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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 In Re Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 405), the B.C. Supreme Court rescinded two dividends, the effect of which was to eliminate the tax liability in the trust.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

McKesson: Taxpayer Seeks to Raise Additional Issue on Appeal

“Judges are expected to decide cases as framed by the parties, then step back and allow the appellate process to unfold. In this case, the trial judge did neither.”
- Taxpayer’s Supplemental Memorandum of Fact and Law

The transfer pricing case of McKesson v. The Queen has raised procedural issues that are without precedent in Canadian tax cases. This week, those procedural issues became a central part of the matters that will be considered by the Federal Court of Appeal.

In a Notice of Motion (and other materials) filed this week, the taxpayer has asked for a new trial before the Tax Court.

Background

McKesson is a case involving transfer pricing adjustments under section 247 of the Income Tax Act (Canada) in respect of the factoring of accounts receivable as well as the limitation period in Article 9(3) of the Canada-Luxembourg Tax Convention. The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

After the taxpayer had commenced an appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal, Tax Court Justice Patrick Boyle recused himself (2014 TCC 266) from the two remaining issues before the lower court (i.e., costs and the content of the Tax Court’s public file) on the basis that the taxpayer had, in its materials filed in the Court of Appeal, accused of him of bias (see our previous post here).

Notice of Motion

On November 3, the taxpayer filed a Notice of Motion in the Federal Court of Appeal for leave to file (i) an Amended Notice of Appeal, and (ii) a Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law. In its Motion, the taxpayer states that Justice Boyle’s reasons for recusal raise a further ground of appeal in addition to those already set out in the original Notice of Appeal. The proposed Amended Notice of Appeal and Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law address the following additional ground of appeal:

Do the trial judge’s Recusal Reasons compromise the appearance and reality of a fair process in this case such that a new trial is necessary?

Specifically, the proposed Amended Notice of Appeal states,

8. The Trial Judge’s Reasons for Recusal dated September 4, 2014 interfere with the fairness of the appellate process and compromise the appearance and reality fairness of both the trial and appeal.

The taxpayer has also hired additional counsel in respect of the motion, namely Henein Hutchison LLP, a Toronto-based litigation law firm.

Taxpayer’s Arguments

The taxpayer’s Written Representations in support of its Motion argue that the recusal reasons were directed at the Court of Appeal and have compromised the fairness of the case. The taxpayer argues that this “improper intervention” has compromised the integrity of the appeal process.

The taxpayer’s Supplementary Memorandum of Fact and Law states that the trial judge’s “intervention in this appeal was ill-advised and improper”. The taxpayer argues that the trial judge should have remained “above the fray” and should not have “put himself into the appellate arena”.

The taxpayer characterizes the recusal reasons as a “post-hoc attempt to justify to an appellate court a decision given many months earlier” [emphasis in original]. The taxpayer states that the “Recusal Reasons are nothing less than an explicit attempt by the trial judge to insert himself into the appellate process as an advocate against the Appellant and its lawyers.”

The taxpayer argues that the recusal reasons must be considered part of the record in the case before the Federal Court of Appeal. A new trial would, in the taxpayer’s view, give it “an opportunity to make its case at trial, free of the unfairness that has now tainted this proceeding.”

The taxpayer also argued that the recusal reasons have undermined the solicitor-client relationship, and retrospectively reveal the trial judge’s disposition against the taxpayer.

The taxpayer has requested that the appeal be allowed and the matter remitted to the Tax Court for a new trial before a different judge.

*     *     *

The Crown has not yet filed its response to the taxpayer’s Notice of Motion.

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McKesson: Taxpayer Seeks to Raise Additional Issue on Appeal

McKesson: Trial Judge Recuses Self From Two Remaining Issues in Transfer Pricing Case

In McKesson v. The Queen (2014 TCC 266), Justice Patrick Boyle recused himself from the two remaining issues with which he was seized in the transfer pricing case – costs and the content of the court’s public file (i.e., the determination of whether certain information may be confidential).

This unusual decision arises as a result of the content of the Appellant’s factum filed in the Federal Court of Appeal in the appeal of Justice Boyle’s trial decision in McKesson (see our posts on the Tax Court case here and the Federal Court of Appeal proceeding here and here).

