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Foreign Charities and the Changing Landscape of CRA Charity Audits

There has been a flurry of recent scrutiny and activity in the areas of foreign and domestic charities – few foreign charities remain on the list of qualified donees since the changes to the definition of “qualified donee” in the Income Tax Act, and the CRA’s Charities Directorate appears to have taken a keen interest in the political activities of certain domestic charities.

Donors and charities would be prudent to monitor these developments and obtain professional advice where necessary.

Foreign Charities

Before 2013, a “qualified donee” under the Income Tax Act automatically included those foreign charities to which the Canadian government had made a gift in previous years (within a certain timeframe). However, that changed when the definition of qualified donee was amended to include only those foreign organizations that have applied to the CRA for registration, which would be granted if the foreign charity received a gift from the Canadian government and the CRA was satisfied that the foreign charity is carrying on relief activities in response to a disaster, providing urgent humanitarian aid, or carrying on activities in the national interest of Canada.

The CRA website lists only one foreign charity that has been registered – The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The CRA website also lists those organizations that had received gifts from the Canadian government before the changes to the definition of qualified donee.

Political Activities and CRA Charity Audits

The foreign charity changes occurred around the same time the CRA Charities Directorate increased its “political activities compliance efforts”. In general, charities are restricted from engaging in or supporting political activities unless those activities are wholly subordinate to their other charitable purposes. The CRA’s administrative position is that a charity must devote less than 10% of its total resources in a year to political activities.

The CRA focus on charities and political activities sparked many media articles raising the issue of whether the CRA’s auditing practices were themselves inherently politically-motivated (see articles here, herehere and here).

Cathy Hawara, the Director General of the CRA’s Charities Directorate, has denied accusations that these charity audits were politically motivated (see Ms. Hawara’s speech to the CBA Charity Law Symposium on May 23, 3014). The CRA also publicly stated that recent audits of charities were intended to focus on all types of charities and not only those with certain political inclinations. Further, the CRA has recently published a Charities Program Update which (among other things) aims to increase the transparency of its audits in the charitable sector and provide guidance as to how audits for charities involved in political activities are conducted. However, at the same time, the CRA has publicly stated that it will not divulge the guidelines for political activity audits of charities.

The controversy surrounding the CRA’s audit selection process persists. On September 15, 2014 a letter signed by 400 academics was released, demanding that the CRA halt its audit of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (“CCPA”). This letter was sent in response to the release of a CRA document obtained by the CCPA pursuant to an access to information request wherein the CRA states the reason for audit as follows: “A review of the Organization’s website… suggests that the Organization may be carrying out prohibited partisan political activities, and that much of its research/educational materials may be biased/one-sided.”

In their letter, the academics counter that “critical policy analysis does not equate with political activism, nor is it ‘biased’ or ‘one-sided’.” They argue that there is legitimate concern that charities are now self-censoring to avoid aggravating auditors and this audit activity will stifle sound, effective, and legitimate research.

On October 20, 2014, the Broadbent Institute released a report that adds further momentum to the speculative argument that the CRA is less interested in compliance and more interested in politically-motivated retribution against government critics (see also here).

The report highlights 10 “right-leaning” charities that have apparently escaped CRA audit, despite making public statements that may indicate that such charities are carrying out political activities without reporting them. The report concludes by suggesting that an impartial inquiry into the CRA’s audits of charitable organizations is the only way to come to a clear conclusion on this controversial matter.

The message is clear. The CRA is increasing scrutiny on political activities in the charitable sector. Charities should take active steps to ensure that they are compliant with applicable legislation.

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Foreign Charities and the Changing Landscape of CRA Charity Audits

B.C. Supreme Court Rescinds Land Transfers

In Re 0741508 BC Ltd and 0768723 BC Ltd  (2014 BCSC 1791), the British Columbia Supreme Court (“BCSC”) considered whether rescission should be granted in respect of two real estate transactions in which the applicant corporations had transferred several parcels of land to a partnership.

The transactions were undertaken as part of a proposed commercial development of the land. The parties intended – in accordance with industry practice – that there would be no net GST/HST payable on the land transfers (i.e., the GST/HST payable would be offset by an input tax credit).

However, the partnership was not registered for GST/HST purposes under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) and accordingly the input tax credit was not available. The CRA audited members of the corporate group and reassessed nearly $6 million in GST/HST and penalties.

The parties brought an application to the BCSC for rescission of the transfers (i.e., to effectively put the property back in the hands of the selling corporations).

