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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

Tax Court Rules Amounts Paid Out of Ponzi Scheme Not Taxable

The tax treatment of amounts paid out of failed Ponzi schemes is once again in the news. In Roszko v. The Queen (2014 TCC 59), the Tax Court of Canada allowed the taxpayer’s appeal and held that amounts paid out of a fraudulent scheme were not taxable as interest income.

Roszko follows two recent decision on this issue. In Johnson v. The Queen (2012 FCA 253), the Federal Court of Appeal held that amounts paid out of a Ponzi scheme in excess of the duped taxpayer’s original investment were taxable as income. And in Orman v. Marnat (2012 ONSC 549), the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held that amounts received out of a Ponzi scheme were not investment income (see also this article on the court’s consideration of whether it could rectify certain corporate documents of two companies that had invested in the fraud).

In Roszko, the taxpayer was induced to invest in TransCap Corporation, which was allegedly trading commodities, on the basis that the investment would return 18% to 22% annually. In 2006, the taxpayer made an initial investment of $100,000, which was structured as a loan.  In 2006 and 2007, the taxpayer loaned a total of $800,000 to TransCap. From 2006 to 2009, TransCap paid to the taxpayer a total of $408,000 as follows: $22,500 in 2006, $81,000 in 2007, $156,000 in 2008, and $148,500 in 2009.

In December 2009, the taxpayer became suspicious of the activities of TransCap, which lead to an investigation by the Alberta Securities Commission, which eventually determined that TransCap had perpetrated a fraud on investors.

The issue before the Tax Court was whether the $156,000 received by the taxpayer in 2008 was interest income under paragraph 12(1)(c) of the Income Tax Act.

The Tax Court cited the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Johnson for the proposition that there can indeed be a source of income in a Ponzi scheme. However, the Tax Court held that the facts in the Johnson case – wherein the Federal Court of Appeal held that the $1.3 million received by the taxpayer out of the Ponzi scheme was taxable – were different from the facts of the present case. Specifically, in Roszko, the taxpayer’s agreement with TransCap stipulated how the funds were to be invested, the taxpayer was lead to believe the funds would be so invested, the funds were not invested in that manner (i.e., the taxpayer’s contractual rights were not respected), it was agreed that TransCap perpetrated a fraud, and the fraud was described in a decision of the Alberta Securities Commission.

The Tax Court held that the facts of Roszko were more like those in the case of Hammill v. The Queen, in which the Federal Court of Appeal held that a fraudulent scheme from beginning to end cannot give rise to a source of income from the victim’s point of view and hence cannot be considered as a business under any definition.

The Tax Court noted that, in Roszko, the Crown had argued that the income was property income in the form of interest. However, the Tax Court held the amount received by the taxpayer was not income from property, but rather a return of capital to the extent of the original amounts invested. The Tax Court noted that excess returns might be considered income. The Tax Court allowed the appeal .

This is a victory for the taxpayer for the 2008 tax year, but the unanswered question that looms in the background is how the taxpayer’s overall loss ($392,000) on the Ponzi scheme investment will be treated for tax purposes.

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Tax Court Rules Amounts Paid Out of Ponzi Scheme Not Taxable

Tax Court Interprets “Ownership” For Purposes Of GST/HST New Housing Rebate

In Rochefort v. The Queen (2014 TCC 34), the Tax Court of Canada provided clarity on the definition of “ownership” for the purposes of the GST/HST New Housing Rebate. Justice Campbell Miller held that “ownership” in subparagraph 254(2)(e) of the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”) does not necessarily mean holding legal title but denotes a more expansive view of ownership.

In the case, the recently-married Mr. and Mrs. Rochefort decided to buy a new home. Unfortunately, shortly before the closing, Mr. Rochefort was advised by his bank that, due to his failure to sell his current property and his wife’s poor credit rating, the couple no longer qualified for a mortgage. Having already paid $20,000 in deposits, the couple chose to close the deal, and so they enlisted Mr. Fontaine, the nephew of Mr. Rochefort, to act as a co-signor on a mortgage from another bank.