In his recusal reasons, Justice Boyle wrote:

[4]        As detailed below, I have, of my own motion, decided that I am compelled to consider whether I need to recuse myself from the two remaining issues before this Court. A consideration of this issue is required because I became aware that the Appellant and Appellant’s counsel, together with its co-counsel in the Federal Court of Appeal in respect of the appeal of the trial decision, had made certain public written statements about me in its factum in the Federal Court of Appeal (the “Factum”) which, upon reflection, appear to me to clearly include:

(i)         allegations that I was untruthful and deceitful in my Reasons;

(ii)         clear untruths about me, what I said and heard in the course of the trial, as well as the existence of evidentiary foundations supporting what I wrote in my Reasons; and

(iii)        allegations of impartiality on my part.

[5]        This requires me to consider whether:

(i)         I believe that a reasonable person reading the Factum, my Reasons, and the relevant portions of the transcript would believe that the trial judge so strongly complained of by McKesson Canada might not be able to remain impartial in his consideration of costs and confidential information;

(ii)         I believe I can impartially consider, weigh and decide the costs and confidential information issues before me; and

(iii)        whether the public challenge of my impartiality expressed by McKesson Canada and its co-counsel in the Factum is itself sufficient to warrant recusing myself at this stage.

 …

[133]     I view these as public allegations by a party to the costs and confidential information matters remaining before this Court that, regardless of the merits of their reasoning or their thoughts, I am unable to decide the remaining matters impartially. I believe that a reasonable person reading only these phrases from the Factum, without reviewing my Reasons or the trial Transcript, would believe that such strong complaints by McKesson Canada and its counsel may give rise to a serious doubt that I will be seen to be able to dispose of the two remaining issues and discharge my duties on an impartial basis.

[136]     For the Reasons identified above, I have decided I have to recuse myself from the remaining costs and confidential information issues in McKesson Canada’s proceeding in this Court.

[137]     It may be that some of the perceived untruths about the trial judge described above under heading II might individually not warrant recusal, and may be within an appellate advocate’s licence to overstate through the use of absolutes like ‘never’, ‘only’ and ‘any’.

[138]     However, I am satisfied that a reasonable fair-minded Canadian, informed and aware of all the issues addressed above, would entertain doubt that I could remain able to reach impartial decisions. I believe that such a reasonable fair-minded and informed person, viewing this realistically and practically would, after appropriate reflection, be left with a reasoned suspicion or apprehension of bias, actual or perceived. Canadians should rightly expect their trial judges to have broad shoulders and thick skins when a losing party appeals their decision, but I do not believe Canadians think that should extend to accusations of dishonesty by the judge, nor to untruths about the judge. Trial judges should not have to defend their honour and integrity from such inappropriate attacks. English is a very rich language; the Appellant and its counsel could have forcefully advanced their chosen grounds for appeal without the use of unqualified extreme statements which attack the personal or professional integrity of the trial judge.

[139]     For these reasons, I will be advising my Chief Justice that I am recusing myself from completing the McKesson Canada proceeding in the Tax Court. This extends to the consideration and disposition of the costs submissions of the parties in this case, as well as to the 2010 confidential information order of Justice Hogan in this case and its proper final implementation by the Tax Court and its Registry.

No date has been set for the hearing of the main matter by the Federal Court of Appeal.

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McKesson: Trial Judge Recuses Self From Two Remaining Issues in Transfer Pricing Case

McKesson: Respondent’s Factum Filed

Earlier this year, McKesson Canada Corporation appealed the decision of the Tax Court of Canada in McKesson Canada Corporation v. The Queen (2013 TCC 404) (see Federal Court of Appeal File Nos. A-48-14 and A-49-14).

At issue was the appropriate discount rate paid under a receivables sales agreement between McKesson Canada and its parent company, MIH, under section 247 of the Income Tax Act (Canada). A secondary issue was the assessment of withholding tax on a deemed dividend that arose as a result of the lower discount rate. For our earlier blog post on the Tax Court decision see here.