The application was opposed only by the CRA, which argued that rescission should not be available as the mistake in question was not related to the purpose of the transaction but only its consequences. In Gibbon v Mitchell ([1990] 1 W.L.R. 1304 (Ch.), a U.K. court held that rescission would be granted for a mistake where “the mistake is as to the effect of the transaction itself and not merely as to its consequences or the advantages to be gained by entering into it”. Similar reasoning was followed by the Ontario court in 771225 Ontario Inc. v Bramco Holdings Co Ltd. ([1994] 17 O.R. (3d) 571 (Gen. Div.)), which held that an assessed land transfer tax “was a consequence of the transaction, rather than its purpose, and therefore the case did not fall within the strict confines of the rule for granting relief.”

In considering whether to exercise its discretion to order equitable rescission, the BCSC cited McMaster University v Wilchar Construction Ltd. ([1971] 3 O.R. 801 (H.C.)):

In equity, to admit of correction, mistake need not relate to the essential substance of the contract, and provided that there is mistake as to the promise or as to some material term of the contract, if the Court finds that there has been honest, even though inadvertent, mistake, it will afford relief in any case where it considers that it would be unfair, unjust or unconscionable not to correct it.

In the present case, the BCSC noted that, in Re: Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 305) the court had rejected Gibbon and instead relied on the test adopted in the U.K. Supreme Court decision in Pitt v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs ([2013] UKSC 26) to determine whether to rescind a voluntary transaction.

Equitable rescission, under Pallen, would be available where there was a “causative mistake of sufficient gravity” as to the “legal character or nature of the transaction, or as to some matter of fact or law which is basic to the transaction” such that it would be unconscionable, unjust or unfair not to correct the mistake.

The BCSC noted that, in the transactions at hand, the intention of the parties had always been that the partnership would be registered under the ETA so that no net GST/HST would be payable. This was distinguishable from Bramco, where there had never been a specific intention to minimize the applicable tax.

The BCSC reiterated the principle set out in McMaster and Pallen that “if there has been an honest, even though inadvertent mistake, equity will afford relief in any case that the court considers that it would be unfair, unjust, or unconscionable not to correct it” and held that it would be unfair and unjust for either Canada and/or the Province to gain over $6 million plus accruing interest solely because of a mistake in not registering under the ETA.

The BCSC granted the rescission and held that there was “no adequate legal remedy available, the petitioners are not seeking to carry out retroactive tax planning, and there is no prejudice to third parties.”

The Court did not explicitly consider whether the mistake met the threshold of being of sufficient gravity as to the legal character, nature of the transaction, or as to some matter of fact or law which is basic to the transaction.  Presumably, the punitive and negative results of the transaction were sufficiently grave – that is, the mistake about the fact as to whether ETA registration had been completed was sufficiently grave – that the Court found rescission should be granted.

Pallen has been appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal.  It will be interesting to see if the present case is appealed as well.  Either way, the equitable doctrine of rescission continues to develop in the context of unintended tax consequences.

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B.C. Supreme Court Rescinds Land Transfers

Beware of Tax Phishing Scams

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

Generally, the text of these emails is as follows:

Dear TaxPayer,

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

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

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

2014 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Online Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

These types of communication are not from the CRA.

More information is available the CRA’s Security webpage.

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

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Beware of Tax Phishing Scams

Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

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

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

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

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

Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision

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

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

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

The Court granted the rectification sought by the Applicants.

 

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Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

Tax Reminders? Now There’s an App For That

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

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

From the CRA’s mobile apps webpage:

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

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

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

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

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Tax Reminders? Now There’s an App For That

CRA: Tax treatment of Ponzi scheme investments

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

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

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

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

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

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CRA: Tax treatment of Ponzi scheme investments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a)        the facts stated and admitted above;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tax Court allowed the appeal.

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

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

Bolton Steel Tube: TCC Orders Crown to Reassessment in Accordance with Settlement‏

In Bolton Steel Tube Co. Ltd. v. The Queen (2014 TCC 94), the Tax Court of Canada allowed the taxpayer’s motion requesting an Order that would require the CRA to reassess the taxpayer in accordance with the terms of a settlement agreement. In doing so, the Tax Court discussed certain principles regarding settlement agreements and the resulting reassessments.

In Bolton Steel Tube, the CRA reassessed the taxpayer for its 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 taxation years on the basis that the taxpayer failed to report income in each of those taxation years (the “2007 Reassessment”).

In 1996, the taxpayer reported $1.2 million of income. The CRA added approximately $600,000 of unreported income for total income of $1.8 million. During examinations for discovery, the CRA’s representative admitted that approximately $200,000 of the $600,000 increase should not have been made. Accordingly, for the 1996 taxation year, the maximum amount of income the CRA could have added as unreported income was $400,000. The CRA further confirmed this admission in its Reply.

