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Roitelman: Fraud and the Due Diligence Defence

In Roitelman v. The Queen (2014 TCC 139), the Tax Court considered whether a director could establish that he had been duly diligent in his attempts to prevent his company’s failure to remit source deductions where he had delegated responsibility for the company’s bookkeeping and tax filings to an employee.

Background

The taxpayer owned an electrical contracting business that focused primarily on commercial and industrial contracting, installations and service work. Initially, the taxpayer personally completed all payroll and remittance filings. As his business expanded, the taxpayer was required to travel more frequently, thus spending less time in his office. Consequently, the taxpayer hired and trained a bookkeeper. He oversaw her work and at the outset ensured remittances were made in a timely fashion. After the employee assumed responsibility for the bookkeeping, the corporation did not remain current in its remittance obligations.  From August 2005 to March 2008, the CRA sent five letters to the corporation regarding repeated failures to remit. From October 2006 to March 2008, the CRA sent seven Notices of Assessment in respect of the unremitted source deductions. The taxpayer did not receive nor was he personally aware of many of these letters and assessments. Later, after the bookkeeper had been dismissed, the taxpayer discovered hidden documents and unsent remittance cheques in various locations in the office.

For 2006 and 2007, the CRA assessed the taxpayer for directors’ liability for unremitted source deductions under subsection 227.1(1) of the Income Tax Act. The taxpayer appealed to the Tax Court and relied on the due diligence defence under subsection 227.1(3) of the ITA.

Tax Court

The Tax Court allowed the appeal. The Court found the taxpayer established a due diligence defence and thus he was not personally liable for the unremitted amounts.

The Court reviewed the key decisions on the issue, and noted that the applicable test from Buckingham v. The Queen (2011 FCA 142) is objective and contemplates the degree of care, diligence and skill exercised by the director in preventing a failure to remit. The Court also cited Balthazard v. The Queen (2011 FCA 331) for the proposition that after-the-fact behavior and corrective measures can be relevant in certain circumstances.

In Roitelman, the Court compared the personal actions of the taxpayer to the reasonably prudent person and emphasized that the director’s interaction with the bookkeeper should not be analyzed on in hindsight but, rather, with a view of the circumstances that existed during the relevant period:

[28] The test does not dictate that the positive steps taken must be effective in ensuring future compliance but only that a director takes those steps and that those steps would be the proactive steps that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in comparable circumstances.

The Court stated that it was reasonable for the taxpayer to expect his bookkeeper to bring any essential correspondence to his attention, and it was reasonable for him to believe that when he signed remittance cheques that they were being forwarded to the Receiver General. There was no evidence that the taxpayer benefited or intended to benefit in any way from the company’s failure to remit.

Despite his actions (i.e., hiring and training the bookkeeper, delegating responsibility, etc.), the taxpayer was unable to discover or ascertain the extent of the remittance failures. The bookkeeper thwarted his attempts to ensure compliance. The Court held that the taxpayer could not reasonably have known that the bookkeeper would engage in fraudulent and misleading activities.

Roitelman is an interesting case because there are very few decisions in which a taxpayer is able to establish a due diligence defence where he/she delegates responsibility for bookkeeping/remittances and relies on the work of that other person. In Kaur v. The Queen (2013 TTC 227), the Tax Court stated, “… The director’s oversight duties with respect to [remittance obligations] cannot be delegated in their entirety to a subordinate, as was done in the present case.” In Roitelman, the taxpayer had admitted that he relied on “blind faith” that the remittances had been made in a timely fashion. However, the result in Roitelman reminds us that such reliance may still be reasonable where there was deceit and fraud perpetrated on the director by a subordinate.

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Roitelman: Fraud and the Due Diligence Defence

SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to appeal in Guindon v. The Queen (Docket # 35519).  In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada will consider whether penalties imposed under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act (Canada) constitute an “offence” within the meaning of s. 11 of the Charter.

The Tax Court found that the penalty imposed under section 163.2 of the Act is a
criminal penalty, not a civil one, and therefore subject to the same constitutional protections as other penal statutes enacted by the federal government.

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 section 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.”

Our previous comments on the decisions are here and here.

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SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

Tax Court Upholds Penalties Imposed for False Statements

In Morton v. The Queen (2014 TCC 72), the Tax Court of Canada upheld penalties imposed by the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act””) despite novel arguments by the taxpayer to the contrary.

In this case, the taxpayer originally filed his income tax returns for the relevant years and paid taxes on the reported income.  After the normal reassessment periods expired, utilizing the taxpayer “fairness” provisions in subsection 152(4.2) of the Act, the taxpayer filed T1 Adjustment Requests containing false information in the form of additional income and expenses that would place the taxpayer in a tax loss position in each year. If the Minister had accepted the adjustments, the taxpayer would have received refunds in excess of $202,000.