In the Federal Court of Appeal, the Appellant’s Memorandum of Fact and Law was filed on June 11, 2014. For our earlier post summarizing the appellant’s memorandum see here.

The Respondent’s Memorandum of Fact and Law was recently filed on August 11, 2014.

In its Memorandum, the Respondent states that the trial judge’s “carefully reasoned decision” and findings were “amply supported” by the evidence at trial and no palpable and overriding error can be found in the trial judge’s conclusions.

The Respondent summarizes its points at issue at paragraph 56 of its Memorandum:

  • The trial judge applied the correct test. His decision was based on what arm’s-length persons would agree to pay for the rights and benefits obtained and not on findings of tax avoidance, lack of need for funds, or group control.
  • Ample evidence supports the trial judge’s determination of the arm’s-length discount rate. Since no palpable and overriding error was committed, his decision should not be disturbed.
  • The trial judge did not commit an error of law in concluding that the five-year limitation period in Article 9(3) of the Canada-Luxembourg Tax Treaty does not apply to the Part XIII tax reassessment at issue.

No hearing date has yet been set for the hearing in the Federal Court of Appeal.

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McKesson: Respondent’s Factum Filed

FCA Cautions Parties on Adjournment Requests

In recent years the Tax Court of Canada has strictly applied the requirements for adjournments and timetable amendments as described in the Court’s Practice Note No. 14. We understand this may have been prompted by a practice that had developed over time whereby the parties to an appeal would consent to extensions of time or adjournments and then informally seek the Court’s approval.

The Federal Court of Appeal appears to have been wrestling with similar scheduling and adjournment issues. In UHA Research Society v. Canada (2014 FCA 134), the Appellant sought an adjournment of a hearing date due to the unavailability of counsel.

In a lengthy discussion of the Court’s scheduling process, the Court’s expectations of counsel and the test for an adjournment request (i.e., there must be significant new developments, marked changes in circumstances, or compelling reasons of fairness), Justice Stratas provided a reminder about the Court’s procedure and practice regarding adjournments.

In UHA, Justice Stratas granted the adjournment request, but cautioned:

[18] Having written these reasons – reasons written in response to a spate of recent incidents of lack of regard for scheduling orders of this Court – I may well be less accommodating in a future case.

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FCA Cautions Parties on Adjournment Requests

Spruce Credit: Avoidance Transactions and the Duke of Westminster

In Spruce Credit Union v. The Queen (2014 FCA 143) the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s interpretation and application of the inter-corporate dividend deduction under subsection 112(1) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”). The Court of Appeal also considered the interpretation of “avoidance transaction” for purposes of the general anti-avoidance rule (“GAAR”) in section 245 of the  Act.

Spruce Credit Union (“Spruce”) was a member of a network of credit unions providing financial services to individuals in British Columbia. Two separate provincially-owned entities were responsible for insuring the deposits of B.C. credit unions during the relevant period: the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation (“CUDIC”) and the Stabilization Central Credit Union of British Columbia (“STAB”).

Certain regulatory changes required that funds held by STAB were to be transferred to CUDIC. After considering alternatives, it was decided that CUDIC would assess the member credit unions the amount in aggregate necessary to meet the fund requirement, and STAB would pay a dividend on its Class A shares to the credit unions, roughly equal to the assessment. In fact, two dividends were declared and paid: (a) “Dividend A”, from STAB’s “aggregate cumulative investment income”, and (b) Dividend B, from STAB’s “aggregate cumulative assessment income”.

The Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) reassessed Spruce, denying the inter-corporate dividend deduction (under subsection 112(1) of the Act) in respect of Dividend B (Dividend A was not reassessed). The CRA assessed Spruce on two grounds: (a) the dividend was not deductible under ordinary rules, but rather was governed by specific rules in the Act pertaining to credit unions, and (b) the GAAR applied.

The Tax Court (2012 TCC 357) held the deduction under subsection 112(1) was available to Spruce in respect of Dividend B. Further, there was no “avoidance transaction” and therefore the GAAR could not apply. (Note: The Tax Court’s costs award in Spruce Credit (2014 TCC 42) was not considered in the present case. That decision is the subject of a separate appeal before the Federal Court of Appeal (Court File No. A-96-14).)

