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

Leroux: CRA owes duty of care to taxpayer

* This article was co-authored with Mr. Christopher Funt of Funt & Company.

Can a Canadian taxpayer successfully sue the Canada Revenue Agency?

In recent years, taxpayers have brought a number of civil actions against the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”).  The allegations in such cases ranged from negligence to fraud, extortion and deceit.  Often, taxpayers’ claims are brought as the tort of misfeasance in public office or as claims in negligence.  So far, the courts have not clearly determined the scope of CRA’s civil liability.  The recent decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Leroux v. Canada Revenue Agency (2014 BCSC 720) provides guidance on the application of common law torts to CRA conduct.

Mr. Leroux, the taxpayer, alleged that he was threatened, deceived and blackmailed by a CRA auditor who was reviewing Mr. Leroux’s GST and income tax returns. After reassessments were issued, the CRA claimed Mr. Leroux owed more than $600,000 in taxes, interest and penalties. After an appeal to the Tax Court, some payments by Mr. Leroux and a successful application for interest relief, Mr. Leroux was actually refunded $25,000. In the meantime, Mr. Leroux lost his business and home. He sued the CRA for misfeasance in public office. The CRA argued that it owed no private law duty of care to an individual taxpayer.

In several other cases before Leroux, the courts have agreed with the CRA’s position. A successful negligence action requires a finding of a duty of care to the injured party.  As such, judicial acceptance of CRA’s position has presented a major barrier to bringing a civil claim against CRA.

In Leroux, the court splashed cold water on the CRA’s long-standing position and held the CRA did owe a duty of care to Mr. Leroux. The court also held the CRA had breached its duty of care to Mr. Leroux with respect to the imposition of gross negligence penalties. In a stinging rebuke to the case put forth by the CRA and its counsel, the court stated:

[348] To call Mr. Leroux’s tax characterizations “grossly negligent” is especially objectionable because, as mentioned above, CRA now uses the complexity of the issues involved in these characterizations as a reason why their decisions on exactly the same issue could never be termed negligent.  It is simply not logical for CRA to assess penalties against Mr. Leroux for being grossly negligent in having characterized his income in a particular way and to resist the application of the concept of negligence to their own characterization of the same income, one which was ultimately agreed to be wrong.  Or, to put it in the reverse, since CRA now takes the position that the characterization of capital loss versus revenue and the issue of “matching” are difficult and complex, it cannot be said that the assumption of contrary positions by Mr. Leroux, positions that were eventually accepted as correct, was grossly negligent.  To call them so, and to assess huge penalties as a result, ostensibly for the purpose of getting around a limitation period, is unacceptable and well outside the standard of care expected of honourable public servants or of reasonably competent tax auditors.  While being wrong is not being negligent, nor are [the auditor's] mistakes in fact or law negligent, it is the misuse and misapplication of the term “grossly negligent” that is objectionable.

The court continued:

[353] … CRA must live up to their responsibilities to the Minister and to the Canadian public, nearly all of whom are taxpayers, by applying a little common sense when the result is so obviously devastating to the taxpayer.  It is a poor response to say “we put together our position without regard to the law; leave it to the taxpayer to appeal to Tax Court because we are immune from accountability.”

Despite the finding that CRA owed a duty of care to Mr. Leroux, and that the CRA had breached this duty, the taxpayer’s claim was dismissed because the court held that Mr. Leroux’s losses were not the result of the CRA’s negligent conduct.

The Leroux judgment is a welcome development in the law regarding the CRA’s accountability for its assessing actions. Most CRA agents are diligent and very well-intentioned.  It is a rare case where the CRA’s conduct can properly be alleged to be actionable.  That said, the principles of civil liability shape what can and cannot be done by the CRA in the course of a tax assessment. While Leroux offers very insightful guidance, the broader scope of CRA’s civil law duties to taxpayers remains to be fully defined.

,

Leroux: CRA owes duty of care to taxpayer

Take a Chance: Judicial Review of the CRA’s Discretionary Power under s. 152(4.2) of the Income Tax Act

In Radonjic v. The Queen (2013 FC 916), the taxpayer brought an application for judicial review of the CRA’s refusal to make certain adjustments to the taxpayer’s tax returns after the normal reassessment period had expired.

