1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

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.

, ,

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.

, ,

B.C. Supreme Court Rescinds Land Transfers

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.

, ,

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

IRS: Bitcoin Not a Currency for Tax Purposes

As expected, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has provided some guidance on the U.S. tax treatment of Bitcoin.

In Notice 2014-21 (March 25, 2014), the IRS stated that Bitcoin is property and not currency for tax purposes.  According to the Notice, “general tax principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency.”  Some of the U.S. tax implications of Bitcoin include the following: (1) taxpayers receiving Bitcoins as payment for goods or services must include in their gross income the fair market value of the Bitcoins; (2) taxpayers will have a gain or loss upon the exchange of Bitcoins for other property; and (3) taxpayers who “mine” Bitcoins must include the fair market value of the Bitcoins in their gross incomes.  The IRS also confirmed in its statement that employment wages paid in Bitcoins are taxable.

This guidance from the IRS accords with the positions taken by tax authorities in other jurisdictions.

Commentators have considered the tax implications of Bitcoin in Canada both before and after the CRA released its most recent guidance in CRA Document No. 2013-0514701I7 “Bitcoins” (December 23, 2013).

The Canadian government has taken the position that Bitcoin is not legal tender. The Canada Revenue Agency has stated that, when addressing the Canadian tax treatment of Bitcoin, taxpayers must look to the rules surrounding barter transactions and must consider whether income or capital treatment arises on Bitcoin trading (i.e., speculating on the changes in the value of Bitcoins).

While Bitcoin currency exchanges encounter uncertainty (or fail entirely), and Bitcoin prices continue to fluctuate, the global tax implications of Bitcoin are becoming clearer.

, ,

IRS: Bitcoin Not a Currency for Tax Purposes

Upcoming Event: Ontario Bar Association Taxation Law Luncheon

Join Dentons’ David Spiro as he and two other speakers, including General Counsel from the Department of Justice, discuss the best practices for managing the flow of information to and from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Ensure you know how to best manage the flow of documents and information to the CRA in the context of a corporate tax audit. Attend this lunch program to learn about the CRA’s statutory powers to obtain taxpayer information, setting up an effective audit process, challenging requirements for information, recent legislative changes to third party requirements, the compellability of tax accrual workpapers, and best practices for dealing with issues frequently faced by taxpayers and their advisors during the course of an audit. You will also get practical tips for obtaining taxpayer records from the CRA pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Event Details
November 7, 2013
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT
20 Toronto Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5C 2B8

Click here for more information and to register.

Upcoming Event: Ontario Bar Association Taxation Law Luncheon

The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

In Salisbury House of Canada Ltd. et al. v. The Queen (2013 TCC 236), the Tax Court of Canada reiterated the importance of the statutory preconditions that must be met before a taxpayer may appeal to the Court. These statutory requirements should be kept in mind by taxpayers who wish to ensure their disputes are heard on the substantive merits rather than dismissed for procedural reasons before they have an opportunity to argue their case.

In Salisbury, the corporate taxpayer operated several restaurants in the Winnipeg area. The company was assessed additional GST for the period February to June, 2006 but did not object to those assessments. Around the same time, a new board of directors was elected. Due to financial difficulties, the company made a proposal under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and attempted to negotiate an agreement with the CRA pertaining to the GST arrears. The parties eventually agreed that a portion of the GST liability would be paid. Importantly, at this point, no directors’ liability assessments had been issued under s. 323 of the Excise Tax Act. Payment was remitted, but the directors sought to have their potential liability for tax determined “by a court of competent jurisdiction”.

The company and the individual directors each filed a Notice of Appeal in the Tax Court. In response, the Crown brought a motion to dismiss the appeals pursuant to paragraph 53(b) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) on the grounds that (inter alia) the appeals were scandalous, frivolous or vexatious.

