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Devon: TCC considers large corporation rules

In Devon Canada Corporation v. The Queen the issue is whether the taxpayer (“Devon”) may deduct $20,884,041 paid to cancel issued stock options. After the close of pleadings, the Crown brought a procedural motion relating to the large corporations rules. The Tax Court allowed the motion in part, and struck certain portions of Devon’s Notices of Appeal (2014 TCC 255) (the main tax issue has not yet been heard by the Tax Court).

The content of objections and appeals for large corporations is subject to specific rules in the Income Tax Act (Canada). Under subsection 165(1.11), a large corporation’s Notice of Objection must describe each issue, the specific the relief sought for each issue, and facts and reasons in support of its position. Further, under subsection 169(2.1), the large corporation may appeal to the Tax Court only with respect to the issues and relief sought in the Notice of Objection. The Federal Court of Appeal recently considered these rules in Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen (2014 FCA 104) (see our post on Bakorp here).

In the present case, the Tax Court highlighted some of the themes that have emerged from the case law on this issue:

  1. a taxpayer is not required to describe each issue exactly but is required to describe it reasonably (Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. v. The Queen, 2003 FCA 471);
  2. the determination of what degree of specificity is required for an issue to have been described reasonably is to be made on a case by case basis (Potash);
  3. a taxpayer may add new facts or reasons on appeal but not new issues (British Columbia Transit v. The Queen, 2006 TCC 437);
  4. if the proposed additional argument would result in the large corporation seeking greater relief than was previously sought, the courts are more likely to consider the argument to be a new issue rather than a reason (Potash; Telus Communications (Edmonton) Inc. v. The Queen, 2005 FCA 159);
  5. if the proposed additional argument would result in the large corporation seeking the same relief that was previously sought, the courts are more likely to consider the argument to be the same issue (British Columbia Transit; Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 170); and
  6. if the proposed additional argument would result in the large corporation seeking completely different relief than was previously sought, the courts are more likely to consider the argument to be a new issue rather than a reason (Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen, 2014 FCA 104).

Devon raised three arguments in its Notices of Appeal for the deductibility of the payments to cancel stock options. These were summarized by the Tax Court as follows:

(a) Devon’s primary argument is that the payments are deductible as current expenses under subsection 9(1);

(b) In the alternative, Devon argues that the payments are eligible capital expenditures that, once added to cumulative eligible capital, would result in deductions pursuant to paragraph 20(1)(b). It further argues that, due to the fact that there were acquisitions of control of both of the predecessor companies during the taxation periods in which the payments were made, subsection 111(5.2) applies to cause significant additional deductions of cumulative eligible capital; and

(c) In the further alternative, Devon claims that the payments are financing expenses deductible under paragraph 20(1)(e).

The Crown argued that Devon, a large corporation in the years at issue, only referred to section 9 in its Notice of Objection. The other provisions – namely paragraph 20(1)(b) and subsection 111(5.2) and paragraph 20(1)(e) – were mentioned in a supplementary memorandum filed by Devon during the objection process. As such, references to provisions other than section 9 should be struck from Devon’s Notice of Appeal.

The Tax Court held that no mechanism in the Act would permit the supplemental memorandum filed by Devon to amend the original Notice of Objection. However, the Tax Court struck out references to paragraph 20(1)(b) and subsection 111(5.2) but not paragraph 20(1)(e).

The Tax Court held that paragraph 20(1)(e) did not raise a new issue and was merely an alternative reason argued by the taxpayer in favor of deducting the payments to cancel the issued stock options. However, paragraph 20(1)(b) and subsection 111(5.2) raised new issues that were not otherwise raised in the Notice of Objection and would have entitled Devon to a deduction for amounts in its cumulative eligible capital that were unrelated to the payments to cancel the stock options.

Although the taxpayer did not describe the relief sought with respect to paragraph 20(1)(e) in the Notice of Objection and only specified allowing the deduction in full, the Tax Court agreed that if a full deduction is pleaded under subsection 169(2.1) then a partial deduction of the same nature should not necessarily have to be separately pleaded under the large corporation rules.

