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ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

In ConocoPhillips Canada Resources Corp. v. The Queen (2014 FCA 297), the Federal Court of Appeal overturned a Federal Court decision (2013 FC 1192) and dismissed an application for judicial review by the taxpayer finding that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction in this case.

ConocoPhillips had commenced an application for judicial review as a result of a dispute between the CRA about whether a Notice of Reassessment had been validly sent to the taxpayer.  The CRA alleged that it mailed a Notice of Reassessment on November 7, 2008. ConocoPhillips alleged that it never received the Notice of Reassessment and that it first learned of the reassessment on April 14, 2010.

Accordingly, when ConocoPhillips filed a Notice of Objection on June 7, 2010, the CRA advised that it would not consider the objection on the grounds that it was not filed within 90 days of the alleged mailing date (i.e., November 7, 2008) and that no request for an extension of time was made within the year following the alleged mailing date of the reassessment.

The Federal Court considered the question of jurisdiction and found that it had jurisdiction because the Court was not being asked to consider the validity of the reassessment (which can only be determined by the Tax Court of Canada) but rather, was only being asked to review the CRA’s decision not to consider the objection.

Based on the standard of reasonableness, the Federal Court found in favour of ConocoPhillips on the basis that the CRA had not sufficiently engaged the evidence to appropriately render an opinion whether or not the reassessment was mailed on the alleged date. The Court set aside that decision.

The Crown appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction on this issue.  The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

Section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act provides that judicial review in the Federal Court is not available where, inter alia, an appeal is permitted on the issue before the Tax Court of Canada.  In the present case, the Federal Court of Appeal stated that, pursuant to subsection 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada), ConocoPhillips could have appealed to the Tax Court after 90 days had elapsed following the date its objection was initially filed and the Tax Court would have been the correct forum to determine if, or when, the Notice of Reassessment was mailed and when the time for filing a Notice of Objection expired.

The Federal Court of Appeal clarified that the Minister’s obligation to consider a Notice of Objection is triggered regardless of whether a Notice of Objection may have been filed within the required time-frame. Further, the Minister’s decision on this issue is not an impediment to filing an appeal to the Tax Court pursuant to paragraph 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada). Accordingly, judicial review of this issue was not available in the Federal Court.

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ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

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

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

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.

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

Federal Court of Appeal dismisses taxpayer’s appeal in Morguard: Trial judge made no error in concluding that a “break fee” was income

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal in Morguard Corporation v The Queen.

(See our previous posts on the case here, here and here.)

Justice Sharlow wrote for the panel which also included Justice Evans and Justice Stratas.  She agreed with the reasoning of the trial judge that Ikea Ltd. v. Canada is indeed the leading case on the characterization of extraordinary or unusual receipts in the business context, and found that his application of the principles stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ikea was correct. The court noted that Ikea was not based on a particular factual finding, but “involved consideration of a number of factors, including the commercial purpose of the payment and its relationship to the business operations of the recipient.”

The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge made no error in concluding, on the facts of the case, that the break fee received by Morguard as the result of a failed takeover bid was income and not capital. The appeal was dismissed with costs.


Federal Court of Appeal dismisses taxpayer’s appeal in Morguard: Trial judge made no error in concluding that a “break fee” was income

Federal Court of Appeal hears argument on whether “break fees” are income (Morguard)

Is a “break fee” received in return for withdrawing from a takeover bid a capital receipt or an income receipt?

That was the issue before a panel of the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) on November 20, 2012 in Morguard Corporation v. The Queen on appeal from a decision of the Tax Court of Canada. The panel consisted of Justice Evans, Justice Sharlow and Justice Stratas. At the conclusion of the hearing, judgment was reserved.

For the facts of the case and our analysis of the trial decision, see here. For a brief review of the issues raised in the factum filed by each party in the FCA, see here.

Arguments of the Taxpayer

Counsel for the appellant argued the trial judge had made an “error of law” in determining that Acktion Corporation (“Acktion”) was “essentially in the business of doing acquisitions and takeovers” (Acktion was the name under which Morguard Corporation (“Morguard”) operated during the period at issue). Counsel argued that Acktion was a holding company and that it had sought the takeover to increase its capital holdings. The standard of review for an error of law is “correctness”.