On June 15, 2012, the taxpayer delivered to the Crown an offer to settle which proposed to settle the appeals on the basis that (i) the CRA would vacate the reassessments for 1994, 1995 and 1997, and (ii) the CRA would reassess the 1996 taxation year to add $403,219 to the taxpayer’s income and impose a penalty under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”). The Crown accepted this offer without further negotiation, and the parties entered Minutes of Settlement on these terms.

Following the settlement, the CRA issued a reassessment that calculated the taxpayer’s income for its 1996 taxation year to be $2,266,291, essentially adding $403,219 to the $1.8 million that had been previously assessed (the “2012 Reassessment”). The result was illogical: The agreed amount of unreported income – $403,219 – was added twice, and the $200,000, which the CRA had admitted was not to be added to the taxpayer’s income, was included as well.

In requesting the Order, the taxpayer argued that:

The 2012 Reassessment was not supported on the facts and the law;

The 2012 Reassessment violated the principle that the CRA cannot appeal its own assessment; and

The 2012 Reassessment was made without the taxpayer’s consent, which would be required pursuant to subsection 169(3) of the Act.

The Crown argued that if the 2012 Reassessment was varied or vacated then there had been no meeting of the minds, the settlement was not valid, and the 2007 Reassessment should remain under appeal.

The Tax Court agreed with the taxpayer on all three arguments.

With respect to the first argument, the Tax Court found the CRA’s interpretation of the Minutes of Settlement to be “divorced from the facts and law”. The Crown’s position was unsupportable since settlements must conform with the long-standing principal from Galway v M.N.R. (74 DTC 6355 (Fed. C.A.)) that settlements must be justified under, and in conformity with, the Act. In Bolton Steel Tube, the Tax Court went as far to say “even if both parties consented to settling in this manner, it could not be permitted” and “there is nothing to support the [Crown's] interpretation and nothing to support the [Crown's] further contention that the [taxpayer] offered this amount in exchange for other years to be vacated”.

With respect to the arguments surrounding subsection 169(3) of the Act, the Tax Court found that the taxpayer had not consented to having its income increased by the amount in the 2012 Reassessment.

The Crown argued that subsection 169(3) of the Act, which allows the CRA to reassess an otherwise statute-barred year upon settlement of an appeal, also allows the CRA to increase the amount of tax which the CRA could reassess despite subsection 152(5) of the Act. Subsection 152(5) of the Act is the operative provision that prevents the CRA from increasing an assessment of tax. Here, the Tax Court maintained the longstanding principle that a reassessment cannot be issued that results in an increase of tax beyond the amount in the assessment at issue. This is tantamount to the CRA appealing its own reassessment, which is not permitted, and thus renders the 2012 Reassessment void. We note that the Tax Court also considered the 2012 Reassessment to be void on the basis that it was an arbitrary assessment.

The Tax Court rejected the Crown’s argument that the settlement was ambiguous and therefore there was no meeting of minds as would be required for a valid contract. The Crown argued that the settlement was not valid and therefore the years under appeal should remain in dispute. The Tax Court turned to fundamental principles of contractual interpretation and found that the contract validly existed since it could reasonably be expected that the Crown would have known that the addition of $403,219 was to be added to the appellant’s income as originally reported (i.e., $1.2 million) and not to the income amount in the 2007 Reassessment (i.e., $1.8 million).

Accordingly, the Tax Court rejected the Crown’s argument, found that the settlement was valid and that the Minister should reassess on the basis that $403,219 should be added to the taxpayer’s income as originally reported. Since the 2012 reassessment was not valid, and therefore did not nullify the 2007 reassessment, and a notice of discontinuance had not yet been filed, the Tax Court continued to have jurisdiction over the appeal.

The result of this motion was a clear victory for the taxpayer and for common sense. It serves as a reminder that precision is essential when entering into settlement agreements.

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Bolton Steel Tube: TCC Orders Crown to Reassessment in Accordance with Settlement‏

Marzen: Tax Court Upholds Transfer Pricing Adjustments

The decision of the Tax Court of Canada in Marzen Artistic Aluminum Ltd. v. The Queen (2014 TCC 194) is the latest addition to a growing body of Canadian judgments on the application of the transfer pricing rules in section 247 of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”).

In a lengthy set of reasons, the Tax Court upheld all but a fraction of the CRA’s reassessment of the taxpayer, such reassessments having disallowed the deduction of approximately $7.1M of fees paid by the Canadian taxpayer to its Barbados subsidiary. The Court also upheld the imposition of a penalty under subsection 247(3) of the Act.