Both the taxpayer and the Crown have appealed this procedural decision to the Federal Court of Appeal (Court File No. A-389-14).

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Devon: TCC considers large corporation rules

Bakorp: Appeal Dismissed for Failure to Comply with Large Corporations Rules

In Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen (2014 FCA 104), the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision of the Tax Court dismissing the taxpayer’s appeal for failure to comply with the rules relating to objections and appeals filed by large corporations.

The result in Bakorp is a reminder to large corporations and their advisors of the need for careful consideration of the issues and relief sought in objections and appeals. In this regard, it would be good practice to have a Notice of Objection of a large corporation reviewed by a tax litigation lawyer before the objection is filed with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Background

The taxpayer was a large corporation under subsection 225.1(8) of the Income Tax Act (ITA). In 1992, five Class A shares of a corporation not connected with the taxpayer were redeemed by that corporation for $338,213,849 resulting in a deemed dividend pursuant to subsection 84(3). A portion of the proceeds was not payable until 1995, and the taxpayer reported that portion ($52,912,264) as taxable income in 1995, resulting in $13,333,059 of Part IV tax.

The CRA reassessed the taxpayer’s 1993-1995 tax years (only the 1995 tax year was at issue in the appeal), and for the 1995 tax year the CRA reduced the amount of the deemed dividend included as taxable income by $25,332,237, and the Part IV tax was reduced accordingly.

The taxpayer filed a Notice of Objection and claimed that its original filing position should be restored (namely that the entire $52 million deemed dividend should be included in income in 1995). The CRA issued a Notice of Confirmation stating that $28 million of the deemed dividend should be included in income in 1995.

Tax Court

The taxpayer filed a Notice of Appeal to the Tax Court and argued that no amount of the deemed dividend should be included in its income in 1995. In response, the Crown brought a motion under section 53 of the Tax Court Rules (General Procedure) for an order dismissing the appeal on the basis the taxpayer had failed to comply with subsection 169(2.1) of the ITA (and thus the appeal was not validly constituted).

Under the ITA, large corporations are subject to specific rules regarding the content of their objections and appeals. Under subsection 165(1.11) of the ITA, a large corporation in its objection must reasonably describe each issue, specific the relief sought for each issue, and provide facts and reasons in support of the taxpayer’s position. Under subsection 169(2.1), a corporation may appeal to the Tax Court only with respect to the issues and relief sought in the objection.

In the Tax Court, the Appellant argued the objection was clear that the issue was the particular amount of the redemption proceeds that were to be included in income in 1995. However, the Tax Court disagreed and stated that the taxpayer was taking too general an approach in identifying the issue. Further, the Tax Court held the taxpayer was seeking entirely different relief in respect of the issue. The Tax Court allowed the Crown’s motion and dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal (2013 TCC 94).

Federal Court of Appeal

The taxpayer appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal. The taxpayer argued that the large corporations rules require the taxpayer to describe the “point in question”, and in this case the objection was clear the debate was about the share redemption proceeds added to income as a deemed dividend. Further, less specificity is required in respect of the relief sought, and in this case that was simply relief in respect of the taxpayer’s Part IV tax liability. The Crown argued that the determination of whether the issue and relief sought were the same in the objection and the appeal was a question of fact, and on these factual issues the Tax Court made no palpable and overriding error.

Of the question of what was meant by “issue”, the Court of Appeal noted the large corporation rules require the taxpayer to reasonably describe each issue, which will differ in each case and will depend on the degree of specificity required to allow the CRA to know each issue to be decided. In the present case, the Court stated that the issue must be described in a manner that would result in the quantification as a specified amount of the relief sought.

The Court of Appeal criticized the taxpayer’s characterization of the issue in its Notice of Objection, but concluded that the issue was whether the taxpayer was correct in concluding that it had received $52 million in dividends in 1995. Accordingly, the taxpayer’s appeal was limited only to this issue. However, the Court of Appeal noted that the issue raised in the Notice of Appeal was not the issue raised in the taxpayer’s objection.