On appeal, the Crown argued that the Tax Court erred because it was “inappropriate to consider whether the taxpayer chose the particular transaction among alternatives primarily based on tax considerations”. In the Crown’s view, the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in MacKay v. The Queen (2008 FCA 105) required the Court to consider whether the non-tax objective could have been obtained without the particular impugned transaction or through an alternative transaction.

In the present appeal, the Federal Court of Appeal held the lower court had made no error in respect of its findings regarding the availability of the deduction under subsection 112(1). Further, the Court of Appeal rejected the Crown’s arguments regarding the GAAR.

The Court held that when determining whether a particular transaction is an avoidance transaction, the existence of an alternative transaction that may have attracted additional tax is only one factor to consider. The very existence of such alternative transaction is not, in and of itself, determinative of whether there has been an avoidance transaction. The fact that this alternative transaction exists is only one consideration in determining whether any transaction in a series in an avoidance transaction.

The Federal Court of Appeal noted that the Crown’s suggested interpretation would undermine the long-standing Duke of Westminster principle in Canadian tax law that taxpayers are free to organize their affairs in a manner to pay the least amount of tax within the bounds of the law. The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the validity of the Duke of Westminster principle in numerous GAAR decisions.

It is not entirely clear what distinction may be made between the facts and reasoning in the present case and those in MacKay. In Spruce Credit, there was a regulatory regime that required compliance and which necessitated the transfer of funds from STAB to CUDIC. The taxpayers chose a tax-efficient manner in which to achieve the regulatory compliance. In MacKay, the taxpayers choose a course of tax-efficient planning based on a voluntary acquisition of certain real property. That said, in neither case is this distinction particularly clear.

Perhaps future court decisions may provide some guidance on this point and on the interpretation of “avoidance transaction” generally. At the time of publication of this article, the Crown had not yet sought leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A longer version of this article will appear in an upcoming edition of CCH’s Tax Topics.

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Spruce Credit: Avoidance Transactions and the Duke of Westminster

CRA Rocks the Boat: Garber et al. v. The Queen

“Now then, Pooh,” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?”
“I ought to say” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island “that it isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a Boat and sometimes it’s more of an Accident. It all depends”.
“Depends on what?”
“On whether I am on the top of it or underneath it”
A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Readers who were tax practitioners in the mid-80s will well remember the luxury yacht tax shelters, which were sold in 1984, 1985 and 1986 and which were one of the most popular tax shelters of that period. Many of us had clients who invested in this tax shelter and are aware that the CRA was very upset with this tax shelter and reassessed all of the investors. Tax practitioners from that period will also remember that the promoter of the tax shelter and several of his associates were prosecuted and convicted in connection with the luxury yacht tax shelter.

Approximately thirty years later, Associate Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter of the Tax Court of Canada released his decision in Garber et al. v. The Queen on January 7, 2014. The three appeals involved investors in limited partnerships which were established in 1984, 1985 and 1986 to acquire and charter luxury yachts and the deductions claimed by the Appellants in their 1984 to 1988 taxation years. The Appellants, as limited partners, claimed losses relating to the operation of the partnerships, interest deductions on promissory notes which were used to pay for the limited partnership units and professional fees paid in the year the Appellants subscribed for partnership units. The reasons for judgment note that 600 investors were reassessed and approximately 300 investors settled with the CRA.

The hearing opened on January 11, 2012 and in total over 62 days of evidence was given by 34 witnesses and there were 23 agreed statements of fact. The decision of Associate Chief Justice Rossiter is over 150 pages long and may rank as one of the longest Tax Court decisions (we previously commented on the length of the decision by Justice Boyle in McKesson Canada Corporation v. The Queen which was released in December 2013 – for those of you who keep track of such matters, this decision is fifty percent longer that the decision in McKesson.)