However, the taxpayer’s plan did not work out as expected. The Minister not only denied the T1 Adjustment Requests, but also levied penalties in excess of $75,000 pursuant to subsection 163(2) of the Act.  These penalties were the subject of the appeal to the Tax Court.

During testimony, the taxpayer admitted to supplying false information in the T1 Adjustment Requests intentionally, knowingly and without reliance on another person. In defense of his actions the taxpayer claimed that he was under stress due to financial difficulties, a marriage breakdown and loss of access to his business books and records. At trial, the Tax Court found as a matter of fact that the misrepresentations were made fraudulently and rejected the taxpayer’s defense since no documentary evidence could be supplied in respect of the alleged stress.

The remainder of Justice Bocock’s decision contained a thorough analysis of the provisions of subsection 152(4.2) of the Act in the context of levying a penalty pursuant to subsection 163(2) of the Act. Justice Bocock provided the following insights:

  • Even where information is supplied to the Minister outside of the context of filing a return for a particular taxation year, if the taxpayer makes fraudulent misrepresentations sufficient to assess under subparagraph 152(4)(a)(i) of the Act, for instance in requesting that the Minister reopen the taxation year under subsection 152(4.2) of the Act, the Minister may assess penalties for a statute barred year.
  • The penalty provisions in subsection 163(2) of the Act apply even in the absence of the Minister issuing a refund or reassessment that relies upon the incorrect information. The Tax Court found it would be absurd to require the Minister to rely on the fraudulent misrepresentations before levying a penalty; and
  • The meaning of the words “return”, “form”, “certificate”, “statement” and “answer” in subsection 163(2) of the Act should be defined broadly to include documents such as the T1 Adjustment Request. Limiting the application of penalties to prescribed returns and forms ignores the plain text, context and purpose of the Act and would lead to illogical results.

It should come as no surprise that the Tax Court upheld the penalties. Nevertheless, the decision provides an enjoyable and thought provoking analysis of the provisions contained in subsections 152(4.2) and 163(2) of the Act.

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Tax Court Upholds Penalties Imposed for False Statements

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

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 holds that advisor penalties under section 163.2 of the ITA constitute criminal offences

In what is certain to be the first step in a very important precedent, the Tax Court of Canada held on October 2, 2012 that the advisor penalties created under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act constitute criminal offences and entitle the taxpayer to all of the constitutional protections that entails, including a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt: Guindon v. The Queen, 2012 TCC 287.

The case involved a tax avoidance scheme that was deeply flawed from a technical perspective:

[1] The participants in a donation program (the “Program”) were to acquire timeshare units as beneficiaries of a trust for a fraction of their value and donate them to a charity in exchange for tax receipts for the actual value of the units. No donation ever took place as the timeshare units never existed and no trust was settled. The Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”), on the basis that the Appellant made, participated in, assented to or acquiesced in the making of 135 tax receipts that she knew, or would reasonably be expected to have known, constituted false statements that could be used by the participants to claim an unwarranted tax credit under the Income Tax Act (the “Act”), assessed against the Appellant on August 1, 2008 penalties under section 163.2 of the Act in the amount of $546,747 in respect of false statements made in the context of that donation program. The Appellant appealed the assessment.

The appellant was a lawyer with no experience or expertise in tax law. Nevertheless she prepared an opinion that was used by the Program promoters to attract potential donors. The opinion was found to be badly flawed and purported to rely upon documentation which the appellant had never examined (and which, in fact, did not exist):

[105] The Appellant wrote and endorsed a legal opinion regarding the Program, an opinion which she knew would be part of a promotional package intended for potential participants in the Program. Her legal opinion clearly states that she reviewed the principal documents relating to the Program when these documents had in fact never been provided to her. She knew, therefore, that her legal opinion was flawed and misleading.

[106] The Appellant chose to rely on the Program’s Principals. They pressured her into providing them with an executed version of the legal opinion without providing her with the supporting documents on which to found her opinion. Yet her legal opinion does not reflect this reality. Rather, it indicates that the documents were reviewed.

[107] When the Appellant chose to involve the Charity in the Program and, later, to sign the tax receipts, she knew she could not rely on her legal opinion. She again decided to rely on the Principals. However, the Principals had relied on the Appellant to attest the legality of the Program. The Appellant knew her legal opinion could not be relied on and, for that reason, she could not be entitled to blindly rely on the Principals. In other words, the Appellant would have been entitled to rely on the Principals if a different professional had signed the legal opinion. She could not, however, rely on her own legal opinion which she knew to be incomplete.

[108] Her conduct is indicative either of complete disregard of the law and whether it was complied with or not or of wilful blindness. The Appellant should have refrained from involving the Charity and signing the tax receipts until she had either reviewed the documents herself or had another professional approve the Program’s activities. When the Appellant issued the tax receipts, she could have reasonably been expected to know that those receipts were tainted by an omission, namely, that no professional had ever verified the legal basis of the Program.

[109] The Appellant cannot agree to endorse a legal opinion and then justify her wrongful conduct by saying she did not have the necessary knowledge — either of tax law or of foreign law — to write that opinion.

[110] Moreover, the Appellant’s conduct after the tax receipts were signed negatively affects her credibility and reflects badly on her character. When the Appellant was informed, after the tax receipts had been issued, that the legal titles were not in order, she co-signed a letter informing the participants of the situation. At that point, the Appellant knew she could not rely on the Principals — the same individuals who had never provided her with the documents she was supposed to review and the same individuals she had trusted in signing the tax receipts. Yet when Ploughman sent out a letter, days before the end of the fiscal year, stating that all was in order and that the participants could submit their receipts, the Appellant blindly relied on him again, without asking any further questions.

Thus, it is reasonably clear that if the test under section 163.2 were a normal burden of “balance of probabilities” the advisor penalties against the appellant would have been sustained.

Justice Bédard, however, performed a very thorough and detailed analysis of section 163.2 to determine whether the penalties imposed amounted to criminal sanctions. At the end of that careful analysis he concluded that they did create criminal offences and allowed the appeal:

[69] The Respondent submits that it is not the penalty that would stigmatize the Appellant but rather her unlawful conduct and the professional sanctions that could result from it. What the Respondent fails to recognize is that this judgment, when rendered, will be public. That professional sanctions may be imposed subsequently does not alter the fact that there will be a public document setting out all the details of the Appellant’s conduct, whether that conduct was found to qualify as culpable conduct or not, and indicating the amount of the penalty that she is being assessed. This constitutes a form of stigma which one should not fail to consider.

[70] In conclusion, applying the rationale enunciated in Wigglesworth, section 163.2 of the Act should be considered as creating a criminal offence because it is so far-reaching and broad in scope that its intent is to promote public order and protect the public at large rather than to deter specific behaviour and ensure compliance with the regulatory scheme of the Act. Furthermore, the substantial penalty imposed on the third party — a penalty which can potentially be even greater than the fine imposed under the criminal provisions of section 239 of the Act, without the third party even benefiting from the protection of the Charter — qualifies as a true penal consequence.

This case will almost undoubtedly be appealed, quite possibly to the Supreme Court of Canada. Nevertheless, the rationale of the decision seems balanced and well-reasoned. If it is sustained on appeal it may very well sound the death knell for advisor penalties under section 163.2 since the burden of proof on the Crown, i.e., proof beyond a reasonable doubt, will normally be far too onerous to justify prosecuting such penalties.

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Tax Court holds that advisor penalties under section 163.2 of the ITA constitute criminal offences

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.

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

Federal Court of Appeal Hears Arguments in T1135 Penalty Cases: Judgment Reserved

A panel of the Federal Court of Appeal (Noël, Trudel and Stratas, JJ.A.) heard arguments this morning in Ottawa on appeals from judgments of the Federal Court which held that the Canada Revenue Agency acted reasonably in deciding not to cancel or reduce penalties and arrears interest on late-filed T1135 forms. See our earlier blog post for more information on the background to this case.

The Appellants’ main argument to the panel was that the Minister of National Revenue had improperly fettered his discretion in deciding that certain penalties and arrears interest should not be cancelled or reduced. In particular, the Appellants emphasized the fact that the CRA official, in his written reasons, held that the Appellants did not fit within the categories set out in the Taxpayer Relief Guidelines and thus that the Minister could not grant the request for relief. This, the Appellants argued, showed that the Minister did not appreciate or understand that he had unfettered discretion to provide relief. The Appellants argued, on the facts and with unfettered discretion, the reasonable conclusion would have been to grant relief.

Justice Stratas noted that on the reasonableness standard of review, a reviewing court may look to what might have been the reasons of the decision-maker.  In response, counsel for the Appellants responded that in Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Khosa, the Supreme Court of Canada held that that what could have been the reasons of the decision-maker should not dilute the importance of giving reasons.

After putting the issue of “missing justification” to Crown counsel (who argued that cross-examination transcripts showed the CRA official had in fact considered all of the facts before him at the time), Justice Stratas wondered whether the CRA’s later justification was really just an exercise in bootstrapping. Members of the panel appeared concerned that taxpayers are obliged to file applications for judicial review simply in order to obtain an answer to their request for relief. Counsel for the Appellants argued that taxpayers “deserve the attention of the Minister” for their specific circumstances, given the nature of the discretion granted to the Minister under the Income Tax Act.

Justice Noël was interested in the fact that the Appellants failed to file the forms due to a common administrative error. Counsel for the Appellants described the policy objective underlying the penalty provision and argued that a multiplicity of penalties for what was actually just one common error would be disproportionate to the oversight by the taxpayers and would not advance the underlying purpose of the penalty. He argued that the existence of the common error should have had some significance to the exercise of the Minister’s discretion to cancel or reduce the penalties.

The panel reserved judgment.

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Federal Court of Appeal Hears Arguments in T1135 Penalty Cases: Judgment Reserved