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:
 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.