In basic terms, each of the Appellants invested in a limited partnership which was created to purchase a luxury yacht from the promoter. The promoter, as general partner, was committed to providing the yachts and to market and manage a luxury yacht chartering business for each limited partnership. The projections provided to the Appellants showed significant deductible start-up costs and the Appellants also expected to benefit from the tax depreciation (capital cost allowance) on the yachts. The Appellants’ investments were heavily leveraged with financing organized by the promoter and, therefore, a taxpayer who acquired a limited partnership unit would benefit from an attractive tax deduction in excess of his or her cash investment.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter carefully reviewed the background facts relating to the limited partnerships (almost 100 pages are devoted to recounting the evidence). He noted that the promoter of the tax shelter and several of his associates were convicted of fraud in connection with the arrangement and found that the scheme was a fraud because virtually no yachts were acquired and the money paid by investors was used to promote future partnerships and not used in a yacht chartering business.

The CRA had offered numerous reasons why the expenses claimed by the Appellants should be disallowed:

  1. The limited partnerships did not constitute an income source under sections 3 and 4 of the Act because there was no genuine yacht charter business. The limited partnerships were not true partnerships because no actual business was carried out in common.
  2. The transactions were “mere” shams.
  3. Limited partnerships never actually incurred expenses for the purpose of gaining or producing business or property income.
  4. In the alternative, under subsections 9(1) and 18(9) of the Act, certain expenses incurred were not deductible in the years claimed because services were to be rendered after the end of the taxation year.
  5. In respect of interest payments, the CRA alleged that the promissory notes did not constitute actual loans and that no money was lent or advanced to the investors and, therefore there was no interest deductibility.
  6. To the extent any yacht was acquired by the 1984 partnership, capital cost allowance was restricted by the leasing property rules in subsections 1100(15), (17) (17.2) and (17.3) of the Income Tax Regulations.
  7. In the alternative, if interest was deductible, it would be limited by the half year rule in subsection 1100(2) of the Income Tax Regulations.
  8. For partnerships marketed in 1986, the partnership losses are restricted by the “at–risk” rules introduced on February 26, 1986.
  9. Subsection 245(1) of the Act is applicable because the expenses and disbursements claimed by an Appellant would unduly or artificially reduce the taxpayer’s income.
  10. The expenses are not deductible under section 67 of the Act because they were not reasonable and were not incurred to earn income.

After his extensive review of the evidence, Associate Chief Justice Rossiter analysed the legal issues. He found that there was no source of income for purposes of the Act under section 9 because the transactions were a fraud (similar to Hammill v. Canada, a 2005 decision of the Federal Court of Appeal) and because the scheme was a fraud, there was no source of income. It was noted that it is possible to have a fraud and a business (several cases are cited in this regard); however, based on the facts, in this situation, there was no business whatsoever. Therefore, there was no source of income.

One of the arguments made by the Appellants is that the significant amount of money received from investors was spent by the promoter and this indicates that there was a business. However, the facts were clear that money was not spent on acquiring yachts or a yacht charter business. Some of the funds were spent on unrelated endeavours and most of the funds were spent by the promoter on marketing and promoting future limited partnerships.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter also noted that the Appellants commented during the trial on the “aggressive or inappropriate behaviour by members of the CRA”. He stated that his task “is not to assess the conduct of the CRA, but rather to determine whether or not the expenses claimed in these appeals are legitimate”. He also noted that the tax shelters were a Ponzi-like scheme which were set to collapse eventually and the conduct of the CRA did not turn the Ponzi-like scheme, which was a fraud from beginning to end, into a genuine business. In effect, all the CRA did was “lift the veil” to reveal the pervasive nature of the fraud.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter also made clear that because the investment by limited partners was heavily leveraged, there was a lack of capital and this was a significant indication that there was no business being carried on.

Accordingly, there was no genuine business and the Appellants did not have a source of income from which they could deduct expenses or losses.