In 2003, the taxpayer start playing online poker. After consulting with his accountant, the taxpayer treated his gambling winnings as income in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Later, he concluded that his gambling winnings were likely not taxable. Accordingly, the taxpayer filed a request for an adjustment under subsection 152(4.2) of the Income Tax Act asking that the income tax he had paid be returned to him.

The CRA denied the taxpayer’s adjustment request. The taxpayer then brought an application for judicial review of the decision to deny the adjustment request.

The Federal Court noted that the standard of review for the CRA’s exercise of discretion under subsection 152(4.2) is reasonableness (see Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick (2008 SCC 9), Caine v. C.R.A. (2011 FC 11), and Hoffman v. Canada (2010 FCA 310)). In other words, the court should intervene only if the decision was unreasonable in the sense that it falls outside the “range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law”.

The Federal Court considered the parties’ positions on the issue and the various court decisions that have addressed the taxation of gambling gains and losses (see, for example, Cohen v. The Queen (2011 TCC 262), and Leblanc v. The Queen (2006 TCC 680)).

The court concluded that the CRA had fully considered all of the taxpayer’s submissions, and that there was no evidence of procedural unfairness or bad faith by the CRA.

However, the court concluded that the CRA had misinterpreted or misunderstood the taxpayer’s activities, and had drawn unreasonable and unsupportable conclusions about the tax treatment of the taxpayer’s gambling winnings:

[51] … The Minister’s exercise of her discretion under subsection 152(4.2) of the Act in this case lacks intelligibility and justification and, in my view, falls outside the range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.

Overall, the court found that the taxpayer was simply an enthusiastic and ever-hopeful poker player engaged in a personal endeavour.

The court quashed the CRA’s decision and returned the matter to the CRA for reconsideration in accordance with the court’s reasons.

,

Take a Chance: Judicial Review of the CRA’s Discretionary Power under s. 152(4.2) of the Income Tax Act

Judicial review applications challenging Minister’s alleged violation of Voluntary Disclosure Policy and MAP agreement allowed to proceed: Sifto Canada Corp. v. MNR

In Sifto Canada Corp. v. Minister of National Revenue, 2013 FC 214, Prothonotary Aalto of the Federal Court rejected the Crown’s motion to strike out judicial review applications filed by Sifto Canada Corp. challenging decisions made by the Minister of National Revenue to:

(a) assess penalties contrary to the terms of the Voluntary Disclosure Program; and

(b) assess transfer pricing adjustments contrary to an agreement between the Competent Authorities of Canada and the United States on the appropriate transfer price under Article XXVI of the Canada-U.S. Tax Treaty (known as the “Mutual Agreement Procedure” or “MAP”).

The Crown made the usual argument that section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act precludes such judicial review applications (for background, see our earlier post on the JP Morgan decision mentioned below).  Prothonotary Aalto had this to say about the Crown’s argument:

[8]    One of the mantras of the Minister of National Revenue is that the judicial review process should not be used to circumvent the comprehensive code for the assessment and collection of taxes set out in the Income Tax Act (ITA) and for which the Tax Court of Canada (TCC) is given exclusive jurisdiction.  As a general proposition, this is a correct approach to the taxation regime in Canada.  However, cases such as Chrysler Canada [2008 FC 727, aff’d 2008 FC 1049], JP Morgan Asset Management [2012 FC 651, aff’d 2012 FC 1366] and Canadian Pacific Railway [2012 FC 1030; aff’d 2013 FC 161] come to this Court and fall within this Court’s jurisdiction because of their unique factual circumstances.  This case, like those, revolves around a factual scenario which takes it out the pure assessment or appeal regime of the ITA and the jurisprudence recognizes that such matters can come within the jurisdiction of this Court.

Prothonotary Aalto explained his reasoning for allowing the applications to proceed:

[22]    In this case there are agreements which are alleged to have been entered into between Sifto and the Respondent which are alleged to have been breached.  These facts on their face do not engage issues of the correctness of assessments or appeals under the ITA.  They are therefore not bereft of any chance of success.  To the extent the breach of agreements and other allegations made in these applications engage matters beyond the scope of the correctness of an assessment or re-assessment they are not within the jurisdiction of the TCC.

[23]    The conduct of officials in CRA cannot be considered in determining the correctness of assessments [footnote omitted].  Such matters must be asserted in another Court.  Thus, the conduct of CRA officials as asserted by Sifto in this case relating to understandings and agreements cannot be considered by the TCC.