Although it was not necessary to dispose of the appeal, the Court commented on the question of whether or not the relief sought was the same in the objection and appeal. The Court noted that the taxpayer had challenged the reduction of Part IV tax in the objection, but on appeal the taxpayer was asking the court to eliminate the Part IV tax entirely. In the Court’s view, this was not the same relief.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

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Bakorp: Appeal Dismissed for Failure to Comply with Large Corporations Rules

Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Professionals Group Breakfast Seminar (Objections and Appeals) – November 6, 2013

On November 6, 2013, at the Toronto Centre Canada Revenue Agency & Professionals Breakfast Seminar, representatives from the CRA provided an update on objections and appeals.

Anne-Marie Levesque, Assistant Commissioner of Appeals, presented these slides and made the following comments:

  • The Appeals Branch reviews objections to assessments from the following branches:
    • Compliance programs (audit)
    • Assessment and benefit services
    • Taxpayer services and debt management (collections)
  • The Appeals Branch will not normally contact an assessing branch unless the assessing position is unclear or pertinent information is missing. If this is the case, the practice of the Appeals Branch is to note this in the file.
  • The Appeals Branch is aware and concerned about the time required to process large files, which may take a few months to assign, and up to a year to resolve.
  • The Appeals Branch manual is available at CRA Reading Rooms. A taxpayer may visit these rooms and ask for a copy, and an appeals officer will provide a copy.
  • The Appeals Branch has been “swamped” by objections in the last 5-8 years, most relating to tax shelters. Historically, the Appeals Branch received 50,000 objections per year, but in recent years has received up to 100,000 objections per year. Currently there is a “significant backlog” of objections in the Appeals Branch’s inventory.
  • The Appeals Branch is distributing certain files to particular offices across the country (i.e., alimony, Disability Tax Credits, Child Care Tax Benefits, GST credits, etc.) to streamline the resolution for less complex objections.
  • Large group files (i.e., tax shelter objections) have been concentrated in the Toronto North Tax Services Office.
  • The Appeals Branch has designated certain offices as industry specialists: forestry in Vancouver; resources in Calgary; insurance, banking and mining in Toronto North; and manufacturing in Montreal.
  • The Appeals Branch has moved away from the practice of granting face-to-face meetings (too expensive and time consuming, requires that objections be assigned to offices located near taxpayer’s home or office). While some files may still require in-person meetings, for most files the appeals officer will not meet with the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative. However, the Appeals Branch is committed to communicating with taxpayers and their representatives over the phone and in writing.
  • The Appeals Branch will continue to ask that taxpayers make written submissions. This is to protect the integrity of the decision-making process – both for the Appeals Branch’s internal quality standards and for the purposes of any external review by the Auditor General.
  • Generally, the Appeals Branch is committed to resolving disputes prior to litigation. Taking a file to the Tax Court is the exception and not the rule for the Appeals Branch.
  • The “benefit of the doubt” should go to the taxpayer where there is credible evidence in support of the taxpayer’s version of the facts. If the taxpayer’s version of the facts makes sense and is reasonable, the Appeals Branch may give the taxpayer the benefit of the doubt even in the absence of documentary evidence. However, in such cases, the Appeals Branch expects that the taxpayer will be diligent about maintaining proper documentation to avoid the same problem in the future.
  • The Appeals Branch has had a settlement protocol with the Department of Justice since 2004, which has evolved over time. Recent amendments give Department of Justice counsel additional leeway to resolve low-complexity files without having to obtain instructions from the CRA litigation officer – this would apply to all informal procedure appeals and some general procedure appeals. Conversely, the settlement protocol empowers CRA litigation officers to settle informal procedure appeals without requiring sign-off by the Department of Justice.
  • Historically, the Crown is successful in approximately 85% of appeals to the Tax Court. This rate fluctuates over time, but in the last three months the Crown’s success rate has increased. The increase may be due to the efforts of the CRA and the Department of Justice to settle those appeals that should not go forward to a full hearing.
  • When the Crown loses an appeal in the Tax Court, the reasons for judgment are reviewed by the Adverse Decision Committee, which includes the Assistant Commissioner of the Appeals Branch, Assistant Commissioners from the assessing branches, senior counsel from the Department of Justice, and a senior representative from the Department of Finance. The Committee considers whether there has been an error of law and the chance of success on appeal.
  • The Appeals Branch has initiated a pilot project in British Columbia under which appeals officers will be empowered to consider relief from interest and penalties at the same time they are considering the substantive tax issues on objection. The Appeals Branch is still considering how this process may work, due to the different processes by which these decisions may be appealed by the taxpayer (i.e., appeal to the Tax Court for tax assessments, and judicial review of decisions regarding interest and penalty relief).
  • Auditors are empowered to “waive” interest and penalties before assessing, while appeals officers may “cancel” interest and penalties after assessment.
  • Remission orders under the Financial Administration Act are not dealt with by the Appeals Branch and are granted to taxpayers only in rare circumstances.
  • The Appeals Branch would prefer that taxpayers not appeal to the Tax Court immediately after 90 days have passed from the date of filing the Notice of Objection.