The panel asked counsel whether there was any error of law. Justice Stratas asked whether the issue was really a factual one, for which the standard of review is much higher, namely, “palpable and overriding error”.

Counsel argued that it is settled law that a corporation cannot conduct a “business” of acquiring capital assets. Accordingly, counsel argued that the trial judge erred in concluding that Acktion had done so. In support of this proposition, counsel cited the 1978 FCA decision in Neonex International Ltd. v The Queen (78 DTC 6339). 

It was not clear whether the panel agreed with counsel on this point, as their other questions focused on whether the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decision in Ikea Ltd. v. Canada ([1998] 1 SCR 196) had displaced Neonex by instituting a “modern approach” that supports an organic assessment of the circumstances around the receipt.

Counsel argued the break fee was received in the pursuit of a capital acquisition and that, according to the modern approach, it should be characterised as a capital receipt. Counsel stressed that the expert evidence adduced at trial by both parties was that break fees are intended to support the acquisition of capital by deterring other bidders or to compensate for the various costs incurred in a failed takeover bid.

The panel sought clarification of the appellant’s position that there should be no tax liability arising from the receipt of the break fee. In its written submissions, the appellant argued that the break fee should not be taxed as a capital gain because there were no proceeds of disposition. Justice Sharlow noted that, according to this theory, the break fee could only be characterized either as income or a non-taxable capital gain.

Arguments of the Crown

Counsel for the Crown had to answer fewer questions from the panel. Counsel argued that the characterization of an “unusual receipt” such as a break fee requires a factual determination (relying on the SCC’s decision in Ikea on this point), which the Tax Court had made in this case.

Justice Evans asked about the distinction between conducting a real estate business that acquires companies as capital and being a real estate company in the business of acquisitions and takeovers. Counsel argued that, instead of acquiring real estate directly, Acktion’s business strategy was to acquire businesses that already owned real estate. Counsel further submitted that the corporate information distributed to its shareholders described the corporation as a real estate company and not as a holding company.

Justice Sharlow questioned the Crown’s reliance on the commercial description of Acktion’s business, noting that the technical distinction between income and capital is a legal distinction that would not generally be expected to appear in a commercial context. In response, counsel argued that Acktion treated the takeover bid as part of its regular business. After losing its takeover bid, Acktion negotiated a higher price for its remaining “toehold” in the company, then took the break fee and the proceeds of disposition of its shares and immediately sought to purchase another business. Counsel argued this course of conduct shows that Acktion considered the negotiation of break fees to be part of its real estate business.

In response to the appellant’s position that the break fee was a non-taxable capital gain, counsel submitted that the trial judge was correct in applying the factors set out by the FCA in Canada v. Cranswick ([1982] CTC 69) to determine whether a payment was a windfall. In this respect, the break fee was the product of an enforceable claim negotiated by the Appellant according to common practices in takeover bids and, thus, could not be characterised as a windfall.

*  *  *

The panel reserved judgment. We will report on the judgment when it is released.

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Federal Court of Appeal hears argument on whether “break fees” are income (Morguard)

Federal Court of Appeal to hear argument tomorrow in “break fee” case (Morguard)

Tomorrow morning (November 20, 2012), the Federal Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear an appeal by Morguard Corporation (“Morguard”, formerly operating as Acktion Corporation), regarding the taxation of a “break fee” received as a result of a failed takeover bid.

Break fees are an agreed-upon fee to be paid by or on behalf of a target corporation to a prospective purchaser on the rejection of that prospective purchaser’s bid and the acceptance of another offer. Break fees are intended to reflect, more or less, the monetary and non-monetary costs incurred by the prospective purchaser in making a bid, and are common in sophisticated takeover transactions.

The Morguard case concerns a $7.7 million break fee received by Morguard on withdrawal from a bidding war. In its return, Morguard treated the payment as a capital gain but was reassessed by the Minister of National Revenue on the basis that the amount was an income receipt. On appeal to the Tax Court of Canada, the trial judge agreed with the Minister’s position that, on the facts of the case, the break fee represented income and should be taxed accordingly. For our analysis of the Tax Court decision, see our earlier blog post.

The taxpayer has appealed the trial judge’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that the lower court erred in law and in fact. The Appellant has described the issues raised in the appeal as follows:

(a) Whether the trial judge erred in law by concluding that the taxpayer received the break fee on income account rather than capital account.

(b) If received on capital account, whether the break fee was received in circumstances that gave rise to a capital gain.

(c) Whether the trial judge made palpable and overriding errors in finding that the taxpayer was in the business of doing acquisitions and takeovers, and received the break fee in the ordinary course of its business similar to the receipt of dividends, rents, or management fees.

(d) Whether the trial judge made a palpable and overriding error in finding that the break fee was not linked to a capital purpose of the taxpayer.

(e) Whether the trial judge erred in law in his interpretation and application of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ikea Ltd. v. Canada [1998] 1 S.C.R. 196.

(f) Whether the trial judge erred in law by applying the legal test developed by the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Cranswick (82 DTC 6073) to break fees.

The Crown, on the other hand, has framed the issues as follows:

(a) Whether the trial judge committed a palpable and overriding error in finding that the negotiation and receipt of the break fee by the appellant was part of the ordinary course of its regular real estate business.

(b) Whether the trial judge was correct in concluding that the break fee should be included in the computation of the appellant’s income because it was received in the ordinary course of its business.

(c) Whether the trial judge correctly applied the jurisprudence to conclude that the break fee was not a windfall.

The Appellant’s factum is here. The Crown’s factum is here.

We intend to report again after the hearing in the Federal Court of Appeal.

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Federal Court of Appeal to hear argument tomorrow in “break fee” case (Morguard)

FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

The decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Newmont Canada Corporation v. Canada delivered July 27, 2012 was primarily concerned with an unsuccessful attempt by the taxpayer to write off the principal amount of a large loan.  What makes the case quite interesting, however, is a side issue concerning the taxpayer’s claim to write off accrued interest on the loan.  That is where the Federal Court of Appeal parted company with the Tax Court of Canada and provided a useful reminder about the importance of evidence in tax appeals.

The interest in question arose in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 taxation years.  The CRA auditor allowed a portion of the interest expense:

[173]  During the course of the CRA audit, [the taxpayer] provided the CRA auditor, Mr. MacGibbon, with the details of the entries recorded in its general ledger account 2101 between August 1, 1989 and the end of May 1990. [The taxpayer] used this general ledger account to record amounts due from Windarra, including accrued interest on the Windarra Loan.

[174]  Mr. MacGibbon testified that [the taxpayer] did not provide him with any books or records for periods prior to August 1, 1989.

[175]  Based upon his review of the general ledger for account 2101, Mr. MacGibbon was able to identify entries totalling $183,336 that recorded interest income in respect of the interest accrued on the Windarra Loan. As a result, he allowed a deduction under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) in respect of the accrued interest.

While it is not clear why the earlier records were not produced, it is a reasonable inference that they were simply misplaced; they related to periods 20 or more years prior to the trial, which was held in 2009.

The taxpayer’s evidence was simple and direct:

[176]  The Appellant argued that the Minister understated the subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) deduction by $156,888. It arrived at this number by performing the following calculation:

First, it determined the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989 as follows:

a. The amount shown on the balance sheet at December 31, 1989 in respect of the Windarra Loan: $8.513 million

b. Less: the principal amount of the loan at December 31, 1989: $8.25 million

c. Equals the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989: $263,000.

The Appellant then compared the $263,000 with the amount of interest income Mr. MacGibbon had calculated for the periods prior to 1989, namely $106,112.

[177]  It is the Appellant’s position that the difference between $263,000 and $106,112, which is $156,888, represents additional accrued interest income that was included in the income reported in [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 income tax returns.

[178]  During his testimony, Mr. Proctor summarized the Appellant’s argument as follows: “Because we have it on the balance sheet and, since debits must equal credits, it must have been on the Income Statement and we did not adjust it in arriving at net income for income tax purposes. For financial statement purposes it must be in the net income for income tax purposes.”

The Tax Court Judge rejected the taxpayer’s evidence:

[181]  I cannot accept the Appellant’s argument. [The taxpayer] could have recorded the offsetting amount as interest income. Alternatively, it could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account. The only way to determine how the offsetting amounts were recorded in 1988 and the first half of 1989 would be to review the relevant books and records. Unfortunately, the relevant books were not provided to either the Minister or the Court.

[182]  The only evidence before the Court of accrued interest being included in [the taxpayer’s] income was in the working papers of Mr. MacGibbon. I agree with counsel for the Respondent that in order for the Appellant to obtain a deduction in excess of the amount allowed by the Minister “the Court should be presented with something more reliable than a conclusion based on unsubstantiated assumptions.”

Fortunately for the taxpayer, the Federal Court of Appeal held that there was no basis for the Tax Court Judge to reject the taxpayer’s evidence on the point:

[65]  Notwithstanding the auditor’s admission that it was likely that interest accrued in 1988 and the first part of 1989 in the Windarra Loan, the Judge rejected Mr. Proctor’s evidence that additional interest was included in [the taxpayer’s] income on the basis that [the taxpayer] “could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account.” However, for the reasons that follow, there was, in my view, no evidence before the Court to support such a conclusion.

[66]  The Judge found Mr. Proctor to be a credible witness. Mr. Proctor testified that [the taxpayer] would have included the sum of $263,000 in its retained earnings. He reviewed the Reconciliation of Net Income for Tax Purposes form (i.e. the T2S(1) form) provided by [the taxpayer] for each of the 1988 and 1989 taxation years as part of its income tax returns (Appeal Book volume 2, pages 81 and 109) and identified no adjustments “in moving from financial statement income to net income for tax purposes relating to Windarra” (Appeal Book volume 7, page 1699).

[67]  With respect to the Judge’s reference to deferred revenue and reserve accounts, while [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did show a deferred revenue liability (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1176 and 1181), the notes to its financial statements specified that the deferred revenue liability related solely to [the taxpayer’s] gold loan owed to a consortium of Canadian banks (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1178 and 1188). The 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did not record any reserve accounts.

[68]  In this circumstance there was, in my respectful view, no evidence on which to impugn Mr. Proctor’s evidence, so that the Judge committed a reviewable error in rejecting the evidence for the reasons that he gave. Mr. Proctor’s evidence, together with the auditor’s concession established that [the taxpayer] had included the additional sum of $156,888 in interest income in its income tax returns.

[69]  It remained for [the taxpayer] to establish that the interest income was or became a bad debt. This required consideration of whether any monies paid to it pursuant to the Settlement Agreement were allocated to monies owing on account of interest. If so, that portion of the interest income would not be a bad debt.

[70]  Article 1(3) of the Settlement Agreement evidenced the parties’ agreement that the settlement proceeds were to be “applied on account of the principal amount of the [Windarra] Loan.” This established on a prima facie basis that all of the interest owing to [the taxpayer] pursuant to the Windarra Loans was a bad debt.

[71]  To conclude on this point, in my view, this Settlement Agreement combined with the evidence of Mr. Proctor and the auditor’s concession was sufficient to demolish the Minister’s assumption. Further, counsel for the Minister did not point to any evidence which rebutted [the taxpayer’s] prima facie case.

[72]  It follows that [the taxpayer] established its entitlement to deduct $156,888 under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) of the Act in 1992.

The case serves as a useful reminder about two important points.  First, the rules of onus are alive and well (as also discussed in my recent blog post on McMillan v. Canada).  Once a taxpayer has raised a prima facie case rebutting the Minister’s assumptions, the Minister cannot succeed unless Crown counsel can adduce additional evidence or otherwise undermine that prima facie case.

Second, and perhaps more important, the case demonstrates that solid evidentiary preparation and strong witnesses are critical if a taxpayer hopes succeed in the courts.  As it is exceedingly rare for the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn findings of fact made by a Tax Court Judge, every effort must be made to adduce evidence, both documentary and viva voce, in the Tax Court of Canada in order to maximize the likelihood of success both at trial and on appeal.

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FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

Federal Court of Appeal: Canada Cannot Tax Treaty Income Twice

It is trite law that one of the main purposes of tax treaties is to prevent double taxation of the same income. In Canada this principle has often been treated with a grain of salt since Canadian domestic rules do not bar double taxation and, in fact, the Canada Revenue Agency often resorts to double taxation where, for example, a shareholder appropriation is disallowed as a corporate expense while fully taxed in the shareholder’s hands.

The recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Sommerer illustrates a refreshing approach to the concept of double taxation, at least in the context of Canada’s network of bilateral tax treaties based on the OECD Model Convention (and, to a lesser extent, the UN Model Convention).

Mr. Sommerer was at all material times a resident of Canada. He was a contingent beneficiary of an Austrian Privatstiftung (the “Sommerer Private Foundation”) created by his father in 1996. The Sommerer Private Foundation was at all material times a resident of Austria for the purposes of the Canada-Austria Tax Treaty. The facts that gave rise to the assessments under appeal are summarized by Sharlow JA as follows:

[30] On October 4, 1996, Peter Sommerer sold to the Sommerer Private Foundation 1,770,000 shares of Vienna Systems Corporation (the “Vienna shares”) for their fair market value of $1,177,050 (66.5¢ per share). The Sommerer Private Foundation paid $117,705 of the purchase price on the date of the agreement and was legally obliged to pay the remainder at a later date, with interest. The sale was unconditional. The cash portion of the purchase price was paid using part of the initial endowment from Herbert Sommerer (paragraphs 67 and 88 of Justice Miller’s reasons).

[31] In December of 1997, the Sommerer Private Foundation sold 216,666 of the Vienna shares for $4.50 per share to three individuals unrelated to the Sommerer family, realizing a capital gain. In December of 1998, the Sommerer Private Foundation sold the remaining Vienna shares to Nokia Corporation for $9.00 per share, realizing a further capital gain.

[32] In April of 1998, Peter Sommerer sold to the Sommerer Private Foundation, unconditionally, 57,143 shares of Cambrian Systems Corporation (the “Cambrian shares”) for $100,000 (approximately $1.75 per share). In December of 1998, the Sommerer Private Foundation sold the Cambrian shares to Northern Telecom Limited for $14.97 (US) per share, plus a further $4.12 (US) per share conditional on certain milestones being met in 1999. That sale resulted in another capital gain for the Sommerer Private Foundation.

CRA assessed Mr. Sommerer on the basis of subsection 75(2) of the Income Tax Act alleging that the proceeds from the sale of the shares by the Foundation could possibly revert to Mr. Sommerer. Both Justice Campbell Miller in the Tax Court of Canada and Justice Sharlow in the Court of Appeal rejected that interpretation holding that subsection 75(2) could not apply on a sale of property at fair market value.

Justice Sharlow did not stop there however. She went on to agree with Miller J. that the position advocated by CRA violated the Treaty’s fundamental principle of avoiding double taxation:

[66] The OECD model conventions, including the Canada-Austria Income Tax Convention, generally have two purposes – the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion. Article XIII (5) of the Canada-Austria Income Tax Convention speaks only to the avoidance of double taxation. “Double taxation” may mean either juridical double taxation (for example, imposing on a person Canadian and foreign tax on the same income) or economic double taxation (for example, imposing Canadian tax on a Canadian taxpayer for the attributed income of a foreign taxpayer, where the economic burden of foreign tax on that income is also borne indirectly by the Canadian taxpayer). By definition, an attribution rule may be expected to result only in economic double taxation.

[67] The Crown’s argument requires the interpretation of a specific income tax convention to be approached on the basis of a premise that excludes, from the outset, the notion that the convention is not intended to avoid economic double taxation. That approach was rejected by Justice Miller, correctly in my view. There is considerable merit in the opinion of Klaus Vogel, who says that the meaning of “double taxation” in a particular income tax convention is a matter that must be determined on the basis of an interpretation of that convention (Klaus Vogel on Double Taxation Conventions: A Commentary to the OECD –, UN –, and US Model Conventions for the Avoidance of Double Taxation on Income and Capital, 3rd ed. (The Hague: Kluweer Law International, 1997)).

[68] I see no error of law or principle in the conclusion of Justice Miller that Article XIII (5) applies to preclude Canada from taxing Peter Sommerer on the capital gains realized by the Sommerer Private Foundation.

Unless this case is reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada (at the date of this comment, no leave application has been filed), it is likely to be a very important precedent for tax practitioners plying their craft in the highly complex area of international tax treaties.

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Federal Court of Appeal: Canada Cannot Tax Treaty Income Twice