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Galachiuk: TCC Clarifies Due Diligence Defence Under 163(1)‏

Subsection 163(1) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) imposes a penalty of 10% on an amount that a taxpayer fails to report in his/her return where there has been a previous failure to report income in any of the three preceding taxation years.

The penalty under subsection 163(1) has been described as “harsh” due to the 10% federal penalty, a potential 10% provincial penalty, and the fact that the penalty may apply even where minimal or no additional tax is owing by the taxpayer (i.e., the tax relating to the unreported amount was withheld at source and remitted to the CRA).

In several cases, the courts have held that a taxpayer that is the subject of a penalty under subsection 163(1) has a due diligence defence. A taxpayer can satisfy the due diligence test in one of two ways: (i) By establishing that he/she made a reasonable mistake of fact (i.e., the taxpayer was mistaken as to a factual situation and the mistake was reasonable), or (ii) by establishing that he/she took reasonable precautions to avoid the event leading to the imposition of the penalty (see Les Résidences Majeau Inc v The Queen (2010 FCA 28)).

Some court decisions on the due diligence defence under subsection 163(1) appear to have reached inconsistent conclusions on the issue of whether the taxpayer’s due diligence must exist in respect of (i) either of the two years in which the failure occurred (see, for example, Franck v. The Queen (2011 TCC 179), Symonds v. The Queen (2011 TCC 274), Chan v. The Queen (2012 TCC 168) , and Norlock v. The Queen (2012 TCC 121)) or (ii) only the year upon which the penalty is imposed (i.e., the second failure) (see, for example, Chendrean v. The Queen (2012 TCC 205), and Chiasson v. The Queen (2014 TCC 158)).

This was the question considered by the Tax Court in Galachiuk v. The Queen (2014 TCC 188). In Galachiuk, the taxpayer failed to report portions of income in two consecutive taxation years: $683 in his 2008 tax return and $436,890 in his 2009 tax return. Given Mr. Galachiuk’s failure to report income on two separate occasions, the Minister imposed a penalty under subsection 163(1).

The taxpayer argued that he had been duly diligent in 2008 because he had taken steps to inform his investment broker and advisors of a change of residence, and had also arranged with Canada Post to have his mail forwarded to his new address. Despite these efforts, one T3 slip had not been forward to or received by the taxpayer. The Crown argued that the fact that some T-slips had the incorrect information should have alerted the taxpayer to the need to take additional steps to ensure he had all of his T-slips for the year.

For 2009, the taxpayer argued that he had received a T4 slip and a T4A slip from his former employer, and had concluded that no additional slips were forthcoming from the former employer and that the two slips he received had included all of the income he had received from the former employer in 2009. The Crown argued that a reasonable person would not have made this mistake in the circumstances.

In respect of the legal test, the Tax Court stated that subsection 163(1) is a harsh provision and the absence of language that would limit the due diligence defence made it clear that Parliament had intended that the defence was available to explain the omission in either year. The Court noted that there was no requirement in the provision that the penalty could only be imposed if the taxpayer had first been reassessed in respect of his/her first failure to report (see such a precondition exists in the language of subsections 162(1) and (2) regarding repeated failures to file returns). Accordingly, the defence can be made out where the taxpayer was duly diligent in respect of either of the failures to report income.

In the present case, the Court stated that the taxpayer had been duly diligent in 2008 because he had taken steps to ensure he received his T-slips, he carefully prepared his 2008 tax return, and the unreported amount was a “tiny portion” of his income for the year. Accordingly, the taxpayer was duly diligent in reporting his income in 2008, and the Court allowed the taxpayer’s appeal and ordered that the CRA reassess to delete the penalty imposed in 2009.

Additionally, the Court went on to consider whether the taxpayer had been duly diligent in 2009. On this issue, the Court concluded that it was not reasonable for the taxpayer to believe that his former employer would issue only one T4A in respect of the various amounts paid to him in the year. Further, there was a material difference between the amounts the taxpayer knew his former employer had paid to him in 2009 and the amount that had appeared on the single T4A slip he received. Accordingly, the taxpayer was not duly diligent in preparing and filing his 2009 return.