Furthermore, there were no genuine partnerships. For a partnership to exist, the parties must be a) carrying on a business b) in common and c) with a view to profit. Here, there was no business carried on; merely a fraud perpetuated by the promoter. Business was not carried on “in common” despite the existence of a partnership agreement because the promoter was perpetrating a fraud even though the limited partners were ignorant of the fraud perpetrated on them. As to a “view to profit”, there was no “view to profit”; the promoter had the intention to profit at the expense of the limited partnerships and the activities were so underfunded and so limited that there was no intention to profit.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter went on to state that if there was a business carried on, the expenses claimed were not incurred for the purpose of operating the limited partnerships’ yacht chartering business and therefore were not deductible pursuant to subsection 18(1) of the Act.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter also reviewed the requirement under subsection 18(9) of the Act that a taxpayer match any prepaid expense for services, interest, taxes, rent, royalty or insurance to the year in which those expenses relate. Based on the facts, the deductions claimed had little relation to actual expenses incurred and therefore deductibility is precluded under this provision.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter also stated that in respect of one yacht which the taxpayers argued had been acquired by one of the 1984 partnerships, no evidence was presented that ownership of the boat was acquired by the limited partnership and therefore capital cost allowance was not deductible pursuant to paragraph 1102(1)(c) of the Income Tax Regulations. In any event, a boat was never acquired for income gaining or earning purposes and was only used by the promoter as window dressing to perpetrate the fraud.

In respect of the interest expenses claimed, the test under sub-paragraph 20(1)(c)(ii) was not met, because there was never a legal obligation to pay interest. The taxpayers entered into promissory notes based on fraudulent misrepresentations and any contractual obligation to pay interest would have been vitiated by the fraud.

In addition, in respect of the 1986 partnerships, the “at-risk” rules applied. It had been argued by the Appellants that the partnerships were grandfathered under the legislation but the statutory test for grandfathering had not been met.

Finally, any expense would have been denied under section 67 of the Act as the expenses were not reasonable in the circumstances if one considers the entire scheme. The Appellants had offered no evidence to show that expenses were legitimate or reasonable in light of services rendered or if any services were rendered at all.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter concluded by stating that because of the lack of a source of income, the non-existence of genuine limited partnerships, the fact that the expenses were not incurred for business purposes, as well as the alternative arguments he addressed in his decision, it was not necessary to deal with all of the CRA’s arguments (e.g. sham and section 245). Accordingly, the appeals were dismissed with costs.

Given the amounts involved, and the number of taxpayers who were awaiting these decisions, it is likely that this case will “sail” into the Federal Court of Appeal.

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CRA Rocks the Boat: Garber et al. v. The Queen

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

In the recent decision in Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (2013 FCA 180), the Federal Court of Appeal considered the scope and purpose of Rule 29(1) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) (the “Rules”).  When a trust ceases to exist during the course of a tax appeal, with tax liability shifting to a new person, may the new person continue the appeal?  The Court answered that question in the affirmative and unanimously held that this scenario falls within the language and intended purpose of Rule 29(1).

In 2011, Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (the “Trust”) appealed an income tax assessment to the Tax Court of Canada.  In 2012, the Trust transferred all of its assets to Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund, which subsequently transferred the assets to Clearwater Seafoods Incorporated (the “Corporation”).  This transfer occurred in the context of the Trust “converting” to avoid application of the SIFT rules under the Income Tax Act.

At the Tax Court (2012 TCC 186), both parties accepted that the Trust had been terminated as a result of the disposition of all its property; however, this did not automatically bring the income tax appeal to an end.  The issue in Clearwater was whether the tax appeal could be continued with the Corporation as appellant in place of the Trust.  To obtain an order permitting the Corporation to assume the position of appellant going forward, a motion was brought by the Trust pursuant to section 29 of the Rules, which states,

29 (1) Where at any stage of a proceeding the interest or liability of a person who is a party to a proceeding in the Court is transferred or transmitted to another person by assignment, bankruptcy, death or other means, no other proceedings shall be instituted until the Registrar is notified of the transfer or transmission and the particulars of it. [emphasis added]