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Highlights from the Toronto Centre CRA & Professionals Group Breakfast Seminar (Objections and Appeals) – November 6, 2013

Get it right the first time: Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. The Queen

In Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. Queen (2013 TCC 259), the Tax Court of Canada dismissed an application by Newfoundland Transshipment (“NTL”) for an order to extend time to serve notices of objection for its 2002 to 2005 taxation years. The application was filed in 2012, several years after the deadline for serving the objections had expired.

NTL had originally filed its returns for 2002 to 2005 on the basis that its pipeline was a Class 1 asset, with a depreciation rate of 4%.  By the time it filed its 2006 return, it came to the conclusion that the pipeline was a Class 6 asset, with a depreciation rate of 10%. Accordingly, in April 2007, NTL filed amended tax returns for its 2002 to 2005 taxation years reclassifying the pipeline from Class 1 to Class 6 and filed its 2006 to 2010 returns on the basis that the pipeline was a Class 6 asset. In February 2012, the CRA wrote to NTL, refusing to accept the amended filings for 2002 to 2005 and proposing to reassess 2006 to 2010.

In August 2012, NTL asked the Minister to issue notices of reassessment to enable it to serve notices of objection for 2002 to 2005. The Minister responded by saying that the time to serve notices of objection and applications for orders extending time had expired. Section 166.1 of the Income Tax Act allows the Minister to grant an extension of time to serve an objection only if an application is filed within one year after the expiration of the normal 90 day period.

In arguing that its application for an extension of time should be granted, NTL argued that a letter from the CRA in February 2012 rejecting the amended returns constituted a “reassessment”. In the alternative, NTL claimed that it had relied on CRA policy that an amended return was a de facto waiver.

The Tax Court disagreed. In Armstrong v. The Queen (2006 FCA 119), the Federal Court of Appeal held that a request by a taxpayer to amend its return is “merely a request” and need not result in an assessment. In addition, the Tax Court held that it was not bound by a CRA policy and had no jurisdiction to grant an extension of time as the relevant taxation years were statute-barred by the time the taxpayer attempted to serve the objections.

This decision is a useful reminder that, depending on when it is filed, there may be no recourse when an amended return is rejected by the Minister – all the more reason to get it right the first time!

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Get it right the first time: Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. The Queen

The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

In Salisbury House of Canada Ltd. et al. v. The Queen (2013 TCC 236), the Tax Court of Canada reiterated the importance of the statutory preconditions that must be met before a taxpayer may appeal to the Court. These statutory requirements should be kept in mind by taxpayers who wish to ensure their disputes are heard on the substantive merits rather than dismissed for procedural reasons before they have an opportunity to argue their case.

