.

In the present case, the Ontario Court held that Fairmont’s intention from 2002 was to carry out the reciprocal loan arrangements on a tax- and accounting-neutral basis so that any foreign exchange gain would be offset by a corresponding foreign exchange loss. This intention remained unchanged when Fairmont was sold in 2006 and when the reciprocal loans were unwound in 2007. A mistake had caused the unintended tax assessments.

The Court also stated that this was not a situation in which the taxpayer was engaging in retroactive tax planning after a CRA audit. The parties intended to unwind the loans on a tax-free basis.

The Court allowed the application and rectified the corporate resolutions as requested. The Court awarded $30,000 of costs to the Applicants.

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Fairmont: Ont SCJ Unwinds Share Redemption and Substitutes Loan Arrangement

CRA: Financial Tools for Canadian Startup Companies

On November 26, 2014, the Canadian Government partnered with Startup Canada to convene Startup Canada Day on the Hill.

Minister of National Revenue Kerry-Lynne Findlay spoke at the event and highlighted the strategies the CRA has implemented to assist startup companies across the country.

Startups have bright, innovative founder teams, but many lack the financial expertise, time, and money required to maintain adequate financial records. This may seem insignificant in the short-term, but this will become increasingly important when attracting investors and in dealing with the CRA.

Minister Findlay stated that, with this reality in mind, the CRA has worked toward reducing the red tape associated with starting and running a business in Canada. In November 2012, 52 small business owners and 91 small business service representatives and bookkeepers participated in meetings across the country to identify issues stemming from federal rules and regulations.

How is the CRA helping Startups?

  1. Through the operation of a secure online self-service portal, available 24/7 through which many different kinds of transactions can be completed, including managing banking information and filing tax returns replacing the need to keep track of copious amounts of paper;
  2. Through the development of the Small Business Checklist which includes user-friendly and detailed information on starting, maintaining and winding up a business;
  3. Through the Business Tax Reminders App, created in consultation with small and medium-sized business owners, which allows businesses to create reminders for when their various financial payments are due; and
  4. Through the Liaison Officer Initiative which provides in – person support to businesses at key stages in their growth cycle in an effort to avoid common tax pitfalls, among other things, that would cost them in the future.

Minister Findlay stated that, in the CRA’s view, these tools provide a solid starting point for tax compliance so company founders can focus on what’s most important to them – making their business grow.

As part of the Government’s commitment to consult with businesses every two years, the CRA recently completed another red tape reduction consultation process in November. Results should be available in the Spring 2015.

A version of this post was originally published on Dentons’ Tech Startup Centre blog

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CRA: Financial Tools for Canadian Startup Companies

Guindon: SCC Hears Arguments in Penalty Case

The Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments today in the case of Guindon v. The Queen (Docket No. 35519). At issue in the case is the nature of the third-party penalty in section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act.

See our previous post on the case here.

The taxpayer’s factum is available here, and the Crown’s factum is here. In written submissions, the taxpayer argued:

    1. Section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protections of section 11 of the Charter, and
    2. No notice of constitutional question was required.

In response, the Crown argued:

    1. The taxpayer’s failure to file a notice of constitutional question is fatal to the appeal, and
    2. Section 163.2 is not an offence provision.

The seven-member panel was chaired by Justice Rosalie Abella. (Absent were Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and recently appointed Justice Suzanne Côté.)

Taxpayer’s Arguments

The Appellant first addressed the question of whether notice of a constitutional question was required under section 19.2 of the Tax Court of Canada Act. The Appellant argued that it was not advancing the position that section 163.2 was invalid or inapplicable or inoperable, and thus no notice was required. Further, if notice was required, it had been provided in respect of the Supreme Court proceeding.

This brought a series of pointed questions from Justices Abella and Moldaver, who asked whether the effect of the Appellant’s interpretation would be to “throw out” the third-party penalty regime in section 163.2 because it would become subject to criminal procedural requirements. Further, the Court was unconvinced that providing the notice in respect of the Supreme Court hearing cured the failure to provide the notice in the Tax Court.

In respect of the Wigglesworth test, the Appellant argued that section 163.2 is directed at any person, and therefore it is intended to promote public order rather than to regulate a private sphere of conduct. Further, section 163.2 has a true penal consequence in that the penalty imposed under this section is identical to the penalty that could be imposed under section 239 for criminal tax evasion.

Justice Rothstein asked several questions about how section 163.2 differs from the other penalty provisions in the Act and whether a finding that section 163.2 was an offense would require Parliament to redraft the provision to include language similar to that found in section 239. On this point, Justice Abella returned to the issue of whether the Appellant was in fact seeking to have section 163.2 declared inoperable.

Crown’s Arguments

The Crown’s submissions were generally received with less judicial intervention from the Court.  The Crown began its submissions with a discussion of the issue of notice of constitutional question.  When asked whether the failure to give notice can be cured in subsequent proceedings, counsel for the Crown conceded that it could in certain cases, but that by the time the dispute comes before the Supreme Court, the matter should be fully argued and the evidentiary record should be complete.

The Crown argued that, in this case, the Federal Court of Appeal could have done one of three things, each of which would have been acceptable: (1) it could have said that notice of constitutional question is required, adjourned the proceedings to remedy the failure, and heard arguments on the substantive issue; (2) it could have returned the matter back to the Tax Court to have the notice served and arguments re-heard so that the evidentiary record could be completed at trial; or (3) it could have done what it did in this case, and held that failure to give notice prevented the court from considering whether section 163.2 implicates the Charter. On this point, Crown counsel argued that the Supreme Court should not sanction a practice that makes it better to ask for forgiveness on appeal rather than asking for permission in the Tax Court.

Regarding the substantive issue, Crown counsel argued that since the penalty is computed mathematically, and with specific reference to the amount of tax credits that the individual taxpayers claimed under the Income Tax Act, then the penalty in section 163.2 is a non-discretionary penalty that bears none of the principles of sentencing (e.g., blameworthiness, retribution, denunciation, reparation, etc.).

Crown counsel discussed the facts of the case to show the link between the penalty amount and the underlying income tax at issue.  Interestingly, Crown counsel distinguished this penalty (i.e., the “tax preparer” penalty) from the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2, on the basis that the tax advisor penalty takes into account “gross entitlements”, which this particular penalty does not (therefore, it remains to be seen in a future case whether the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2 could be treated differently).  In response to questions from Justices Abella and Rothstein, Crown counsel stated that this penalty is not an “outlier”, as counsel for the Appellant suggested, and that the type of stigma attached to this penalty is a different kind of stigma than the one attached to criminal sanctions.

Finally, regarding the issue of quantum, Crown counsel argued that the amount of the penalty was irrelevant to the analysis.  Justices Abella and Rothstein asked whether the analysis would change if the amount was sufficiently enormous.  Crown counsel argued that the analysis turns on whether the penalty is penal in nature, and if the answer is no, then only in extreme cases would the actual amount cause a penalty to be penal.

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Following brief submissions made by the intervener, the Court reserved its decision.

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