Interestingly, the Tax Court noted in a brief comment that it expected that there was a reasonable chance the Crown may appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal in order to obtain clarity on the interpretation of subsection 163(1). As of the publication of this article, no appeal had yet been filed with the Court of Appeal.

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Galachiuk: TCC Clarifies Due Diligence Defence Under 163(1)‏

Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Professionals Group Breakfast Seminar (Objections and Appeals) – November 6, 2013

On November 6, 2013, at the Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Professionals Breakfast Seminar, representatives from the CRA provided an update on objections and appeals.

Anne-Marie Levesque, Assistant Commissioner of Appeals, presented these slides and made the following comments:

  • The Appeals Branch reviews objections to assessments from the following branches:
    • Compliance programs (audit)
    • Assessment and benefit services
    • Taxpayer services and debt management (collections)
  • The Appeals Branch will not normally contact an assessing branch unless the assessing position is unclear or pertinent information is missing. If this is the case, the practice of the Appeals Branch is to note this in the file.
  • The Appeals Branch is aware and concerned about the time required to process large files, which may take a few months to assign, and up to a year to resolve.
  • The Appeals Branch manual is available at CRA Reading Rooms. A taxpayer may visit these rooms and ask for a copy, and an appeals officer will provide a copy.
  • The Appeals Branch has been “swamped” by objections in the last 5-8 years, most relating to tax shelters. Historically, the Appeals Branch received 50,000 objections per year, but in recent years has received up to 100,000 objections per year. Currently there is a “significant backlog” of objections in the Appeals Branch’s inventory.
  • The Appeals Branch is distributing certain files to particular offices across the country (i.e., alimony, Disability Tax Credits, Child Care Tax Benefits, GST credits, etc.) to streamline the resolution for less complex objections.
  • Large group files (i.e., tax shelter objections) have been concentrated in the Toronto North Tax Services Office.
  • The Appeals Branch has designated certain offices as industry specialists: forestry in Vancouver; resources in Calgary; insurance, banking and mining in Toronto North; and manufacturing in Montreal.
  • The Appeals Branch has moved away from the practice of granting face-to-face meetings (too expensive and time consuming, requires that objections be assigned to offices located near taxpayer’s home or office). While some files may still require in-person meetings, for most files the appeals officer will not meet with the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative. However, the Appeals Branch is committed to communicating with taxpayers and their representatives over the phone and in writing.
  • The Appeals Branch will continue to ask that taxpayers make written submissions. This is to protect the integrity of the decision-making process – both for the Appeals Branch’s internal quality standards and for the purposes of any external review by the Auditor General.
  • Generally, the Appeals Branch is committed to resolving disputes prior to litigation. Taking a file to the Tax Court is the exception and not the rule for the Appeals Branch.
  • The “benefit of the doubt” should go to the taxpayer where there is credible evidence in support of the taxpayer’s version of the facts. If the taxpayer’s version of the facts makes sense and is reasonable, the Appeals Branch may give the taxpayer the benefit of the doubt even in the absence of documentary evidence. However, in such cases, the Appeals Branch expects that the taxpayer will be diligent about maintaining proper documentation to avoid the same problem in the future.
  • The Appeals Branch has had a settlement protocol with the Department of Justice since 2004, which has evolved over time. Recent amendments give Department of Justice counsel additional leeway to resolve low-complexity files without having to obtain instructions from the CRA litigation officer – this would apply to all informal procedure appeals and some general procedure appeals. Conversely, the settlement protocol empowers CRA litigation officers to settle informal procedure appeals without requiring sign-off by the Department of Justice.
  • Historically, the Crown is successful in approximately 85% of appeals to the Tax Court. This rate fluctuates over time, but in the last three months the Crown’s success rate has increased. The increase may be due to the efforts of the CRA and the Department of Justice to settle those appeals that should not go forward to a full hearing.
  • When the Crown loses an appeal in the Tax Court, the reasons for judgment are reviewed by the Adverse Decision Committee, which includes the Assistant Commissioner of the Appeals Branch, Assistant Commissioners from the assessing branches, senior counsel from the Department of Justice, and a senior representative from the Department of Finance. The Committee considers whether there has been an error of law and the chance of success on appeal.
  • The Appeals Branch has initiated a pilot project in British Columbia under which appeals officers will be empowered to consider relief from interest and penalties at the same time they are considering the substantive tax issues on objection. The Appeals Branch is still considering how this process may work, due to the different processes by which these decisions may be appealed by the taxpayer (i.e., appeal to the Tax Court for tax assessments, and judicial review of decisions regarding interest and penalty relief).
  • Auditors are empowered to “waive” interest and penalties before assessing, while appeals officers may “cancel” interest and penalties after assessment.
  • Remission orders under the Financial Administration Act are not dealt with by the Appeals Branch and are granted to taxpayers only in rare circumstances.
  • The Appeals Branch would prefer that taxpayers not appeal to the Tax Court immediately after 90 days have passed from the date of filing the Notice of Objection.