Once notice has been given to the Registrar, Rule 29 provides that the Chief Justice or a judge designated by him may direct the continuation of the proceeding.  At the Tax Court, the taxpayer brought a motion arguing that the Corporation is the appropriate party to continue the tax appeal as it now owned the property and would be liable if the appeal is unsuccessful.  The Crown argued that the tax appeal should be dismissed for want of an appellant.  The Tax Court held that the matter were not within the scope of Rule 29(1) and the motion was dismissed.  The order was appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal held that the lower court had construed Rule 29(1) too narrowly.  In arriving at this conclusion, the Court of Appeal addressed the rule’s underlying rationale.  The Court found that the purpose of Rule 29(1) is to deal with instances in which the circumstances of a litigant have changed and special accommodations are required in order to continue the proceeding.  Such changes may include bankruptcy, incapacity due to illness or injury, death of a litigant or the dissolution of a litigant that is a corporation.  The Court also considered such changes to include circumstances where a litigant that is a trust is terminated as a result of the disposition of all of its property.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that the transfer of the property to the Corporation, in effect, placed tax liability on the Corporation and the trustees in the event of an unsuccessful tax appeal.  The termination of the existence of the Trust was found to be within the meaning of “other means” in Rule 29(1).  Consequently, it was held that there was a transmission of liability from the Trust to “another person” by “other means”. The Court held that this scenario falls within the language and purpose of Rule 29(1).  As a result, the appeal was allowed and the matter was sent back to the Tax Court to be reconsidered with a view to directing the continuation of the proceedings.

The decision in Clearwater highlights the Court’s willingness to interpret Rule 29(1) in a broad manner.  It also raises the question of what constitutes “other means” for the purposes of Rule 29.  As a result, it is important for any taxpayer, or party which may acquire tax liability, to consider the implications of Clearwater prior to an income tax appeal.

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

Too Much Wiggle Room in Wigglesworth? Advisor penalties under Income Tax Act not criminal offences in nature and don’t engage protections under s. 11 of the Charter, says Federal Court of Appeal in Guindon

*This is the first guest post written for the blog. We are honoured to have one of Canada’s leading criminal defence counsel, Brian Heller of Heller Rubel, as the author (with the valued assistance of Graham Jenner).

On June 12, 2013, the Federal Court of Appeal released its decision in Canada v. Guindon (2013 FCA 153).

The court was tasked with examining the nature of advisor penalties, which are sanctions imposed under s. 163.2 of the Income Tax Act on tax planners engaged in “culpable conduct”. At first instance, the Tax Court of Canada (2012 TCC 287) had set aside one such penalty assessed against Ms. Guindon, holding that s. 163.2 created an “offence” within the meaning of s. 11 of the Charter. Consequently, according to the Tax Court, persons assessed under the provision were entitled to s. 11 protections, which apply to persons “charged with an offence”, and include fundamental principles applicable to criminal prosecutions such as the right to be presumed innocent, and the right to be tried within a reasonable time.

The key portion of s. 163.2 reads as follows, and it is easy to see how the Tax Court drew its particular interpretation:

(4) Every person who makes or furnishes, participates in the making of or causes another person to make or furnish a statement that the person knows, or would reasonably be expected to know but for circumstances amounting to culpable conduct, is a false statement that could be used by another person (in subsections (6) and (15) referred to as the “other person”) for a purpose of this Act is liable to a penalty in respect of the false statement.

The Federal Court of Appeal reversed the Tax Court’s ruling, first on the basis that Ms. Guindon had not followed the proper process in challenging s. 163.2, by failing to provide notice of a constitutional question, and so the Tax Court lacked the jurisdiction to make the order it did. However, the Federal Court of Appeal considered the merits of the issue in any event, and held that advisor penalty proceedings are not criminal in nature and do not impose “true penal consequences.”

The Federal Court of Appeal applied the test set down by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Wigglesworth ([1987] 2 S.C.R. 541), which dictates that a provision will engage s. 11 Charter protections if (1) the matter is “by its very nature, intended to promote public order and welfare within a public sphere of activity” rather than being “of an administrative nature instituted for the protection of the public in accordance with the policy of a statute”; or (2) the provision exposes persons to the possibility of a “true penal consequence” such as imprisonment or a fine meant to redress wrong done to society.

The Federal Court of Appeal viewed advisor penalties for the provision of false information as an aspect of the self-compliance that is fundamental to the administration of the tax system. The penalties were not to condemn morally blameworthy conduct, but to ensure that the tax system works properly by maintaining discipline and compliance. Section 163.2 is also, the court observed, distinguishable from the clear offence provisions in the Income Tax Act because it contains only fixed sanctions rather than a range of penalties that allow for the exercise of judicial discretion in sentencing an offender.