[24]    These applications engage more than a review of assessments to determine their correctness.  Therefore, it cannot be said that these applications are bereft of any chance of success.

In addition to arguing that the applications should be struck out in their entirety, the Crown argued in the alternative that certain allegations should be struck out or that the applications be stayed (by way of ”extension of time”) until the final determination of appeals against the assessments issued as a result of the impugned decisions.  Prothonotary Aalto had little difficulty dismissing each of the Crown’s alternative arguments.

The Crown has already made a motion asking a Federal Court judge to set aside the Prothonotary’s decision.  In light of the decisions of the Federal Court in Chrysler Canada, JP Morgan and Canadian Pacific, the Crown may very well be facing an uphill battle.

, , ,

Judicial review applications challenging Minister’s alleged violation of Voluntary Disclosure Policy and MAP agreement allowed to proceed: Sifto Canada Corp. v. MNR

Foreign-based Requirement Under Section 231.6 of the Income Tax Act Upheld by the Federal Court

The Canada Revenue Agency had an important win this week in its efforts to access information outside of Canada.  On March 20, 2013, the Federal Court issued its decision in Soft-Moc Inc. v. M.N.R.  2013 FC 291, dismissing Soft-Moc’s judicial review application to have the CRA’s decision to issue a Foreign-Based Information Requirement set aside or varied.

The CRA has broad powers to access information related to the determination of a taxpayer’s tax obligations.  Under subsection 231.6 of the Income Tax Act, these powers include the issuance of a Foreign-Based Information Requirement to obtain information or documents located outside of Canada.

In Soft-Moc, the CRA was conducting a transfer pricing audit and sought information from corporations in the Bahamas who provided services to Soft-Moc.  These corporations and their individual Bahamian resident shareholder owned 90% of the common shares of Soft-Moc.  The CRA issued a Foreign-Based Information Requirement to Soft-Moc under subsection 231.6(2) of the Income Tax Act.

The Requirement requested substantial amounts of information related to the Bahamas Corporations including extensive details of the services provided, customers, financial statements, costs and profits and employee data.  Soft-Moc applied for judicial review of the decision to issue the requirement.

Primarily, Soft-Moc argued that the information requested went well beyond that necessary to enable the CRA to complete the transfer pricing audit and that the decision to issue the requirement was, therefore, unreasonable.  Soft-Moc argued that a portion of the information requested was irrelevant and that some portions were confidential or proprietary.

The Court was not sympathetic to Soft-Moc’s arguments, noting the wide-ranging statutory powers of the CRA to collect information and the low threshold to be met in determining whether the requested information is relevant and reasonable.

This win, which was not surprising in light of the Federal Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in Saipem Luxembourg S.A. v. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, 2005 FCA 218, will encourage the CRA to continue to use foreign-based requirements more frequently and earlier in the audit process.

, , , ,

Foreign-based Requirement Under Section 231.6 of the Income Tax Act Upheld by the Federal Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

, , , , , , ,

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

Federal Court decides that JP Morgan’s judicial review application challenging the Minister’s decision to assess Part XIII tax may proceed

In a decision released on November 26, 2012 in JP Morgan Asset Management (Canada) Inc. v. Minister of National Revenue and Canada Revenue Agency (Docket T-1278-11), Justice Leonard Mandamin of the Federal Court dismissed the Crown’s appeal of an order by Prothonotary Aalto in JP Morgan Asset Management (Canada) Inc. v. Minister of National Revenue and Canada Revenue Agency in which the Crown moved unsuccessfully to strike out a judicial review application on the basis that the taxpayer had no possibility of success in seeking to set aside the decision of the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) to assess Part XIII tax in a manner contrary to the Minister’s own policy.

This decision is the latest in a series of defeats for the Crown on this issue.  Since the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada v. Addison & Leyen Ltd., [2007] 2 S.C.R. 793, there has been a vigorous debate around the limits of judicial review of Ministerial action involving the decision to issue an assessment and the scope of section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act which reads as follows:

Despite sections 18 and 18.1, if an Act of Parliament expressly provides for an appeal to the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court Martial Appeal Court, the Tax Court of Canada, the Governor in Council or the Treasury Board from a decision or an order of a federal board, commission or other tribunal made by or in the course of proceedings before that board, commission or tribunal, that decision or order is not, to the extent that it may be so appealed, subject to review or to be restrained, prohibited, removed, set aside or otherwise dealt with, except in accordance with that Act.

