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Mac’s: Quebec CA Affirms Denial of Rectification

In Mac’s Convenience Stores Inc. v. Canada (2015 QCCA 837), the Quebec Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court decision (2012 QCCS 2745) denying rectification of corporate resolutions that had declared a dividend that unintentionally put the company offside the “thin-cap” rules in subsections 18(4)-(8) of the Income Tax Act.

Facts

Mac’s, an Ontario corporation, was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Couche-Tard Inc. (“CTI”). In April 2005, Mac’s borrowed $185 million from Sidel Corporation, a related Delaware corporation.

In April 2006, Mac’s participated in several transactions with various related entities, including the declaration of a $136 million dividend on the common shares held by CTI. A similar series of transactions had been undertaken in 2001. However, in 2006, Mac’s professional advisors failed or forgot to take proper account of the $185 million owed by Mac’s to Sidel.

While the $136 million dividend itself was generally without tax consequences, the dividend had the effect of putting Mac’s offside the (then) 2:1 ratio in the “thin-cap” rules in the Income Tax Act. This resulted in the reduction of deductible interest paid by Mac’s to Sidel in the years following the dividend payment (i.e., 2006, 2007 and 2008).

Rectification

After Mac’s was reassessed by the CRA to disallow the interest deduction, Mac’s sought rectification of the corporate resolution declaring the dividend, and additionally sought to substitute a reduction of its stated capital and the distribution of cash to CTI. This would have had the same effect of paying an amount to CTI while maintaining the proper ratio for interest deductibility.

The Quebec Superior Court dismissed the application on the basis that the Mac’s directors never had any specific discussions regarding the deductibility of interest on the Sidel loan after the payment of the dividend. The various steps in the 2006 transactions reflected the intentions of the parties, and thus there was no divergence between the parties agreement and the documents carrying out the transactions.

Appeal

The taxpayer appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Court described the taxpayer’s position as not invoking any error in the lower court judgment but simply alleging that, if the taxpayer’s advisors had made a mistake, then the lower court decision must be reversed on the basis of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Quebec v. Services Environnementaux AES Inc. (2013 SCC 65) (“AES“) (see our previous post on AES here).

The Court of Appeal stated that it understood the Supreme Court’s decision in AES to stand for the proposition that parties who undertake legitimate corporate transactions for the purpose of avoiding, deferring or minimizing tax and who commit an error in carrying out such transactions may correct the error(s) in order to achieve the tax results as intended and agreed upon. The Court of Appeal cautioned that AES does not sanction retroactive tax planning.

In the present case, the Court of Appeal held there was no common intention regarding the “thin-cap” implications of the dividend payment, and thus there was no agreement that should be given effect by the courts.

The Court of Appeal held there was no error by the lower court and dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

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Mac’s: Quebec CA Affirms Denial of Rectification

TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

In Brent Kern Family Trust v. The Queen (2014 FCA 230), the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal with reasons delivered from the bench. The taxpayer had argued that the decision of Canada v. Sommerer (2012 FCA 207) should not apply in this case and, in the alternative, that Sommerer was wrongly decided and ought not to be followed.

Brent Kern Family Trust was a case in which the taxpayer undertook a series of transactions whereby a taxpayer (Mr. K) completed an estate freeze for two corporations (the underlying facts are described in detail in the Tax Court decision (2013 TCC 327)).

Following the estate freeze, two family trusts were set up each with Mr. K and his family as beneficiaries as well as each trust having a separate corporate beneficiary. Next, each of the trusts subscribed for common shares in the corporate beneficiary of the other trust.

Once the structure was in place, a dividend was flowed through the structure and, as a final step, one of the trusts paid funds to Mr. K but relied on the application of subsection 75(2) of the Act to deem the dividend income received by the trust to be income in the hands of one of the corporate beneficiaries. Accordingly, if subsection 75(2) of the Act applied, the income would not be subject to tax as a result of section 112 of the Act and Mr. K could keep the gross amount of the funds.