In Salisbury, the corporate taxpayer operated several restaurants in the Winnipeg area. The company was assessed additional GST for the period February to June, 2006 but did not object to those assessments. Around the same time, a new board of directors was elected. Due to financial difficulties, the company made a proposal under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and attempted to negotiate an agreement with the CRA pertaining to the GST arrears. The parties eventually agreed that a portion of the GST liability would be paid. Importantly, at this point, no directors’ liability assessments had been issued under s. 323 of the Excise Tax Act. Payment was remitted, but the directors sought to have their potential liability for tax determined “by a court of competent jurisdiction”.

The company and the individual directors each filed a Notice of Appeal in the Tax Court. In response, the Crown brought a motion to dismiss the appeals pursuant to paragraph 53(b) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) on the grounds that (inter alia) the appeals were scandalous, frivolous or vexatious.

Under section 306 of the Excise Tax Act, a taxpayer must file a notice of objection before a Notice of Appeal may be filed in the Tax Court. In Salisbury, the GST assessments against the corporate taxpayer had not been challenged by way of objection and there had been no assessments issued against the directors.  The Minister argued that the appellants had no statutory right of appeal because the requirements of section 306 had not been met.

The Tax Court granted the Minister’s motion and dismissed the appeals. Since no notices of objection had been filed by the company, this precluded an appeal from the original GST assessments. In respect of the appeals by the individual directors, the Court held that they too could not succeed – no assessments had been issued, and no notices of objection filed.

The Salisbury decision is consistent with a long line of jurisprudence reflecting the requirement that taxpayers must satisfy the statutory preconditions before appealing to the Tax Court. In Roitman v. The Queen (2006 FCA 266), the Federal Court of Appeal stated that a court “does not acquire jurisdiction in matters of income tax assessments simply because a taxpayer has failed in due course to avail himself of the tools given to him by the Income Tax Act.” More recently, in Goguen v. The Queen (2007 DTC 5171), the Tax Court reiterated that, as “a matter of law, the failure of the [taxpayer] to serve a notice of objection on the Minister deprive[s] the Tax Court of Canada of the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal in relation to the assessment” (see also Whitford v. The Queen (2008 TCC 359), Bormann v. The Queen (2006 FCA 83), and Fidelity Global Opportunities Fund v. The Queen (2010 TCC 108)).

Salisbury reminds corporate and individual taxpayers of the need to obtain proper advice from tax professionals with respect to their rights and obligations under the Excise Tax Act and the Income Tax Act. This is all the more important in cases where the corporation is experiencing financial difficulty and/or contemplating protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (i.e., as the CRA may be a primary creditor). In Salisbury, the directors may not have been personally liable for corporate taxpayer’s GST liability. However, because of the manner and timing of the payment of GST arrears, their “appeal” to the Tax Court was defeated on procedural rather than substantive grounds and they were, unfortunately, precluded from presenting their case.

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The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

Sales of condominium units under audit by Canada Revenue Agency

A Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) audit initiative is targeting taxpayers who have recently sold condominium units they did not occupy or occupied for only a short period of time (the “CRA Condo Project”).

The CRA is reassessing some of these dispositions on the basis that the condo was sold in the course of business, treating the profit as income (instead of capital gains) and, in some cases, assessing gross negligence penalties under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act. In doing so, the CRA may be incorrectly reassessing some taxpayers whose gains are legitimate capital gains and that may be subject to the principal residence exemption (click here for a discussion of the principal residence exemption).

Consider this example. A taxpayer signs a pre-construction purchase agreement for a condo in 2007.  In 2009, the unit was completed and occupied by the taxpayer, before the entire development was finished and registered in land titles.  Land titles registration occurs in 2010, but shortly thereafter the taxpayer sells the condo for a profit.  Ordinarily, one would conclude the condo was held on account of capital and the gain would be at least partially exempt from tax on the basis that condo was the taxpayer’s principal residence.  The CRA may be inclined to reassess on the basis that land title records show the taxpayer on title for only a short time, as though the taxpayer had intended to merely “flip” the condo rather than reside in it.