The Minister has consistently intepreted the decision of the Supreme Court in Addison & Leyen and section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act as precluding judicial review of the Minister’s decision to issue an assessment.  Thus far, however, the Crown has been largely unsuccessful in striking out such judicial review applications in Federal Court.  See, for example, the decision of Prothonotary Aalto in Chrysler Canada Inc. v. Canada and the decision of Justice Hughes on appeal in Chrysler Canada Inc. v. Canada.

By way of background, the Minister assessed Part XIII tax against JP Morgan in respect of fees it had paid to non-resident affiliates between 2002 and 2008.  JP Morgan applied for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to assess it for amounts payable under Part XIII of the Income Tax Act.  In particular, JP Morgan alleged that in exercising discretion to assess for years other than the current year and the two immediately preceding years

. . . CRA did not consider, or sufficiently consider, CRA’s own policies, guidelines, bulletins, internal communiqués and practices which would otherwise have limited assessments to the current tax year and the two (2) immediately preceding years.  CRA thus acted arbitrarily, unfairly, contrary to the rules of natural justice and in a manner inconsistent with CRA’s treatment of other tax payers.

The Crown moved to strike the application for judicial review, relying on section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act.  Citing his earlier decision in Chrysler Canada, the Prothonotary dismissed the Crown’s motion.  He held that JP Morgan’s judicial review application dealt with:

. . . the discretion to assess as described in various policies of CRA.  That decision to apparently depart from policies and assess is subject to judicial review and is the type of situation that is contemplated by Addison & Leyen.  The ITA provides that the Minister “may” assess not “shall” assess which connotes a discretionary decision.  The decision of the Minister to apparently depart from policies is not otherwise reviewable [by the Tax Court of Canada] and therefore is subject to judicial review.

Consistent with his earlier decision in Chrysler Canada, the Prothonotary held that “JP Morgan only seeks judicial review of the decision to reassess which is alleged to be contrary to policies of CRA which were in place.  No attack on the reassessments is in play.” In his view, the case was about the Minister’s discretion to assess, not the assessments themselves.

Justice Mandamin dismissed the Crown’s appeal of the Prothonotary’s decision as he did not find that the Prothonotary’s Order was clearly wrong in that the exercise of discretion was based upon a wrong principle or a misapprehension of the facts and there was no improper exercise of discretion on a question vital to the case arising with the Prothonotary’s dismissal of the Crown’s motion to strike.

It is not yet known whether the Crown will appeal the decision of Justice Mandamin in JP Morgan, but it would not be surprising in light of the fact that several Crown motions to strike such judicial review applications are currently before the Federal Court.

, , , ,

Federal Court decides that JP Morgan’s judicial review application challenging the Minister’s decision to assess Part XIII tax may proceed

Federal Court Cancels its Earlier Orders Authorizing Issuance of “Unnamed Persons” Requirements as Canada Revenue Agency Failed to Disclose all Relevant Facts

The decision of the Federal Court in Minister of National Revenue v. RBC Life Insurance Company et al., 2011 FC 1249 may have opened the door to new opportunities for judicial review in the context of ex parte orders in federal tax matters only days after the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Stemijon Investments Ltd. v. Attorney General of Canada (see our earlier post) appeared to have narrowed those opportunities in the context of so-called “fairness applications” dealing with late-filed forms under federal tax statutes.

By way of background, the case concerned insurance products known in the industry as 10-8 plans. These essentially were a tax-effective insurance structure where, in very general terms, the taxpayer paid a high rate of deductible interest on loans in connection with insurance products where relatively high rates of interest accrued free of tax. The Canada Revenue Agency was aware of these structures at the highest levels and the record disclosed that they had considerable concern that the structures were abusive, violated GAAR, etc. As a result, CRA made ex parte applications under subsection 231.2(3) of the Income Tax Act against a number of the issuers of such 10-8 plans requiring the production of detailed information about these plans and their customers.

What CRA did not disclose to the Court on these ex parte applications was that one of the principal purposes of these applications was to take measures to “chill” 10-8 plan business. This offended the Court:

[58] At the hearing, the Insurers conceded that the Minister had a valid audit purpose in issuing the requirements, but argued that this valid purpose was extraneous to her primary goal, which was to chill their 10-8 plan business. I agree.