The taxpayer was in the business of designing, manufacturing and selling aluminum and vinyl windows. Beginning in 1999, the taxpayer implemented what the Court referred to as the “Barbados Structure”. Under this structure, the taxpayer entered into a “Marketing and Sales Services Agreement” (“MSSA”) pursuant to which the taxpayer’s Barbados subsidiary (“SII”) would provide certain marketing and other sales-related services to the taxpayer in respect of certain jurisdictions, notably the U.S. The fee was calculated as the greater of $100,000 or 25% of sales originated by SII. In total, amounts paid by the taxpayer to SII under the MSSA and related agreements was $4.1M for 2000 and $7.8M for 2001. These amounts were deducted by the taxpayer in computing its Canadian income. SII paid nominal income tax in Barbados on this income. SII then declared dividends to the taxpayer, which were generally received tax-free as dividends out of exempt surplus, pursuant to the deduction in section 113 of the Act.

The Canada Revenue Agency reassessed under section 247 of the Act to disallow a portion of the deduction and imposed a penalty.

In considering the transfer pricing rules in section 247, the Court stated the issues were as follows: (i) whether the terms and conditions imposed in respect of the MSSA differed from what would have been agreed to by persons dealing at arm’s-length, (ii) if so, what adjustments should be made to the quantum of the fees paid under the MSSA so that it was equivalent to the price that would have been paid had the parties been at arm’s-length, and (iii) whether the taxpayer was liable to penalty under subsection 247(3) for the 2001 tax year.

The Court determined that the terms and conditions of the arrangement were not consistent with what arm’s-length parties would have agreed to. In the Court’s view, SII provided few or no marketing and sales services (such services having been subcontracted to another of the taxpayer’s foreign subsidiaries). Further, the Barbados Structure was purely tax-motivated, allowing deductible fees to be repatriated as tax-free exempt surplus dividends. These “attractive advantages” in the Court’s view, would not be available to arm’s-length parties. In the Court’s opinion, applying the “comparable uncontrolled price” method of determining the transfer price, as argued by the Crown, provided the most accurate arm’s-length price.

In this case, the taxpayer was entitled to deduct certain of the fees paid to SII plus $32,500 in each year for corporate and directorship services provided to SII by its director. In the result, the vast majority of the fees paid by the taxpayer to SII were denied and added back into the taxpayer’s income. The Court also found that the transfer pricing penalty was applicable, as the taxpayer failed to make reasonable efforts to determine and use arm’s-length transfer prices in 2001 (the 2000 adjustment did not meet the $5 million threshold for imposing a penalty under subsection 247(3) of the Act).

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Marzen: Tax Court Upholds Transfer Pricing Adjustments

Van Helden: Private Piano Lessons Not Eligible for Tuition Tax Credit

Under subsection 118.5(1) of the Income Tax Act, an individual taxpayer may claim a tax credit in respect of certain qualifying tuition fees. Pursuant to paragraph 118.5(1)(a), the following requirements apply: (i) the student must be enrolled at an educational institution in Canada; (ii) that educational institution must be a university, college or “other educational institution”; and, (iii) the educational institution must provide courses at a post-secondary school level. Tuition credits may be transferred to a parent or grandparent under section 118.9 of the ITA. (See also Income Tax Folio S1-F2-C2 “Tuition Tax Credit” (March 2013)).

In Van Helden v. The Queen (2014 TCC 196), the taxpayer had claimed the tuition credit in respect of fees paid for weekly private piano lessons for his two daughters.

In an earlier case (Tarkowski v. The Queen (2007 TCC 632)), the Tax Court had determined that the Mississauga School of Music was an “educational institution” for the purposes of subsection 118.5(1), and the relevant music courses were “at a post-secondary school level” because a Grade 12 high school credit was a prerequisite to taking these courses.

In Van Helden, the taxpayer argued that, just as the Mississauga School of Music was found to be an “educational institution” in Tarkowski, the private instructors in this case should be found to be educational institutions.

However, the Tax Court disagreed and dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal (see also Kam v. The Queen (2013 TCC 266)). The Tax Court cited the Parliamentary debates (from 1961) regarding the intent and scope of the term “educational institution” and stated:

[20] In conclusion, the original intent of the tuition credit was to make post secondary education more accessible to students by lessening their financial burden. Although subsection 118.5(1) should be interpreted broadly, it is clear that Parliament did not intend that the provision should apply to fees which students paid for private piano lessons at an instructor’s home.

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Van Helden: Private Piano Lessons Not Eligible for Tuition Tax Credit