Mr. Fontaine testified that he was prepared to help his uncle by signing whatever documents were required. Mr. Fontaine in fact signed a Fixed Rate Mortgage form, as well as a Direction re: Title, authorizing the lawyers to transfer the deed to Mr. Rochefort and Mr. Fontaine as joint tenants.  It was evident from Mr. Fontaine’s testimony that he was not entirely clear as to what he had signed, and he had no intention of ever living in, or receiving a benefit from, the property. Rather, it was clear that the new home was for the sole benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Rochefort, and Mr. Fontaine was merely assisting a family member by doing a favour.

Mr. Rochefort signed the new housing rebate in 2010 and, as a result, the developer was credited with $27,278. The Minister of National Revenue reassessed Mr. Rochefort on the basis that he was not entitled to the rebate as the definition of “ownership” in subparagraph 254(2)(e) of the ETA had not been satisfied.

The Minister argued that, under subparagraph 254(2)(e), “ownership” must be transferred to a “particular individual” (the Court noted that, where there is more than one purchaser, subsection 262(3) of the ETA makes it clear that “particular individual” refers to both purchasers). Ownership had not been transferred to Mr. and Mrs. Rochefort but had been transferred to Mr. Rochefort and Mr. Fontaine. Therefore, in the Minister’s view, this requirement had not been met.

The Tax Court disagreed. Mr. and Mrs. Rochefort were the “particular individuals” who signed the Agreement of Purchase and Sale and, thus, Mr. Fontaine was not a “particular individual” for the purposes of the ETA. The requirements in subsection 254(2) of the ETA had been met by Mr. Rochefort. The only question was whether the other “particular individual” (i.e., Mrs. Rochefort)  had ownership transferred to her as required by subparagraph 254(2)(e).

The Minister argued that “ownership” meant title to the property, and suggested that definition of owner in the Ontario Land Titles Act (i.e., an owner in fee simple) should apply for the purposes of the ETA. However, the Tax Court noted that, if the drafters of the ETA had intended ownership to mean title, they could have said as much in the ETA. The Tax Court held that “ownership” for purposes of the GST/HST New Housing Rebate must be explored in a “textual, contextual and purposive manner for a fuller meaning than simply title.”

The Court interpreted subparagraph 254(2)(e) as a timing condition – ownership happens after substantial completion. This view is consistent with the views expressed by the CRA in GST/HST Memorandum 19.3.1 “Rebate for Builder-Built Unit (Land Purchased)” (July 1998, as amended in 2002 and 2005).

The Tax Court viewed Mr. and Mrs. Rochefort as the individuals the rebate was intended to benefit. They were the buyers of the property, the individuals liable for the GST, and they took possession of the property after its substantial completion in order to reside in it as their primary residence. Moreover, Mrs. Rochefort had acquired sufficient rights to constitute ownership thereby satisfying the requirements in 254(2)(e): she had signed the Agreement of Purchase and Sale to become an owner, she had made the necessary deposits, she acted as an owner in making decisions to amend the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, she was liable for the GST, she took possession of the property with her husband, and had acted in every way as an owner by enjoying the property.

The Tax Court concluded that Mrs. Rochefort was a beneficial owner of the property and that Mr. Fontaine had agreed to hold title solely for the benefit of the Rocheforts. As a trustee, Mr. Fontaine was required to convey title to the Rocheforts on demand or to any third party at their request. “Ownership” of the property had been transferred to Mrs. Rochefort.

Accordingly, the taxpayer’s appeal was allowed and Mr. Rochefort was entitled to the GST/HST New Housing Rebate under subsection 254(2) of the ETA.