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Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Professionals Group Breakfast Seminar (Objections and Appeals) – November 6, 2013

The Crown Succeeds on a Motion to Strike a Portion of the Taxpayer’s Pleading: Golini v. The Queen

In Paul C. Golini v. The Queen (2013 TCC 293) the Tax Court of Canada agreed to strike out portions of a taxpayer’s pleading suggesting that a protective reassessment issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) was invalid.

In June 2012, the CRA informed the taxpayer that his 2008 income tax return had been selected for an audit. In the following months, both parties continued to correspond and exchange information. In August 2012, the CRA asked the taxpayer to provide a waiver extending the limitation period to reassess the 2008 taxation year. The taxpayer declined to do so.

In September 2012, the Minister reassessed the taxpayer and informed him that the reassessment was a “protective reassessment;” supporting documentation would be provided upon completion of the audit.

The Crown brought a motion to strike out the allegation that the reassessment was invalid. The taxpayer contended that a “protective reassessment” was inconsistent with the assessing provisions of the Income Tax Act as it was issued solely to allow the Minister additional time to complete an audit.

The Tax Court judge looked to Karda v. HMQ (2006 FCA 238) for guidance on the issue. In that case, the Federal Court of Appeal held that the Minister may issue a protective reassessment where a taxpayer declines to provide a waiver so long as the CRA has completed “some review” and has requested further information. The Tax Court judge held that:

There is no law . . . to the effect that a protective assessment is invalid if issued for the sole purpose of leaving the door open to conduct or continue an audit.

He went on to note that:

. . . the law, I find, is clear that some review by the CRA followed by inquiries for more information and a request for a waiver, subsequently refused, is sufficient for a protective assessment to be a valid assessment. And that is exactly what we have here.

Whenever a taxpayer declines to grant the CRA a waiver, the CRA almost invariably reassesses before the “normal reassessment period” expires.  There is nothing surprising about that.  What is noteworthy here, though, is the willingness of the Tax Court to entertain the Crown’s request to strike out, before trial, an argument put forward by a taxpayer. As we noted in our blog post on the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. The Queen:

Parties are generally given the opportunity to make whatever arguments they consider necessary to their case with the ultimate determination being made by the trial judge who is in the best position to decide questions of relevance and weight in light of all the evidence.  It is rather unusual for a legal theory, novel though it is, to be taken off the table at such an early stage.  At the same time, courts are increasingly concerned about “proportionality” and are reluctant to allow scarce judicial resources to be spent on matters that are unlikely to have any effect on the outcome of the hearing.

This decision is, therefore, consistent with recent jurisprudence from the Federal Court of Appeal and should reduce the number of issues to be decided at trial.

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The Crown Succeeds on a Motion to Strike a Portion of the Taxpayer’s Pleading: Golini v. The Queen