Under section 306 of the Excise Tax Act, a taxpayer must file a notice of objection before a Notice of Appeal may be filed in the Tax Court. In Salisbury, the GST assessments against the corporate taxpayer had not been challenged by way of objection and there had been no assessments issued against the directors.  The Minister argued that the appellants had no statutory right of appeal because the requirements of section 306 had not been met.

The Tax Court granted the Minister’s motion and dismissed the appeals. Since no notices of objection had been filed by the company, this precluded an appeal from the original GST assessments. In respect of the appeals by the individual directors, the Court held that they too could not succeed – no assessments had been issued, and no notices of objection filed.

The Salisbury decision is consistent with a long line of jurisprudence reflecting the requirement that taxpayers must satisfy the statutory preconditions before appealing to the Tax Court. In Roitman v. The Queen (2006 FCA 266), the Federal Court of Appeal stated that a court “does not acquire jurisdiction in matters of income tax assessments simply because a taxpayer has failed in due course to avail himself of the tools given to him by the Income Tax Act.” More recently, in Goguen v. The Queen (2007 DTC 5171), the Tax Court reiterated that, as “a matter of law, the failure of the [taxpayer] to serve a notice of objection on the Minister deprive[s] the Tax Court of Canada of the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal in relation to the assessment” (see also Whitford v. The Queen (2008 TCC 359), Bormann v. The Queen (2006 FCA 83), and Fidelity Global Opportunities Fund v. The Queen (2010 TCC 108)).

Salisbury reminds corporate and individual taxpayers of the need to obtain proper advice from tax professionals with respect to their rights and obligations under the Excise Tax Act and the Income Tax Act. This is all the more important in cases where the corporation is experiencing financial difficulty and/or contemplating protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (i.e., as the CRA may be a primary creditor). In Salisbury, the directors may not have been personally liable for corporate taxpayer’s GST liability. However, because of the manner and timing of the payment of GST arrears, their “appeal” to the Tax Court was defeated on procedural rather than substantive grounds and they were, unfortunately, precluded from presenting their case.

, , ,

The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) has gone through a number of organizational changes over the past few years. For many years, disclosures were made to the local Tax Services Office. More recently, the CRA has moved the handling of disclosures to Regional Centres; Shawinigan – Sud Tax Centre for the Atlantic, Quebec, and Ontario Regions, Winnipeg Tax Centre for the Prairie Region and Surrey Tax Centre for the Pacific Region.

With the move of the VDP to Regional Centres, the CRA has implemented a new screening process. Screeners are now reviewing disclosure packages soon after receipt and are comparing the package to a CRA developed checklist. If any item on the checklist is missing or incomplete, then the CRA returns the package to the sender, along with a covering letter and a checklist that identifies the missing or incomplete information. There are, however, certain issues that have arisen with respect to the CRA’s screening process and use of the checklist.

First, it prevents a disclosure from being made by a taxpayer who does not have a social insurance number, business number, etc. If an identification number is not available, the disclosure may need to be made on a no-names basis while the taxpayer applies for an identification number.

Second, the CRA will not accept a disclosure if the amount in issue is not identified. This is problematic as, often, disclosures are made before the work needed to calculate the omitted or under-reported amount has been completed. In the past, this information was forwarded within 90 days of filing the disclosure and was an approach acceptable to the CRA.

Third, where the disclosure package is large, screeners do not appear to be reviewing all of the documents before issuing the letter and checklist. Therefore, it is advisable to use a covering letter for each disclosure package which identifies compliance with each item on the CRA’s checklist and a detailed explanation as to why any checklist item is outstanding. It is not yet clear whether, even upon explanation, the CRA will accept a disclosure if a checklist item is outstanding.

,

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

Sales of condominium units under audit by Canada Revenue Agency

A Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) audit initiative is targeting taxpayers who have recently sold condominium units they did not occupy or occupied for only a short period of time (the “CRA Condo Project”).

The CRA is reassessing some of these dispositions on the basis that the condo was sold in the course of business, treating the profit as income (instead of capital gains) and, in some cases, assessing gross negligence penalties under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act. In doing so, the CRA may be incorrectly reassessing some taxpayers whose gains are legitimate capital gains and that may be subject to the principal residence exemption (click here for a discussion of the principal residence exemption).

Consider this example. A taxpayer signs a pre-construction purchase agreement for a condo in 2007.  In 2009, the unit was completed and occupied by the taxpayer, before the entire development was finished and registered in land titles.  Land titles registration occurs in 2010, but shortly thereafter the taxpayer sells the condo for a profit.  Ordinarily, one would conclude the condo was held on account of capital and the gain would be at least partially exempt from tax on the basis that condo was the taxpayer’s principal residence.  The CRA may be inclined to reassess on the basis that land title records show the taxpayer on title for only a short time, as though the taxpayer had intended to merely “flip” the condo rather than reside in it.

This assessing position may be incorrect because the buyer of a condo does not appear on title until the entire condominium development is registered.  In fact, several years can pass from the date of signing the purchase agreement to occupancy to land titles registration – and, accordingly, the taxpayer’s actual length of ownership will not be apparent from the land title records.

This type of situation could cause serious problems for some taxpayers. If a taxpayer is audited and subject to reassessment on the basis that their entire gain should be taxed as income, the taxpayer will need to gather evidence and formulate arguments in time to respond to an audit proposal letter within 30 days, or file a Notice of Objection within 90 days of the date of a reassessment.

Taxpayers could respond to such a reassessment by providing evidence that they acquired the condo with the intent that it would be their residence, and that the subsequent sale was due to a change in life circumstances.  Taxpayers may wish to gather the following evidence to support such claims:

  • Purchase and sales agreements;
  • Letter or certificates granting permission to occupy the condo;
  • Proof of occupancy, such as utility bills, bank statements, CRA notices, identification (such as a driver’s license) showing the condo as a residence; or
  • Evidence of a change in life circumstances which caused the condo to no longer be a suitable residence, including:
    • Marriage or birth certificates;
    • A change of employer or enrollment in education that required relocation; or
    • Evidence showing the taxpayer cared for a sick or infirm relative, or had a disability that precluded using a condo as a residence.

Taxpayers should be prepared to provide reasonable explanations for any gaps in the evidence.  If a taxpayer wishes to explore how best to respond in the circumstances, they should consult with an experienced tax practitioner.

, , , , ,

Sales of condominium units under audit by Canada Revenue Agency

Provincial Income Allocation: Salaries and Wages to Include All Taxable Benefits

In the Provincial Income Allocation Newsletter No. 4 (March 2013), the Canada Revenue Agency notes that the Allocation Review Committee (“ARC”) has changed its position on amounts previously excluded in calculating “salary and wages paid in the year” for provincial income allocation purposes:

Effective for the 2013 tax year, the amount of salaries and wages paid in the year for the purpose of provincial income allocation calculations will include all taxable benefits that are to be included in the employees’ income in the year. This includes deemed amounts such as stock option benefits under section 7 of the Income Tax Act (Canada), regardless of whether these benefits are deductible in calculating the employer’s income.

Corporations having a permanent establishment in more than one province will need to consider the ARC’s change in position when preparing their next income tax return.  Applying the previous year’s method of calculation salaries and wages may fail to include all of the amounts now required to be included in the calculation.

, ,

Provincial Income Allocation: Salaries and Wages to Include All Taxable Benefits

Federal Court of Appeal deals a blow to the Canada Revenue Agency: Full disclosure must be made on ex parte applications

On February 21, 2013, the Federal Court of Appeal released two decisions related to the obligations of the Minister of National Revenue when making ex parte applications under subsection 231.2(3) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) for judicial authorization requiring taxpayers to produce certain information and documents relating to customers.  In Minister of National Revenue v. RBC Life Insurance Company et al., 2013 FCA 50, the FCA affirmed the decision of the Federal Court (reported at 2011 FC 1249) cancelling four authorizations issued by the Federal Court in relation to customers of the Respondent companies who had purchased a particular insurance product that has been described as “10-8 insurance plans”.  In Minister of National Revenue v. Lordco Parts Ltd., the FCA adopted its reasoning in RBC and again affirmed a judgment of the Federal Court cancelling an authorization that had required information in respect of certain employees of the Respondent.

In both cases, the FCA reaffirmed the Minister’s “high standard of good faith” and the powers of the Federal Court to curtail abuses of process by the Crown.

In RBC, the Minister argued that the facts that it failed to disclose on its ex parte application before the Federal Court were not relevant to the applications. Reviewing the judgment of the Federal Court, the FCA concluded that the Minister failed to disclose the following facts:

  • The Department of Finance’s refusal to amend the Act;
  • Information in an advance income tax ruling;
  • CRA’s decision to “send a message to the industry” to chill the 10-8 plans; and
  • The GAAR committee had determined the plans complied with letter of Act.

The FCA held that the Federal Court’s finding that these facts were relevant was a question of mixed fact and law and the Minister had not demonstrated palpable and overriding error by the Federal Court judge. At a minimum, this suggests the Crown may have to disclose information of the sort included in the enumerated list.  Examining that list is interesting and suggests a requirement to include in the disclosure to the Federal Court judge hearing an ex parte application facts related to legislative history and intent including discussions about potential problems and possible legislative “fixes”, internal analysis of issues within the CRA including other advance income tax rulings, motivations on the part of the CRA and its officers and agents that may extend beyond auditing the particular facts, and previous analysis of the facts known  to the CRA and indications that those facts might support compliance with the Act and inapplicability of the GAAR.  That is a very extensive list, and it is encouraging to know that Crown obligations extend into each of these areas.

Further, the FCA held that even if the Federal Court on review of an ex parte order determined that the Minister had a valid audit purpose, it was open to the Federal Court to cancel the authorization based on the Minister’s lack of disclosure.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Minister argued that section 231.2(6), unlike section 231.2(3), did not allow for judicial discretion. Once the statutory conditions are established, the Minister argued, the Federal Court judge MUST NOT cancel the authorizations, no matter how egregiously the Crown acted.  The FCA rejected this argument, reaffirming the importance of judicial discretion and the duty of the Minister to act in good faith:

[26] In seeking an authorization under subsection 231.2(3), the Minister cannot leave “a judge…in the dark” on facts relevant to the exercise of discretion, even if those facts are harmful to the Minister’s case: Derakhshani, supra at paragraph 29; M.N.R. v. Weldon Parent Inc., 2006 FC 67 at paragraphs 153-155 and 172. The Minister has a “high standard of good faith” to make “full disclosure” so as to “fully justify” an ex parte order under subsection 231.1(3): M.N.R. v. National Foundation for Christian Leadership, 2004 FC 1753, aff’d 2005 FCA 246 at paragraphs 15-16. See also Canada Revenue Agency, Acquiring Information from Taxpayers, Registrants and Third Parties (issued June 2010).

The Minister’s argument, the FCA held, also runs contrary to the inherent power of the Federal Court to “redress abuses of process, such as the failure to make full and frank disclosure of relevant information on an ex parte application” (para 33):

The Federal Courts’ power to control the integrity of its own processes is part of its core function, essential for the due administration of justice, the preservation of the rule of law and the maintenance of a proper balance of power among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Without that power, any court – even a court under section 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867 – is emasculated, and is not really a court at all. (para 36)

Overall, the RBC decision strongly reaffirms the role of the Federal Court in ensuring the Minister acts in good faith when making ex parte applications.  Given the broad powers granted in subsection 231.2(3) and elsewhere in the Act, it is reassuring to know that the Courts can, and will, protect taxpayers and citizens generally by ensuring that the CRA puts all relevant information before the Court when it seeks to exercise those powers.

, , , , , , ,

Federal Court of Appeal deals a blow to the Canada Revenue Agency: Full disclosure must be made on ex parte applications