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Tax Court Interprets “Ownership” For Purposes Of GST/HST New Housing Rebate

Taxable in Canada? Not a Black and White Situation

In Black v. The Queen (2014 TCC 12), Lord Conrad Black argued that he was not subject to tax in Canada on certain income and taxable benefits. Both Lord Black and the CRA agreed that he was a resident of both Canada and the U.K. in 2002, and that under Article 4(2)(a) of The Canada-United Kingdom Income Tax Convention (the “Convention”) he was a “deemed” resident of the U.K. for the purposes of the Convention.

Lord Black had filed his Canadian tax return for 2002 on the basis that some $800,000 of income from the duties of offices or employments performed by him in Canada was taxable in Canada. However, Lord Black did not include certain other remuneration and benefits totalling $5.1 million in his Canadian income, including some $2.8 million of income from the duties of offices or employments performed outside Canada, $326,177 of taxable dividends, $365,564 of shareholder benefits, and $1.3 million of benefits arising as a result of his use of an airplane owned by Hollinger International Inc.

At the Tax Court hearing, Lord Black argued that by virtue of his “deemed” U.K. residency these other amounts were not taxable in Canada. As it happens, since he was not domiciled in the U.K., Lord Black was subject to tax in the U.K. only on the portion of his non-U.K. source income that was remitted to or received in the U.K.

The CRA alleged that, notwithstanding Lord Black being deemed a U.K. resident for the purposes of the Convention, he was subject to Canadian tax on income and benefits that were not covered by the Convention.

The Tax Court dismissed Lord Black’s appeal and held that he could be a deemed resident of the U.K. for purposes of the Convention and also be a resident of Canada for purposes of the Canadian Income Tax Act. Chief Justice Rip noted that the arguments presented on behalf of Lord Black had no supporting authority and were contrary to the liberal and purposive approach that must be taken when interpreting a tax treaty.

In applying a liberal and purposive approach to Article 4(2) of the Convention, the Tax Court noted that the tie-breaker rule at issue merely provided a preference to the taxing authority of the U.K., but did not extinguish Canada’s claim to tax. Lord Black’s argument that there was an inconsistency between the Income Tax Act and the Convention was incorrect as it did not take into account the role of Article 4 in allocating taxing jurisdiction to avoid double taxation. As such, Lord Black was unable to point to any provision in the Convention that would result in double taxation if he were resident in Canada.

Lord Black also sought to rely on Article 27(2) of the Convention, which addressed the tax treatment of non-domiciled residents of the U.K. who are required to pay tax on foreign income only when received in the U.K. Article 27(2) essentially provides that where a person is subject to income tax in the U.K., and the Convention provides for tax relief in Canada, the tax relief will only be in respect of the amount of income that is actually taxed in the U.K. Thus, Lord Black argued that the Minister could not assess his non-Canadian income because none of the income was remitted or received in the U.K., and so there was no tax from which he could have been relieved in Canada.

Since the Tax Court had already determined that Lord Black was a resident of Canada for purposes of the Income Tax Act, the argument based on Article 27(2) could not succeed. The Tax Court agreed with the CRA that the Convention allocates the right to tax between Canada and the U.K. on an item-by-item basis, and any items not covered by the Convention were thus subject to tax on the basis of Lord Black’s residence in Canada. As a resident of Canada, Lord Black was subject to tax on his worldwide income, including income earned in the U.S.

We note that both parties agreed that subsection 250(5) of the Act, which deals with the deemed non-residency of a Canadian where the individual is deemed to be a resident in another country by virtue of a tax treaty, did not apply. This was because of the “grandfathered” application of subsection 250(5) (i.e., the provision is not applicable to a Canadian resident individual who was (i) a resident of two countries and (ii) deemed resident of one of those countries under a tax treaty at the time the subsection became effective in 1999). If subsection 250(5) had applied, then Lord Black would not be a resident of Canada for the purposes of the Income Tax Act.

On January 22, 2014, Lord Black filed his appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal (File No. A-70-14).