In the decision rendered at trial, the Tax Court held that Sommerer case applied and subsection 75(2) of the Act did not apply on the basis that the trust purchased the property in question for valuable consideration and no “reversionary transfer” occurred.

In Brent Kern Family Trust, the Court of Appeal found that there was no reviewable error in the trial judge’s finding that Sommerer applied, that the Court of Appeal in Sommerer “spent considerable time analyzing the text, content and purpose of subsection 75(2)”, and no reviewable error had been brought to the Court’s attention in the present case.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal and upheld the Tax Court’s decision.

We note also that at least one taxpayer has brought an application in a provincial court to correct a transaction where the taxpayer never intended for Sommerer to apply. In Re Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 405), the B.C. Supreme Court rescinded two dividends, the effect of which was to eliminate the tax liability in the trust. Re Pallen Trust is under appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

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Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

1057513 Ontario Inc.: The Clear Meaning of Subsection 129(1)

At the heart of tax integration in Canada is the refundable tax and dividend refund mechanism in subsection 129(1) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”).

Generally, to avoid undue deferral of tax on investment income earned through a “Canadian-controlled private corporation”, such corporations must pay refundable tax on investment income (either under Part I or Part IV of the Act), which effectively brings the corporate tax rate on such income to the same rate had the income been earned directly by the Canadian shareholder.

In order to ensure that such income once distributed to an individual shareholder is not subject to double taxation, the Act provides that taxable dividends paid by a private corporation entitle the corporation to a refund of the lesser of 1/3rd of the taxable dividends paid and the balance of the corporation’s “refundable dividend tax on hand” (“RDTOH”) account. Importantly, the Act imposes a strict deadline for obtaining the refund: the return for the year in which the refund is claimed must be filed within three years of the end of the year in which the dividend is paid.

Despite this seemingly clear-cut limitation period, a number of taxpayers over the years have turned to the courts to seek what amounts to a judicial extension of the filing deadline. 1057513 Ontario Inc. v. The Queen (2014 TCC 272) is the latest in a line of recent decisions considering whether the three-year refund limitation period is absolute.

In 1057513, the taxpayer declared and paid dividends to its shareholder in the 1997-2004 tax years. The taxpayer’s director and officer was unaware that a personal holding corporation had an obligation to file a tax return in the years in question. Upon the filing of the tax returns in 2008, the CRA assessed Part IV dividend tax (and interest and penalties) and denied the dividend refund claim.

On appeal, the taxpayer made three arguments: (i) the language in subsection 129(1) was ambiguous (or “at least not unambiguous”), (ii) a textual, contextual and purposive (“TCP”) analysis of the provision reveals latent ambiguities which should allow for a late refund, and (iii) the filing deadline is directory, not mandatory, meaning that not filing the return on time is not fatal to the refund claim.

Not surprisingly, the Tax Court dismissed the appeal. Relying on Tawa Developments Inc. v. The Queen (2011 TCC 440) and other relevant decisions, the Tax Court determined that there was nothing textually unambiguous about the requirement to file a return within three years, finding the statutory language to be “strikingly lucid and abundantly clear”.

Under the TCP argument, the taxpayer argued that the Court should read out the deadline because it was “antipodal” to the integration principal. The Court disagreed, and concluded that the rule was necessary in the context and for the purpose of achieving an effective self-assessing system. Finally, the Court was not swayed by the taxpayer’s argument that a filing deadline without a penalty is directory and not mandatory. The Court noted that while there may be no penalty per se, there was certainly a consequence of the failure to file – that being the inability to access the dividend refund.

It seems clear from the jurisprudence to date that the three-year filing deadline for obtaining a dividend refund under subsection 129(1) is absolute. Taxpayers and their advisors are encouraged to file returns as soon as possible to avoid the potential punitive double-taxation.

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1057513 Ontario Inc.: The Clear Meaning of Subsection 129(1)