[59] I do not believe that the Minister’s central purpose in issuing the requirements is sufficiently tied to her valid audit purpose. Contrary to the Minister’s pretension, I did find evidence that the targeted audit of specific 10-8 plan holders was not only done to test the reasonableness of the 10% payable interest rate or the possible application of the GAAR but to send a message to the industry. I am not satisfied that the Minister’s attempt to “send a message” is a valid enforcement purpose such that subsection 231.2(3)(b) of the Act is satisfied or that this goal is sufficiently connected to the Minister’s valid audit purpose.

Accordingly, Justice Tremblay-Lamer cancelled the earlier ex parte orders with costs.

The Federal Court’s decision is a refreshing affirmation of the Crown’s duty of fairness and candour, particularly in ex parte proceedings. The decision should encourage those in receipt of “unnamed persons” requirements to challenge such requirements with a view to ascertaining whether the facts put forward by the CRA on the ex parte application to obtain the order constituted a “full and frank” disclosure of all the relevant facts.

, , , , , ,

Federal Court Cancels its Earlier Orders Authorizing Issuance of “Unnamed Persons” Requirements as Canada Revenue Agency Failed to Disclose all Relevant Facts

Federal Court Calls CRA’s Reasons “Inadequate” on Denial of Fairness Request

On October 21, 2011, the Federal Court (Justice Sandra Simpson) released her decision on an application for judicial review in Dolores Sherry v. The Minister of National Revenue. The applicant requested judicial review pursuant to section 18.1 of the Federal Courts Act of a decision of the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) in which the CRA refused to cancel or waive interest and penalties related to the applicant’s taxes for 1989 to 2000. The decision is important because the Federal Court held that the reasons provided to the applicant by the CRA were inadequate.

The applicant had sought judicial review of the refusal by the CRA and on October 25, 2005, the Minister commenced a review of the applicant’s file in accordance with the terms of an order by Justice Heneghan on April 25, 2005. Justice Heneghan made an order on consent referring the matter to the Minister for redetermination. Upon completing its redetermination, the CRA told the applicant that it declined to reduce the interest charged to the applicant from 1989 to 2000 for the following reasons:

In reviewing your financial circumstances, we conducted a cash flow analysis to determine your ability to meet your tax obligations from 1989 to 2000. In conducting this analysis we have applied the direction in the Court Order and excluded the $100,000 you reported as taxable capital gain in our cash flow analysis and included your rental loses for years 1989 to 1994 as cash outflow. Our cash flow analysis shows that your net cash flow (funds received less expenses paid during the applicable years) was sufficient to meet your tax obligations from 1989 to 2000, except for the negative cash flow years 1991, 1992, and 1993. However, we considered the fact that you had significant equity in properties that you owned during the years 1991 to 2000 and could use this equity to meet your tax obligations and to cover the negative cash flows. Therefore, your request for interest relief under financial hardship is denied.

Justice Simpson held that those reasons were inadequate as CRA “extrapolated” from her income and expenses in 2001 a cash flow summary for the years 1989 to 2000 and CRA relied, in part, on its own appraised value of the applicant’s properties when it considered whether she had equity in her real estate holdings.

Justice Simpson concluded that although the CRA’s decision, as originally communicated to the applicant, did not offer adequate reasons, a more detailed “Fairness Report” prepared by the CRA did provide an adequate explanation. Although, by the time of the hearing, the applicant had a copy of the “Fairness Report”, she was not given a copy when the CRA first told her about its decision. Therefore, the application for judicial review was allowed.

As the applicant was required to initiate a judicial review application before she received the “Fairness Report”, the Court granted her costs for the preparation of the application. Once the “Fairness Report” was secured by the applicant, the only issue on which the applicant was successful was resolved and therefore, no relief beyond the cost award was granted.

, , , , , ,

Federal Court Calls CRA’s Reasons “Inadequate” on Denial of Fairness Request

Winning the battle but losing the war: Federal Court of Appeal decides that the Canada Revenue Agency acted unreasonably in denying request to cancel penalties and interest on late-filed T1135 forms, but dismisses the appeals

On October 26, 2011, the Federal Court of Appeal released its decision in Stemijon Investments Ltd. v. Attorney General of Canada and five related appeals (see our earlier post).  Justice David Stratas wrote for the panel (Justice Marc Noël and Justice Johanne Trudel were the other members) and dismissed taxpayers’ appeals of the Federal Court judgments which rejected their claim that the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) acted unreasonably in deciding not to cancel penalties and interest on late-filed T1135 forms.