This assessing position may be incorrect because the buyer of a condo does not appear on title until the entire condominium development is registered.  In fact, several years can pass from the date of signing the purchase agreement to occupancy to land titles registration – and, accordingly, the taxpayer’s actual length of ownership will not be apparent from the land title records.

This type of situation could cause serious problems for some taxpayers. If a taxpayer is audited and subject to reassessment on the basis that their entire gain should be taxed as income, the taxpayer will need to gather evidence and formulate arguments in time to respond to an audit proposal letter within 30 days, or file a Notice of Objection within 90 days of the date of a reassessment.

Taxpayers could respond to such a reassessment by providing evidence that they acquired the condo with the intent that it would be their residence, and that the subsequent sale was due to a change in life circumstances.  Taxpayers may wish to gather the following evidence to support such claims:

  • Purchase and sales agreements;
  • Letter or certificates granting permission to occupy the condo;
  • Proof of occupancy, such as utility bills, bank statements, CRA notices, identification (such as a driver’s license) showing the condo as a residence; or
  • Evidence of a change in life circumstances which caused the condo to no longer be a suitable residence, including:
    • Marriage or birth certificates;
    • A change of employer or enrollment in education that required relocation; or
    • Evidence showing the taxpayer cared for a sick or infirm relative, or had a disability that precluded using a condo as a residence.

Taxpayers should be prepared to provide reasonable explanations for any gaps in the evidence.  If a taxpayer wishes to explore how best to respond in the circumstances, they should consult with an experienced tax practitioner.

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Sales of condominium units under audit by Canada Revenue Agency

Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection

Since 1995, the Large Corporation Rules found in subsections 165(1.11), 169(2.1) and 152(4.4) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) have applied to discourage large corporations from objecting to tax assessments as a means of keeping tax years “open”. In Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 94, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s tax appeal on the basis that it failed to comply with the Large Corporation Rules. Basically, these rules require that an objection fled by a large corporation must reasonably describe each issue to be decided and, for each issue, must specify the relief sought as the amount of change in a balance. The rules also limit the issues and relief sought in a subsequent appeal to those set out in the objection. The locus classicus on the interpretation of these provisions is the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc., 2003 FCA 471.

In Bakorp, the corporation owned shares of another corporation that were redeemed in 1992 for $338M. As the proceeds from the redemption were received over a number of years, Bakorp reported in 1995 the portion of the deemed dividend related to proceeds received in 1995. The Minister reassessed Bakorp’s 1995 tax year to reduce the deemed dividend from $53M to $25M, a reduction of $28M. The corporation objected to the Minister’s reassessment and the Minister confirmed the reassessment. The corporation then filed a Notice of Appeal taking the position that the $28M deemed dividend remaining in its 1995 income was actually received in 1993 and should be included in the corporation’s 1993 tax year, not the 1995 year.

The Minister was, no doubt, surprised by Bakorp’s position to reduce the 1995 deemed dividend to zero. In response, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s appeal, arguing that the issue and relief set out in the Notice of Appeal were not those set out in the Notice of Objection.

Bakorp argued that it had complied with the Large Corporation Rules because the issue in both its objection and appeal was, fundamentally, the amount of deemed dividend to be included in its 1995 income. The Court disagreed noting that it could not “imagine a fuller reconstruction than making a 180 degree turn in what is to be included in income.” In the Court’s view, applying such a general approach to identifying the issue would render the Large Corporation Rules meaningless. In respect of specifying the relief sought, the Court was not prepared to accept that a complete reversal from wanting $53M included in income to wanting nothing included in income could be seen as complying with the Large Corporation Rules.

As a notice of appeal has been filed with the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court’s reasoning will not be the last word in this particular matter. However, it is safe to say that the Bakorp decision is a timely reminder that large corporations must take particular care in preparing a Notice of Objection. Failure to do so may seriously impact a later appeal to the Tax Court of Canada.

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Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection