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Zhang: BC SC Refuses to Rectify Share Transfer

In Zhang v. Canada (A.G.) (2015 BSCS 1256), the British Columbia Supreme Court refused to grant rectification of a transaction in respect of which the taxpayers had no common intention to avoid capital gains tax on a share transfer.

The taxpayer was resident in British Columbia. He carried on a business of manufacturing and distributing laser equipment. In 2002, the taxpayer incorporated LABest Optronics Co. Ltd. (“LABest”) in China to carry on the business.

In 2003, the taxpayer met with his accountant to discuss his 2002 Canadian tax return. In the course of this discussion, the taxpayer asked about the distribution of income from LABest, and the accountant suggested that income earned in the company could be taxed in China and distributed to a Canadian corporate shareholder as exempt surplus dividends without further Canadian tax being imposed, and then later paid to the taxpayer.

Subsequently, the taxpayer incorporated Beamtech Optronics Co. Ltd. (“Beamtech”), a B.C. company. The accountant suggested that the shares of LABest be transferred to Beamtech. The taxpayer sought and obtained regulatory approval for the share transfer from the Chinese government, and such approval included a transfer value (determined by the government) of $150,000 USD. Beamtech paid $150,000 USD cash to the taxpayer, and no section 85 rollover of the shares was undertaken.

The CRA subsequently reviewed and assessed the transaction on the basis that the fair market value of the LABest shares was $661,164 CDN, resulting in a capital gain of $221,950 for the taxpayer in 2003.

The taxpayer sought rectification of the share transfer to substitute a section 85 rollover of the LABest shares to Beamtech.

The Court stated that the “proper approach” to rectification under B.C. law is as follows:

  1. The focus of the analysis in tax cases is on the intention of the related parties when they entered the transaction. This is because the “mistake” in the written instrument is usually a mistake as to the tax consequences of the transaction. It matters not if the mistake was caused by misinformation from the taxpayer to his advisors, or mistaken advice provided by a professional advisor to the taxpayer.
  2. There is nothing objectionable about taxpayers attempting to avoid tax.
  3. The real question which must be considered is whether the taxpayer is able to establish a specific continuing intention to avoid the particular tax in question. A general intention to avoid taxes is not sufficient. The determination of what constitutes sufficient specificity of intention will depend on the context and the circumstances of each case.
  4. Where rectification is aimed at a wholly distinct kind of tax avoidance, which was not specifically contemplated at the time the written instrument was formed, rectification will not be granted.
  5. A common specific intention is one which existed before the formation of the instrument in question and continued since that time. It must be a “precise” and “clearly-defined object” before rectification will be granted.

In the present case, the Court was concerned that there were significant inconsistencies in the evidence of the taxpayer and his accountant. Further, the evidence established only that the taxpayer intended to implement a corporate structure (i) for the tax-efficient movement of funds from LABest to Beamtech, and (ii) that was acceptable to the Chinese government. The taxpayer had only consulted his accountant about discrete tax issues, but never retained his accountant to provide a comprehensive review of all tax issues that may arise in respect of the transaction. The Court held that the taxpayer had no specific intention to avoid capital gains tax on the share transfer.

The Court dismissed the taxpayer’s application.

The more challenging aspect of Zhang is the Court’s discussion of the requirements for rectification – i.e., whether a specific or general intention to avoid tax must exist for rectification to be granted. The B.C. Court referred to the leading tax rectification case, Juliar v. A.G. (Canada) ((2000), 50 O.R. (3d) 728 (Ont. C.A.), leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed (File No. 28304)) (Dentons was counsel for the successful taxpayer), and the B.C. cases that have interpreted Juliar (see, for example, McPeake v. Canada (A.G.) (2012 BCSC 132)). The Court stated that, in B.C., “Rectification will not be granted where there is only a general intention to avoid taxes.”

The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench reached a similar conclusion in Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) and Harvest Operations Corp. v. A.G. (Canada) (2015 ABQB 237)).

This may conflict with the reasoning in Juliar and other Ontario cases (see TCR Holding Corporation v. Ontario (2010 ONCA 233) and Fairmont Hotels Inc. v. A.G. (Canada)(2015 ONCA 441) in which the Ontario Court of Appeal has clearly stated that rectification was available where the taxpayers had a general intent to carry out their transactions on a tax-efficient (or tax-neutral) basis and had no expectation as to the specific manner in which the transaction would be carried out.

However, Zhang raises the question as to whether the distinction between specific and general intent is meaningful at all. On any rectification application, a court’s focus will always be on the nature of the mistake, the circumstances of the error, and the evidence of the taxpayer’s intent. Whether their intent is described as “specific” or “general”, taxpayers who are careless or cavalier about the Canadian tax implications of a transaction likely cannot establish that they intended to minimize or avoid taxes and cannot expect to obtain relief from the courts.

As of the time of the writing of this post, the taxpayer had not appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

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Zhang: BC SC Refuses to Rectify Share Transfer

Mac’s: Quebec CA Affirms Denial of Rectification

In Mac’s Convenience Stores Inc. v. Canada (2015 QCCA 837), the Quebec Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court decision (2012 QCCS 2745) denying rectification of corporate resolutions that had declared a dividend that unintentionally put the company offside the “thin-cap” rules in subsections 18(4)-(8) of the Income Tax Act.

Facts

Mac’s, an Ontario corporation, was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Couche-Tard Inc. (“CTI”). In April 2005, Mac’s borrowed $185 million from Sidel Corporation, a related Delaware corporation.

In April 2006, Mac’s participated in several transactions with various related entities, including the declaration of a $136 million dividend on the common shares held by CTI. A similar series of transactions had been undertaken in 2001. However, in 2006, Mac’s professional advisors failed or forgot to take proper account of the $185 million owed by Mac’s to Sidel.

While the $136 million dividend itself was generally without tax consequences, the dividend had the effect of putting Mac’s offside the (then) 2:1 ratio in the “thin-cap” rules in the Income Tax Act. This resulted in the reduction of deductible interest paid by Mac’s to Sidel in the years following the dividend payment (i.e., 2006, 2007 and 2008).

Rectification

After Mac’s was reassessed by the CRA to disallow the interest deduction, Mac’s sought rectification of the corporate resolution declaring the dividend, and additionally sought to substitute a reduction of its stated capital and the distribution of cash to CTI. This would have had the same effect of paying an amount to CTI while maintaining the proper ratio for interest deductibility.

The Quebec Superior Court dismissed the application on the basis that the Mac’s directors never had any specific discussions regarding the deductibility of interest on the Sidel loan after the payment of the dividend. The various steps in the 2006 transactions reflected the intentions of the parties, and thus there was no divergence between the parties agreement and the documents carrying out the transactions.

Appeal

The taxpayer appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Court described the taxpayer’s position as not invoking any error in the lower court judgment but simply alleging that, if the taxpayer’s advisors had made a mistake, then the lower court decision must be reversed on the basis of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Quebec v. Services Environnementaux AES Inc. (2013 SCC 65) (“AES“) (see our previous post on AES here).

The Court of Appeal stated that it understood the Supreme Court’s decision in AES to stand for the proposition that parties who undertake legitimate corporate transactions for the purpose of avoiding, deferring or minimizing tax and who commit an error in carrying out such transactions may correct the error(s) in order to achieve the tax results as intended and agreed upon. The Court of Appeal cautioned that AES does not sanction retroactive tax planning.

In the present case, the Court of Appeal held there was no common intention regarding the “thin-cap” implications of the dividend payment, and thus there was no agreement that should be given effect by the courts.

The Court of Appeal held there was no error by the lower court and dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

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Mac’s: Quebec CA Affirms Denial of Rectification

Baytex: ABQB Grants Rectification

In Baytex Energy Ltd. et  al. v. The Queen (2015 ABQB 278), the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench considered whether rectification and/or rescission were available to address mistakes that could result in the taxpayer being taxed on additional resource income of $135 million for 2003-2006 and $528 million for 2007-2010.

The Court determined that the requirements for rectification had been satisfied and thus granted the rectification of certain documents to accord with the parties’ original intention.

Facts

Baytex Energy Trust (the “Trust”) was a publicly-traded mutual fund trust (the Trust later converted to Baytex Energy Corp. (“BEC”), a publicly-traded dividend-paying corporation). The Trust wholly-owned Baytex Energy Ltd. (“BEL”), which owned and operated oil and gas properties prior to transferring the properties to Baytex Energy Partnership on January 1, 2010.

The Baytex companies were subject to the pre-2007 oil and gas royalty regime in the Income Tax Act, which required certain additional resource income for an oil and gas producer (referred to in the judgment as “Phantom Income”) and denied certain deductions for provincial Crown royalties and taxes. A 25% resource allowance was available to the producer. The Phantom Income could be transferred by the producer to another party, and a non-deductible and off-setting reimbursement would be made back to the producer. In this case, BEL and the Trust agreed that BEL would transfer 99% of its income and cash flow to the Trust.

In the Budget of February 18, 2003, the federal government announced the phase-out of the oil and gas royalty regime and the elimination of the regime as of January 1, 2007.

Parties’ Agreements

BEL and the Trust executed a Net Profits Interest Agreement (the “Original Agreement”) in September 2003 for the transfer of income and the off-setting reimbursement. However, the written terms of the Original Agreement failed to address the transfer of Phantom Income. A subsequent agreement (the “Collateral Agreement”) – not all of the terms of which were reduced to writing – addressed the transfer of Phantom Income.

The parties intended that the transfer and reimbursement would cease effective January 1, 2007 because of the elimination of the oil and gas royalty regime in the Income Tax Act.

However, from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010, the parties continued the practice of transferring and reimbursing the Phantom Income. When this error was initially discovered in 2008, the Baytex companies’ tax professionals advised that the Original Agreement should be amended to provide for the reimbursement beyond 2006 to be consistent with the practice of the parties. The Baytex companies were told this amendment would have no adverse tax consequences. Based on this advice, the parties entered into an Amended Agreement.

The CRA reviewed the Baytex companies’ arrangements and concluded that an additional $135 million was taxable income to BEL for 2003-2006, and that the Trust earned an additional $528 million of taxable income for 2007-2010.

Rectification/Rescission

The Baytex companies sought rectification of the agreements. The CRA did not oppose the rectification of the agreements for the pre-2007 period, but did oppose the rectification for the post-2006 period on the basis that the Baytex companies had intentionally amended the Original Agreement, based on professional advice, to reflect the practice of transfer and reimbursement, and thus the parties mistaken assumption about the tax consequences would not meet the test for rectification. The taxpayers argued that the evidence (which consisted of two affidavits of BEC’s Chief Financial Officer) established that the parties always intended to transfer and reimburse the Phantom Income and that no transfers would occur after January 1, 2007.

The Court considered the authorities on rectification and concluded that the test for granting rectification had been met. The uncontroverted evidence was that the parties’ common intention was to transfer BEL’s income to the Trust, and that this practice would cease as of January 1, 2007. The Original Agreement and the Amended Agreement were inconsistent with this common intention. The precise form of the corrected agreement was not in dispute. And there were no other considerations that would limit/prevent the availability of rectification. Accordingly, the Court granted the rectification.

While this determination was sufficient to dispose of the application, the Court did go on to consider whether, if the Court was wrong on rectification, rescission was available to the parties. The Court held that the Amended Agreement triggered an unintended tax consequence that constituted a fundamental mistake that went to the root of the contract. The Court concluded that rescission was available to rescind the Amended Agreement, which would restore the parties to their Original Agreement, which the Crown had agreed should be rectified.

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Baytex: ABQB Grants Rectification

Westerhoff and McCallum: More from the OCA on Expert Evidence

The Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision last week in Westerhof v. Gee Estate and McCallum v. Baker (2015 ONCA 206), which are the companion cases to Moore v. Getahun.  All three appeals were heard together.

The legal issue before the Court in Westerhof  and McCallum was whether participant experts and non-party experts could give opinion evidence without having to comply with Rule 53.03, which describes the deadlines and content requirements for expert reports.

The Court of Appeal held that the Divisional Court erred in concluding that the type of evidence – whether fact or opinion – is the key factor in determining to whom Rule 53.03 applies.

Rather, the Court of Appeal was unanimous in that participant experts and non-party experts may give opinion evidence without complying with Rule 53.03.  As a result, Rule 53.03 does not apply to the opinion evidence of a non-party expert or participant expert where he or she has formed a relevant opinion based on personal observations or examinations relating to the subject matter of the litigation for a purpose other than the litigation.

Background

At the trial of Mr. Westerhof, the plaintiff proposed to call evidence from nine medical witnesses.  From the outset, the trial judge ruled that the medical witnesses who treated or assessed the plaintiff but did not comply with Rule 53.03 would not be entitled to give opinion evidence concerning their diagnosis or prognosis, even though they had not been retained for the purpose of the litigation. Those witnesses were also prevented from giving evidence of the history they had taken from Westerhof. The Divisional Court upheld the trial judge’s conclusion.  The Court of Appeal did not agree and reversed the decision, ordering a new trial.

At the trial of Mr. McCallum, the defendant appealed that decision on the basis, inter alia, that the trial judge erred by allowing treating medical practitioners who had not complied with Rule 53.03 to give “an avalanche” of opinion evidence.  The Court of Appeal dismissed this appeal.

Principles set out by the Court of Appeal

Simmons J.A., writing on behalf of the Court of Appeal, concluded that a witness with special skill, knowledge, training or experience who has not been engaged by or on behalf of a party to the litigation may give opinion evidence for the truth of its contents without complying with Rule 53.03 where:

  • The opinion to be given is based on the witness’s observation of or participation in the events at issue; and
  • The witness formed the opinion to be given as part of the ordinary exercise of his or her skill, knowledge, training and experience while observing or participating in such events.

The Court also tried to clear the confusion that often arises from referring to these witnesses as “fact witnesses” because their evidence is derived from their observations of or involvement in the underlying facts.  Simmons J.A. preferred to refer to these witnesses as “participant experts,” which takes into account that in addition to providing evidence relating to their observations of the underlying facts, they may also give opinion evidence admissible for its truth.  As with all evidence, and especially opinion evidence, the Court reiterated that it retains its gatekeeper function in relation to opinion evidence from participant experts and non-party experts.

Six factors were cited by the Court as reasons why the Divisional Court erred:

  1. The Divisional Court failed to refer to a single case under the pre-2010 jurisprudence, which support the conclusion that Rule 53.03 does not apply to opinion evidence given by participant experts. The Court reiterated its view in Moore that “the 2010 amendments to rule 53.03 did not create new duties but rather codified and reinforced … basic common law principles.”  The Court found no basis for the Divisional Court to conclude that the pre-2010 jurisprudence did not continue to apply following the 2010 amendments to the Rules relating to expert witnesses.
  2. Apart from Westerhof, no cases were brought to the Court’s attention that support the view that participant experts are obliged to comply with Rule 53.03 when giving evidence concerning treatment opinions.
  3. There was nothing in Justice Osborne’s Report on the Civil Justice Reform Project that indicated an intention to address participant experts or non-party experts; rather, the focus was litigation experts – expert witnesses engaged by or on behalf of a party to provide opinion evidence in relation to a proceeding.
  4. The use of the words “expert engaged by or on behalf of a party to provide [opinion] evidence in relation to a proceeding” in Rule 4.1.01 and Form 53 makes it clear that an expert must be “engaged by or on behalf of a party to provide [opinion] evidence in relation to the proceeding before the rule applies.  The Court concluded that witnesses, albeit ones with expertise, testifying to opinions formed during their involved in a matter, do not come within this description.  They are not engaged by a party to form their opinions, and they do not form their opinions for the purpose of the litigation.
  5. The Court was not persuaded that disclosure problems exist in relation to the opinions of participant experts and non-party experts requiring that they comply with Rule 53.03.  Quite often, these experts will have prepared documents summarizing their opinions about the matter contemporaneously with their involved, which can be obtained as part of the discovery process.  In addition, it is open to a party to seek disclosure of any opinions, notes or records of participant experts and non-party experts the opposing party intends to rely on at trial.
  6. Requiring participant witnesses and non-party experts to comply with Rule 53.03 can only add to the cost of the litigation, create the possibility of delay because of potential difficulties in obtaining Rule 53.03 compliant reports, and add unnecessarily to the workload of persons not expected to have to write Rule 53.03 compliant reports.

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Westerhoff and McCallum: More from the OCA on Expert Evidence

Moore v. Getahun: Expert Witnesses

On January 29, 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its widely-anticipated reasons in Moore v. Getahun (2015 ONCA 55).

In the lower court’s controversial decision released last year, the court criticized the practice of counsel reviewing draft expert reports and communicating with experts. The court stated that counsel should not review or comment on draft expert reports because of the risk that such reports could be shaped by the views expressed by counsel. This criticism caused considerable concern in the legal profession, as well as in the community of expert witnesses (see our previous post on the Moore case here).

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that the determinations made on the expert evidence issue by the lower court judge did not affect the actual outcome of the trial.

Importantly, Justice Sharpe, writing for the majority of the Court of Appeal, held that the trial judge erred in concluding that it was improper for counsel to assist an expert witness in the preparation of the expert’s report.

Justice Sharpe stated that “the ethical and professional standards of the legal profession forbid counsel from engaging in practices likely to interfere with the independence and objectivity of expert witnesses” and that “it would be bad policy to disturb the well-established practice of counsel meeting with expert witnesses to review draft reports.”

Justice Sharpe further stated that “[C]ounsel play a crucial mediating role by explaining the legal issues to the expert witness and then by presenting complex expert evidence to the court.  It is difficult to see how counsel could perform this role without engaging in communication with the expert as the report is being prepared.”

With respect to the issue of continuous disclosure of consultations regarding draft reports, Justice Sharpe held that “absent a factual foundation to support a reasonable suspicion that counsel improperly influenced the expert, a party should not be allowed to demand production of draft reports or notes of interactions between counsel and expert witnesses.”  In Justice Sharpe’s view, making preparatory discussions and drafts subject to automatic disclosure would be contrary to existing doctrine and would inhibit careful preparation.  Further, compelling production of all drafts, good and bad, would discourage parties from engaging experts to provide careful and dispassionate opinions, but would instead encourage partisan and unbalanced reports.  Moreover, allowing open-ended inquiry into the differences between a final report and an earlier draft would run the risk of needlessly prolonging proceedings.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal rejected the trial judge’s holding that counsel should not review draft reports with experts, as well as her holding that all changes in the reports of expert witnesses should be routinely documented and disclosed.

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Moore seems to have lifted the haze caused by the trial judge’s decision and clarified the role of the expert and the manner in which expert reports are to be prepared under the 2010 amendments to rule 53.03 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure. Further, the Court of Appeal’s decision is important guidance in respect of the preparation and presentation of expert reports in trial courts across the country.

Moore v. Getahun: Expert Witnesses

Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

In Brent Kern Family Trust v. The Queen (2014 FCA 230), the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal with reasons delivered from the bench. The taxpayer had argued that the decision of Canada v. Sommerer (2012 FCA 207) should not apply in this case and, in the alternative, that Sommerer was wrongly decided and ought not to be followed.

Brent Kern Family Trust was a case in which the taxpayer undertook a series of transactions whereby a taxpayer (Mr. K) completed an estate freeze for two corporations (the underlying facts are described in detail in the Tax Court decision (2013 TCC 327)).

Following the estate freeze, two family trusts were set up each with Mr. K and his family as beneficiaries as well as each trust having a separate corporate beneficiary. Next, each of the trusts subscribed for common shares in the corporate beneficiary of the other trust.

Once the structure was in place, a dividend was flowed through the structure and, as a final step, one of the trusts paid funds to Mr. K but relied on the application of subsection 75(2) of the Act to deem the dividend income received by the trust to be income in the hands of one of the corporate beneficiaries. Accordingly, if subsection 75(2) of the Act applied, the income would not be subject to tax as a result of section 112 of the Act and Mr. K could keep the gross amount of the funds.

In the decision rendered at trial, the Tax Court held that Sommerer case applied and subsection 75(2) of the Act did not apply on the basis that the trust purchased the property in question for valuable consideration and no “reversionary transfer” occurred.

In Brent Kern Family Trust, the Court of Appeal found that there was no reviewable error in the trial judge’s finding that Sommerer applied, that the Court of Appeal in Sommerer “spent considerable time analyzing the text, content and purpose of subsection 75(2)”, and no reviewable error had been brought to the Court’s attention in the present case.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal and upheld the Tax Court’s decision.

We note also that at least one taxpayer has brought an application in a provincial court to correct a transaction where the taxpayer never intended for Sommerer to apply. In Re Pallen Trust (2014 BCSC 405), the B.C. Supreme Court rescinded two dividends, the effect of which was to eliminate the tax liability in the trust. Re Pallen Trust is under appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

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Brent Kern Family Trust: FCA Dismisses Appeal

Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

Most tax rectification cases address situations in which a professional advisor has made a mistake in the planning and execution of a transaction with the result that an unintended tax consequence follows (i.e., payment of a capital dividend at a time when the company did not have a sufficient balance in its capital dividend account).

These are the relatively simple cases. However, in certain situations, the taxpayer and the CRA may take a different view on the interpretation and effect of a document, which could lead to an unintended tax result. Does the doctrine of rectification operate in these situations?

This was the situation considered by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kaleidescape Canada Inc. et al. v. Computershare Trust Company of Canada et al. (2014 ONSC 4983), in which the Court was asked to determine whether the parties intended that a company remain a Canadian-controlled private company (“CCPC”) for the purposes of obtaining certain scientific research and development tax credits under the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”).

The Court granted the rectification, and Kaleidescape is a helpful case for those situations in which the “mistake” in a transaction arises as a result of competing interpretations of a parties’ document(s).

Facts

Kaleidescape Canada Inc. (“K-Can”) was a research and development company in Waterloo, Ontario. Under the Act, a CCPC is a Canadian corporation that is not controlled by a public company or a non-resident (or a combination of such persons). K-Can was structured as a “deadlock” corporation so that it would not be controlled by a non-resident and therefore would qualify as a CCPC.

From 2006 to 2008, K-Can’s shareholdings were restructured. In 2008, K-Can shares were owned by Kaleidescape Inc. (“K-US”), a Delaware company with head offices in California, and Kaleidescape Canada Employment Trust (the “Trust”). Computershare Trust Company of Canada (“Computershare”) became the sole corporate trustee. A Restated and Amended Trust Deed was entered into with K-Can as the settlor and Computershare as the sole trustee.

K-US and Computershare held equal voting rights. Additionally, a unanimous shareholders agreement relieved K-Can’s directors of their powers and conferred those powers on the shareholders. There was no provision to resolve a deadlock, and neither the shareholders nor directors had the right to make unilateral decisions.

K-Can received notices from the CRA advising that, in its view, K-Can was not a CCPC for the tax years ending December 31, 2008 and December 31, 2009. As a result, K-Can’s federal SR&ED and Ontario ITCs were denied. The CRA’s position was that the combined effect of the provisions of the Restated and Amended Trust Deed was to give a non-resident authority to direct Computershare how to vote its shares of K-Can, such that a non-resident controlled K-Can and the definition of CCPC was not met.

In response to the CRA’s reassessments, K-Can and Computershare entered into a “Deed of Rectification”, which revised the wording of Restated and Amended Trust Deed to protect K-Can’s CCPC status.

At the rectification application hearing, the Applicants argued that their common and continuing intention at all times was to structure and operate the company in a manner that would establish and preserve its CCPC status. The Respondent argued that the Applicants could not prove common intention, did not admit that a mistake had been made, and could not show the precise form of a corrected document that would express their prior intention.