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Taxable in Canada? Not a Black and White Situation

The McKesson Case – A Holiday Gift from Justice Boyle of the Tax Court of Canada: Ask and You Shall Receive(able) – Canada’s Latest Transfer Pricing Decision

On Friday, December 20th, the Tax Court of Canada released the long-awaited and lengthy decision of Justice Patrick Boyle in McKesson Canada Corporation v. The Queena case involving transfer pricing adjustments under section 247 of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) and the limitation period in Article 9(3) of the Canada-Luxembourg Tax Convention.

McKesson Canada is the principal Canadian operating company in the McKesson Group. The core business of the McKesson Group and of McKesson Canada is the wholesale distribution of “over the counter” and prescription pharmaceutical medicine products. Effective December 16, 2002 McKesson Canada and its Luxembourg parent company, MIH, entered into a Receivables Sales Agreement (the “RSA”) and a Servicing Agreement. Under the RSA, MIH agreed to purchase all of McKesson Canada’s eligible receivables as of that date (about $460,000,000) and committed to purchase all eligible receivables daily as they arose for the next five years unless earlier terminated as provided for in the RSA and subject to a $900,000,000 cap. The price to be paid for the receivables was at a 2.206% discount to their face amount (if one takes into account that historically receivables were paid on average within 30 days, this rate equates to an annual financing rate of approximately 27%). The Canada Revenue Agency reassessed McKesson Canada’s 2003 taxation year on the basis that if the RSA had been made between arm’s length parties the Discount Rate would have been 1.013% and made a transfer pricing adjustment under section 247 of the Act of $26,610,000 (the taxation year of McKesson Canada under appeal ended March 29, 2003 and was approximately three and a half months long – the annualized transfer pricing adjustment was therefore approximately $80,000,000).

The Tax Court trial lasted 32 days over a period of five months from October, 2011 to February, 2012 and following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc. in October, 2012, both parties made further written submissions.

Under the RSA, eligible receivables were trade receivables owing by arm’s length customers not in default and whose receivables would not represent in the aggregate more than 2% of McKesson Canada’s then outstanding receivable pool. However, the 2% concentration limit on eligibility did not apply to McKesson Canada’s largest customers who accounted for about one-third of the sales. MIH had the right to put non-performing receivables back to McKesson Canada for a price equal to 75% of the face amount to be later re-adjusted to the amount actually collected and MIH did not otherwise have recourse against McKesson Canada for unpaid purchased receivables. The receivables under the RSA were expected to be collected in a short period of time (historically, payment was made by customers in 30 days) and the historical bad debt experience was .043%.

Under the Servicing Agreement, McKesson Canada agreed to service the accounts receivable and received a servicing fee of $9,600,000 annually regardless of the amount outstanding. The amount paid under the Servicing Agreement was not challenged by the CRA.

The amount payable for a purchased receivable under the RSA was determined by multiplying the face amount of the receivable by one minus the Discount Rate. The Discount Rate was defined to be the sum of (a) the Yield Rate which was equal to the 30 day Canadian dollar banker’s acceptance (BA) rate or the Canadian dealer offered rate (CDOR) on the first business day of the relevant settlement plus (b) the Loss Discount which was intended to reflect the credit risk of the McKesson Canada customers whose receivables were covered by the RSA and was set at 0.23 for the year under appeal. For the remaining term of the RSA commencing January 1, 2004, the Loss Discount was to be recalculated as often as MIH considered necessary based on the credit risk of certain customers plus (c) the Discount Spread which was set at the fixed rate of 1.7305% and related to the risk that (i) McKesson Canada’s credit worthiness deteriorated significantly and receivable debtors might set off their rebate entitlements in such event, (ii) the risk that McKesson Canada’s customers might increase their take-up of available prompt payment discounts, (iii) the risk that MIH might decide to appoint a new service provider who would require a greater servicing fee, and (iv) the need for the Discount Rate to fully cover MIH’s cost of funds.

Toronto Dominion Securities Inc. (“TDSI”) was retained by counsel for McKesson Canada to provide advice on the arm’s lengths aspects of certain terms and conditions of the RSA and certain components of the Discount Rate calculation at the time the RSA was entered into. The TDSI reports were relied on by McKesson Canada as contemporaneous documentation and, therefore, a transfer pricing penalty under subsection 247(3) of the Act was not assessed by the CRA (had there been no contemporaneous documentation, McKesson Canada would have been automatically subject to a penalty of 10% of the transfer pricing adjustment). Interestingly, Justice Boyle states in a footnote that the CRA may need to review its threshold criteria in respect of contemporaneous documentation under subsection 247(4) of the Act and that he would not “have expected last minute, rushed, not fully informed, paid advocacy that was not made available to the Canadian taxpayer and not read by its parent would satisfy the contemporaneous documentation requirements.”

Justice Boyle stated that the CRA reassessment was made under paragraphs 247(2)(a) and (c) of the Act and that the task of the Court was to determine whether the terms and conditions of the transactions carried out by the parties resulted in a Discount Rate that was within the range of what McKesson Canada and MIH would have agreed to, had their transaction applied terms and conditions which persons dealing at arm’s length would have used. Interestingly, in light of recent OECD discussion papers, he noted that the CRA did not directly or indirectly raise “any fair share or fiscal morality arguments that are currently trendy in international tax circles” and that “it wisely stuck strictly to the tax fundamentals: the relevant provisions of the legislation and the evidence relevant thereto”. He noted that issues of fiscal morality and fair share are within the realm of Parliament.

Justice Boyle sets out in detail the evidence from the two material witnesses and the five expert witnesses who testified and criticizes much of the expert evidence. In respect of the transfer pricing report prepared by a major accounting firm in 2005 in response to the CRA’s review of the RSA transaction, he states that the report was primarily a piece of advocacy work, “perhaps largely made as instructed” and that the examples used by the accounting firm resulted in “picking and choosing” and mixing and matching the performance of the receivable pools which resulted in “transparently poor advocacy and even more questionable valuation opinions”.

Mr. Justice Boyle also criticized the taxpayer in respect of the manner in which the appeal was undertaken “Overall I can say that never have I seen so much time and effort by an Appellant to put forward such an untenable position so strongly and seriously. This had all the appearances of alchemy in reverse.”

In determining the appropriate methodology to determine the Discount Rate, Justice Boyle did not accept the conclusions of any of the experts or their reports in their entirety although he acknowledged that the Court’s analysis was informed by the testimony and information provided by the witnesses. He notes that the purpose of the RSA transaction was to reduce McKesson Canada’s Canadian tax liability by paying the maximum under the RSA that was justifiable (interestingly, McKesson Canada had been profitable for the years prior to the RSA but after the RSA was executed, McKesson Canada operated at a loss) and that there is nothing wrong with taxpayers engaging in “tax-oriented transactions, tax planning, and making decisions based entirely upon tax consequences (subject only to GAAR which is not relevant to this appeal)”. However, Justice Boyle also notes that the reasons for, and predominant purposes of, non-arm’s length transactions form a relevant part of the factual context being considered.

