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CRA Update: Aggressive Tax Planning

At the Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Tax Professionals Breakfast Seminar on June 10, 2014, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) provided an update on selected CRA Compliance Measures in the Aggressive Tax Planning Division. The update was provided by Len Lubbers, Manager, GAAR and Technical Support, Aggressive Tax Planning Division of the Compliance Programs Branch.

Mr. Lubbers displayed and referred to a collection of powerpoint slides (some of which contained detailed statistics), but unlike previous seminars the CRA did not distribute copies of the slides during or after the presentation.

The CRA provided updates on (i) reportable tax avoidance transactions, (ii) the CRA’s related party initiative, (iii) the T1135 foreign income verification statement, (iv) gifting tax shelters, and (v) third party penalties. Here is a brief recap of some of the highlights from the presentation:

Reportable Tax Avoidance Transactions

  • New subsection 237.3 of the Income Tax Act, which addresses reportable transactions, became effective as of June 26, 2013, with retroactive effect to January 1, 2011;
  • Taxpayers who must report a transaction under subsection 237.3 must file form RC312 “Reportable Transaction Information Return“;
  • The deadline for 2012 and earlier years was October 23, 2013, and for subsequent years the RC312 information return is due by June 30 of the year following the transaction;
  • The CRA is currently reviewing the forms filed as of October 2013. The CRA did not disclose the number of RC312 forms that have been filed.

Related Party Initiative/High Net Worth Individual Program

  • The related party initiative program was piloted in 2005 and fully adopted in 2009;
  • The CRA considers that the title “Related Party Initiative” was “not particularly descriptive” of the program;
  • Initially, the program was targeted at individuals with a net worth of $50 million or more and where a taxpayer had 30 or more entities in a corporate group;
  • Several recent changes have expanded the scope of this initiative – namely, the CRA eliminated the requirement that the taxpayer’s wealth be held in 30 or more corporate entities;
  • Additionally, the $50 million threshold for individuals will be relaxed to include corporate groups where there are significant assets held by a group of individuals. For example, consider three individuals that own companies valued at $100 million. Separately, these individuals would not meet the $50 million threshold, but under the new parameters these individuals will be included in the audit program if there is sufficient “economic interdependence”;
  • Further, the long-form “questionnaire” issued by the CRA to taxpayers under audit in the program will now be used by the CRA to gather information from high-net worth individuals who are not under audit;
  • The CRA has formed audit teams in the Aggressive Tax Planning Division to handle these files (previously, these files were handled by audit teams in the Large Business Audit Division).

T1135 Foreign Income Verification Statement

  • The T1135 Foreign Income Verification Statement was introduced in 1995 as a response to concerns about the growing popularity of the use of international tax havens;
  • A revised T1135 form was issued in June 2013;
  • Given the severity of penalties which result from failure to file the T1135 information form, the CRA recommends a voluntary disclosure be made by taxpayers.

Gifting Tax Shelters

  • The CRA continues to monitor and reassess gifting tax shelters;
  • As of 2014, the CRA has reassessed 189,000 taxpayers and denied more than $3 billion of donation tax credit claims;
  • The CRA has revoked the registration of charities that were involved in gifting tax shelters, and the CRA has imposed $162 million of third-party penalties;
  • The CRA noted that the number of participants in tax shelters has been decreasing (i.e., 2012: 8,410 participants vs. 2013: 2,517 participants). The total donations to gifting tax shelters has also decreased (i.e., 2012: $266,675,953 vs. 2013: $7,518,712);
  • The CRA noted the new rule in subsection 225.1(7) that requires a taxpayer to pay 50% of the amount assessed (or the amount in dispute);
  • As of 2013, for taxpayers who participate in a tax shelter, the CRA will not assess a taxpayer’s return until the CRA has audited the tax shelter. In such cases, the CRA will assess a taxpayer’s return if he/she agrees to have the tax shelter credit claim removed from the return.

Third-Party Civil Penalties

  • Section 163.2 was introduced in 2000 (section 285.1 of the Excise Tax Act contains a similar penalty);
  • The CRA’s views on third party penalties is found in Information Circular IC-01-1 “Third Party Civil Penalties” (September 18, 2001);
  • Under section 163.2 there are two types of penalties: a tax planner penalty (under subsection 163.2(2)) and a tax preparer penalty (under subsection 163.2(4)). The CRA noted that both could apply to a taxpayer, but the maximum amount of the penalty in such a case would be the greater of the two amounts (i.e., the penalties are not combined (see subsection 163.2(14));
  • The process for the (potential) application of a penalty under section 163.2 is as follows: The local CRA auditor will gather facts of the taxpayer’s activities and circumstances. If a third party penalty may be applied, the auditor will refer the file to his/her senior manager in the local office. If the senior manager agrees that a penalty may be applied, the file will be referred to the CRA’s Third Party Penalty Review Committee at the CRA’s Ottawa headquarters. A third party penalty will only be applied upon the approval of the Third Party Penalty Review Committee;
  • 195 files have been referred to the Third Party Penalty Review Committee. Of these files, the CRA has applied a penalty in 92 files (for penalties totalling $181 million), has declined to apply a penalty in 87 files, and 16 files remain on-going;
  • The CRA awaits the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Guindon v. The Queen (Docket # 35519), which is tentatively scheduled to be heard on December 5, 2014. See our earlier blog posts on the Guindon case here and here.

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CRA Update: Aggressive Tax Planning

David: Charitable Tax Credit Allowed for Amounts Paid for Inflated Donation Receipts

Where a taxpayer receives an inflated donation receipt, may the taxpayer claim a charitable donation credit for the cash amount of the gift?

According to the Tax Court of Canada in David v. The Queen (2014 TCC 117), in the absence of any extraordinary circumstances, the answer to that question will be yes.

Background

In David, the taxpayers paid certain amounts to a tax return preparer as cash donations to a registered charity. In exchange, the taxpayers received donation receipts from the charity in amounts the Minister claimed were ten times greater than their cash donations. The taxpayers subsequently claimed charitable donation tax credits under subsection 118.1(3) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”) based on the inflated donation receipts.

The Minister disallowed the full amount of the donation tax credits claimed by each taxpayer. The taxpayers appealed the Minister’s reassessments on the basis that at least a portion of the credits should be allowed.

Decision of the Tax Court of Canada

The Court determined on the evidence that the amount that each taxpayer paid as a donation to the charity was 10% of the face value of their donation receipt.

The Minister argued that the donation amounts were not true “gifts” and could not therefore give rise to a claim for charitable tax credits by the taxpayers. The basis for the Minister’s argument was that the amounts were paid on the expectation of receiving a benefit: an inflated charitable donation receipt.

The Court disagreed, stating that “the issuance of an inflated tax receipt should not usually be considered a benefit that negates a gift”. However, there may be extraordinary circumstances that should be taken into consideration. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the taxpayers were entitled to claim a charitable tax credit in respect of 10% of the face value of their donation receipts. The Tax Court did not consider the Minister’s argument that the taxpayers lacked donative intent as it was not raised in the Minister’s pleadings. The Court ordered the cancellation of the penalties (if any) imposed against the taxpayers.

Comments

David is a helpful decision for taxpayers whose claims for charitable donation tax credits have been entirely disallowed by the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) on the basis that the provision of an inflated donation receipt vitiates a gift. As of the writing of this article, the David decision had not been appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal. If appealed, the Court of Appeal may clarify the law on gifts, donative intent and inflated donation receipts. For example, in reaching its conclusion, the Tax Court relied on the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in The Queen v. Doubinin (2005 FCA 298), in which the Court of Appeal held that the issuance of an inflated tax receipt was not a benefit that negated the taxpayer’s gift. In Doubinin, the taxpayer had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and there was no expectation of a benefit when he made the donation. It is not clear whether or how much weight the Tax Court in David placed on these facts or if these facts are examples of “extraordinary circumstances” that should be considered by a court.

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David: Charitable Tax Credit Allowed for Amounts Paid for Inflated Donation Receipts

International and Transfer Pricing Audits: Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Professionals Breakfast Seminar

International and Transfer Pricing Audits

At the Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Professionals Breakfast Seminar on February 18, 2014, the CRA provided an update on international and transfer pricing audits. The slides can be found here. The discussion was led by Paul Stesco, Manager of the International Advisory Services Section, International and Large Business Directorate, Compliance Programs Branch of the CRA and Cliff Rand, National Managing Partner of Deloitte Tax Law LLP.  Here is a brief overview of some of the highlights from the presentation on how such audits are performed:

  • Research and Analysis Stage: the CRA uses the internet extensively for research (e.g. industry analysis, competitor analysis, etc.) as well as prior audit reports, tax returns and annual reports of taxapyers to identify transactions and the appropriate transfer pricing methods applicable to those transactions.
  • Mandatory Referrals to Headquarters: mandatory referrals by the field auditor to the International Tax Division (“ITD”) are required in several situations including: cost contribution arrangements, reassessments that could be issued after the tax treaty deadlines, transfer pricing penalties under subsection 247(3), recharacterization under paragraphs 247(2)(b) and (d), the application of subsection 95(6) and downward pricing adjustments under subsection 247(2) and (10). Situations which involve the use of “secret comparables” to reassess the taxpayer (i.e. comparables used by the CRA that cannot be found in a public database) will automatically be forwarded to the ITD; the CRA will not forward audit issues to the ITD if the “secret comparables” were used only for risk analysis.
  • Access to Taxpayers: during an audit, the CRA may request access to certain individuals involved in the taxpayer’s business. The CRA does not necessarily require physical access to non-resident taxpayers; a telephone interview may suffice. An interview with operational personnel is likely to streamline the audit and, as such, is in the best interests of the taxpayer. Taxpayers are permitted to record such interviews (even including the use of a court reporter to produce a transcript).
  • Currency of Auditsinstead of proceeding on a year by year basis, audits will now generally begin with the most current risk-assessed taxation year (and one back year) and may then move back to other open years in respect of the same issue.  Having said that, there are still “legacy files” within the CRA’s system.
  • Concerns/Complaints: a taxpayer who wishes to express concerns about a transfer pricing audit should follow the appropriate local chain of command: first contact the auditor, then the Team Leader and the relevant Section Manager at the local TSO. Taxpayers should refrain from directly contacting Head Office. The CRA stressed the importance of communicating with the audit team on a regular basis.
  • Contemporaneous Documentation Requirement in subsection 247(4): the CRA acknowledged that transfer pricing studies have been accepted even if they were prepared after the period to which they relate.
  • Transfer Pricing Review Committee (TPRC): two types of referrals proceed to the TPRC: (1) penalty referrals under subsection 247(3) which involve transfer pricing adjustments in excess of 10% of gross revenue or greater than $5,000,000; and (2) referrals of recharacterization as an assessing position under paragraph 247(2)(b).
    • As of October 31, 2013, penalty referrals made up 86.5% of all referrals while recharacterization referrals accounted for 13.5% of all referrals.
    • The taxpayer does not have direct access to the TPRC to make submissions. However, minutes of committee meetings may be obtained by making an Access to Information request.

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International and Transfer Pricing Audits: Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Professionals Breakfast Seminar