The court also rejected Ms. Guindon’s argument that the sheer size of the penalty – in her case a fine of $564,747 – demonstrates the criminal nature of the sanctions, pointing to an array of cases in which very severe penalties were held to be administrative in nature. “Sometimes”, the court commented, “administrative penalties must be large in order to deter conduct detrimental to the administrative scheme and the policies furthered by it.”

If you have difficulty comprehending the distinctions that the Wigglesworth test draws between administrative and criminal provisions, you are not alone. The Federal Court of Appeal acknowledged that the line drawn by the test is “sometimes a fuzzy one”.

That is an understatement. At a time when substantial penalties can be leveled under provisions that appear to be aimed at protecting a public interest (such as the fair and proper administration of the tax system) by deterring culpable conduct, the Wigglesworth test is becoming increasingly difficult to apply. The difficulty is not limited to the sphere of tax law. Just one year ago, in Rowan v. Ontario Securities Commission (2012 ONCA 208), the Court of Appeal for Ontario had to apply the test to administrative monetary penalties (“AMPs”) under the Ontario Securities Act, which carry a maximum fine of $1,000,000. The court held that the specific fines at issue in that case were administrative rather than penal, but held also that s. 11(d) of the Charter limited the authority of the Securities Commission to impose AMPs that did not transgress the barrier from administrative to criminal. In other words, presumably, an overly severe AMP could, in the context of another case, indicate that the Commission had overstepped its regulatory mandate by imposing a truly penal consequence.

Rowan, then, demonstrates the difficulty and unpredictability of determining, under Wigglesworth, whether a specific sanction is penal or administrative. Guindon presents a related, but distinct practical problem: there exist provisions, such as s. 163.2 of the Income Tax Act, which can be described fairly as both intending to promote public order and welfare within a public sphere of activity (a criminal purpose) and intending to protect the public in respect of a policy of a statute (an administrative purpose). While advisor penalties clearly contemplate the promotion of tax policy objectives, they are equally concerned with persons who, through intentional conduct or willful blindness furnish false statements that are contrary to an important public interest. There is real concern raised by this case that a court can easily, using the language of Wigglesworth, justify opposite results. At the cost of certainty and predictability – important principles when constitutional protections are at stake – there is just too much ‘wiggle room’.

The narrow implication of Guindon is that unless the Supreme Court of Canada is called upon and reverses the result, the CRA will not have to govern itself by traditional criminal law standards in assigning culpability and sanctions for advisors. This could well have a chilling effect on the tax planning community. Speaking more broadly however, because advisor penalties straddle the “fuzzy” line between criminal and administrative law, Guindon is an ideal case for the Supreme Court of Canada to confront the practical unworkabilities of the Wigglesworth test.

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Too Much Wiggle Room in Wigglesworth? Advisor penalties under Income Tax Act not criminal offences in nature and don’t engage protections under s. 11 of the Charter, says Federal Court of Appeal in Guindon

Just as Intended: 1392644 Ontario Inc. et. al. v. The Queen

The role of intent in the determination of whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor has taken on greater significance in the last decade or so.

The Federal Court of Appeal has considered the role of intent in the classification analysis in Wolf v. The Queen, Royal Winnipeg Ballet v. The Queen, City Water International Inc. v. M.N.R., Combined Insurance Co. of America v. M.N.R.National Capital Outaouais Ski Team v. M.N.R., Kilbride v. The Queen and TBT Personnel Services v. M.N.R. 

In Lang and Lang v. M.N.R., Chief Justice Bowman of the Tax Court of Canada reviewed the underlying principles and stated that (i) intent is a test that cannot be ignored but its weight is as yet undetermined, and (ii) trial judges who ignore intent stand a very good chance of being overruled by the Federal Court of Appeal.

In the June 6, 2013 issue of Tax Topics, I discuss the Federal Court of Appeal’s recent decision in 1392644 Ontario Inc. et. al. v. The Queen, where the Court clarifies (i) the role of intent and (ii) the manner in which the classification analysis should be undertaken.

Just as Intended: 1392644 Ontario Inc. et. al. v. The Queen