Decision

In its analysis, the Court cited only two non-tax cases dealing with rectification (Performance Industries Ltd. v. Sylvan Lake Golf and Tennis Club Ltd. (2002 SCC 19) and Shafron v. KRG Insurance Brokers (Western) Inc. (2009 SCC 6)). (For tax rectification cases see Juliar v. Canada (A.G.) ([2000] O.J. No 3706), 771225 Ontario Inc. et al. v. Bramco Holdings Co. Ltd. et al. ([1995] O.J. No 157), McPeake v. Canada (A.G.) (2012 BCSC 132)Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v. Canada (A.G.) (2014 ABQB 15), and Re: Pallen Trust (2014 BSCS 305)).

Turning the facts of the current case, in several short paragraphs the Court stated that, on the entire record and history of the Applicants, the intention throughout was to ensure that K-Can – as an R&D body, with no other functions than research and development – qualified for CCPC status and the relevant research tax credits.

The Court held that wording chosen in the Restated and Amended Trust Deed was chosen by mistake and did not give K-US de jure control over K-Can. In respect of the proposed correction, the Deed of Rectification corrected the mistake in the original wording. The Court stated that Deed made it clear that the decision-making body was the board of directors and that the trustee was only to accept a direction in written form.

The Court granted the rectification sought by the Applicants.

 

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Whose Mistake? Ontario Sup. Ct. Rectifies Trust Deed

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.

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Leroux: CRA owes duty of care to taxpayer

More on Rectification in Quebec

Rectification continues to be a topic of heated debate in Quebec. After a series of decisions by the Court of Appeal last year on the subject, the Quebec Superior Court rendered an important judgment on June 19, 2012 (Mac’s Convenience Stores Inc. v. Couche-Tard Inc., 2012 QCCS 2745) on a motion for declaratory judgment involving a well-known Canadian business.

This case is a reminder that rectification is not always available to correct errors made in the planning of a transaction, even if the unintended tax consequences result in a loss of several million dollars for a taxpayer.

The Facts

On April 14, 2005, Mac’s Convenience Store Inc. (“Mac’s”) borrowed $185 million from a U.S. corporation, Sildel Corporation (“Sildel”), which was a “specified non-resident” for purposes of the thin capitalization rules in subsection 18(4) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”). Under this loan, Mac’s paid interest to Sildel ($911,854 in 2006, $11,069,590 in 2007, and $10,674,247 in 2008). These interest payments were deducted in computing the income of Mac’s for income tax purposes in the relevant years. This loan was fully repaid by Mac’s in 2008.

On April 25, 2006, Mac’s declared and paid a dividend of $136 million to Couche-Tard Inc. (“CTI”) out of its retained earnings. The decision to declare this dividend was taken after consultation with professional advisers.

More than 18 months later, it was discovered that the dividend of $136 million paid to CTI had the effect of raising the “debt” portion of Mac’s debt-to-equity ratio vis-a-vis Sildel for thin capitalization purposes beyond the then statutory limit of 2:1 under subsection 18(4) of the Act. In early 2008, Mac’s notified the CRA of the situation. After conducting an audit, the CRA issued notices of reassessment to Mac’s denying the deduction of all the interest it paid to Sildel during taxation years 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Mac’s filed a motion for declaratory judgment with the Quebec Superior Court requesting that the dividend of $136 million declared on April 25, 2006 and paid to the respondent CTI be cancelled retroactively and replaced by a reduction of Mac’s paid-up capital in the same amount. This rectification would have required no transfer of funds between the parties, but it would have allowed Mac’s to deduct the interest paid to Sildel in computing Mac’s income under the thin capitalization rules.

To read the full article, click here.

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More on Rectification in Quebec

Trust Me, This Isn’t What It Looks Like

Tax law geeks call it “form over substance” – how Canadians are taxed on their actual relationships and transactions rather than what they intended those to be.

However, mistakes can be made – and sometimes the tax assessed is not reflective of the true nature of the situation at hand.

In the March 16, 2012 issue of The Lawyers Weekly, I discuss the ways in which mistakes may be fixed so as to avoid unintended and adverse tax consequences.

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Trust Me, This Isn’t What It Looks Like