By way of background, subsection 233.3(3) of the Income Tax Act requires each taxpayer who owns specified foreign property to file a Form T1135 where the total cost amount of the property is over $100,000.  The taxpayers filed the forms for 1998 and 1999 but did not do so for 2000-2003 until the CRA reminded them to file, which resulted in late filings for those years.

The taxpayers did not initially file the T1135 forms for 2000-2003 as their representative felt that the Canada Revenue Agency was receiving all the information it needed from other filings made by the appellants’ Canadian investment managers.  The foreign investments of almost all the taxpayers were managed by a Canadian investment manager who was already subject to Canadian reporting requirements.  Failing to file the forms in a timely manner for 2000-2003 was, therefore, a conscious decision because the representative believed that the Canada Revenue Agency was receiving information about the taxpayers’ foreign holdings from other filings.

The taxpayers asked for the late-filing penalties and interest to be cancelled.  Their request was denied.  They applied for a second level review where their request was denied.  They applied for judicial review in the Federal Court which found that the Minister’s decision was not unreasonable.  The taxpayers then appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.

In the Federal Court of Appeal, the taxpayers won the battle, but lost the war.  The Court found that the Minister’s decision was unreasonable as it was based exclusively on whether the facts fit within three specific scenarios set out paragraph 23 of Information Circular IC07-1 (“Taxpayer Relief Provisions”), namely, (a) extraordinary circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control, (b) actions of the Canada Revenue Agency and (c) inability to pay.  The Minister’s representative did not base his decision on the wider scope of discretion granted to him by law, namely, by subsection 220(3.1) of the Income Tax Act.  The Court concluded that “the scope of the Minister’s discretion [under subsection 220(3.1)] is broader than the three specific scenarios set out in the Information Circular.”  The Court concluded that it was unreasonable for the Minister to proceed as though the source of his decision-making power was the Information Circular and not the law.  As Justice Stratas noted (at paragraph 60):

An administrative policy is not law. It cannot cut down the discretion that the law gives to a decision-maker. It cannot amend the legislator’s law. A policy can aid or guide the exercise of discretion under a law, but it cannot dictate in a binding way how that discretion is to be exercised.

The taxpayers lost the war because, in the words of Justice Stratas (at paragraph 46):

In this case, there would be no practical end served in setting aside the Minister’s decision and returning the matter to him for redetermination. The excuses and justifications offered by the appellants for the delay in filing and the grounds offered in support of relief have no merit. The Minister could not reasonably accept them and grant relief under subsection 230(3.1) of the Act. Returning the matter back to the Minister would be an exercise in futility.

The Court explained that referring the matter back to the Minister would be an exercise in futility because the relief requested could not reasonably be granted on the facts.  The representative filed the T1135 forms on time for 1998 and 1999 but, after that, he “consciously chose not to comply with the Act” as he believed that the CRA was receiving the same information from other sources such as the appellants’ Canadian money managers.  Even if that were the case, Justice Stratas observed, that would be no excuse.  There are a number of other provisions in the Income Tax Act requiring the provision of information from various sources in order to verify compliance (e.g. information provided to the CRA by an employer and its employees).  The Court concluded that the taxpayers could not succeed on the explanations and justifications offered even if the Court returned the matter to the Minister for redetermination.

In addition, the Court observed that it would be an unreasonable exercise of discretion to grant relief on the basis that the imposition of six separate penalties in respect of a single decision by a single representative was unfair.  The Court described the taxpayers’ argument for a ”volume discount” as having “no merit”.

In light of the Court’s conclusion that the Minister’s decision was unreasonable, most observers would have expected the matter to be sent back to the Minister for redetermination as a matter of course.  The decision is significant as it may signal a more activist approach by the Federal Court of Appeal on judicial review matters.  Time will tell whether the courts will be more inclined to make decisions that the Minister ought to have made rather than routinely sending matters back to the Minister for redetermination.  If so, this decision may prove to be a harbinger of a much more complex era for judicial review of ministerial decisions.

, , , , , , ,

Winning the battle but losing the war: Federal Court of Appeal decides that the Canada Revenue Agency acted unreasonably in denying request to cancel penalties and interest on late-filed T1135 forms, but dismisses the appeals