He then reviewed the various elements of the Discount Rate. In respect of the Yield Rate, he accepted that the 30 day CDOR rate is appropriate. However, for the period in question, he stated that it was necessary to review the historical evidence in respect of when payment would be made and that the parties should have taken into account the fact that the first period had a “missing” fifteen days because the agreement was entered into in the middle of the month. In respect to the Loss Discount which was fixed by the RSA at 0.23% Justice Boyle stated that this should be based on historical data which showed write-offs of approximately 0.04% and even if the parties provided a buffer of 50% to 100% increase in write-offs, the Loss Discount would be in the range of 0.6% to 0.8%. In respect of the Discount Spread, Justice Boyle looked at the various elements which were included in this number and based on the historical data and the facts provided, stated that the servicing discount risk would be in the range of 0.17% to 0.25%, the prompt payment dilution discount would be 0.5% to 0.53%, the accrued rebate dilutions discount (which involves a customer paying a lesser amount in respect of its accounts taking into account an expected rebate) was not justified and that the interest discount which was intended to provide MIH with a return from a discounted purchase of receivables would be between 0.0% and 0.08% for a total Discount Rate range of 0.959% to 1.17%. Accordingly, because the taxpayer did not rebut the CRA’s assumptions in respect of a reasonable Discount Rate, the taxpayer’s appeal in respect of the CRA’s transfer pricing adjustment was rejected.

The second issue reviewed by the Court involves the shareholder benefit and withholding tax on the deemed dividend which resulted from the excess amount paid by McKesson Canada to its Luxembourg parent MIH under paragraph 214(3)(a) and subsection 15(1) of the Act. By utilising a Discount Rate which was greater than an arm’s length rate, McKesson Canada provided a benefit to MIH which is to be treated as a deemed dividend and is subject to non-resident withholding tax and McKesson Canada was jointly liable with MIH for the withholding tax under subsection 215(6) of the Act. The taxpayer did not deny this liability but stated that it was statute-barred because the Canada-Luxembourg Tax Convention specifically provided for a five-year limitation period (Article 9 (3)) and the reassessment of McKesson Canada in respect of withholding tax was issued after this period. Justice Boyle held that because Article 9(3) of the Convention only deals with Article 9(1) of the Convention in respect of transfer pricing adjustments and not deemed dividends and because there was no evidence that MIH was subject to any “extra tax” in Luxembourg because of the deemed dividend, the five-year time limit in Article 9(3) does not apply and, therefore, the withholding tax assessed against McKesson Canada was not subject to the limitation period in the Convention. Therefore the taxpayer’s appeal in respect of withholding tax was also dismissed.

As noted above, the decision is a lengthy one (probably one of the lengthiest Tax Court decisions). In his final footnote, Justice Boyle apologizes for the length of the decision and quoting Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury from a 2013 address, states:

“we seem to feel the need to deal with every aspect of every point that is argued, that makes the judgement often difficult and unrewarding to follow. Reading some judgements one rather loses the will to live – and that is particularly disconcerting when it’s your own judgment that you are reading”.

It will be interesting to see whether McKesson Canada decides to appeal this decision and if it does so, how Justice Boyle’s decision will be dealt with by the Federal Court of Appeal.

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The McKesson Case – A Holiday Gift from Justice Boyle of the Tax Court of Canada: Ask and You Shall Receive(able) – Canada’s Latest Transfer Pricing Decision

The Tax Court of Canada and the World of Opera

Moliere once said, “Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.”

In Knapik-Sztramko v. The Queen (2013-799(IT)I, October 17, 2013), the Tax Court of Canada managed to reduce some of that cost, at least for one opera performer.

The taxpayer was an opera singer. In 1997, she entered a vocal competition organized by the Gerda Lissner Foundation. The taxpayer won the competition and from 1997 to 2006 she received monies for the payment of singing coaches, stage training, accommodation and travel expenses. The CRA reassessed the taxpayer to include in her income the amounts received from the Foundation.

Under paragraph 56(1)(n), a taxpayer must include in his/her income any amount received as or on account of a prize other than a “prescribed prize”. Section 7700 of the Income Tax Regulations states,

7700. For the purposes of subparagraph 56(1)(n)(i) of the Act, a prescribed prize is any prize that is recognized by the public and that is awarded for meritorious achievement in the arts, the sciences or service to the public but does not include any amount that can reasonably be regarded as having been received as compensation for services rendered or to be rendered.

In this case, the Crown conceded that the prize was recognized by the public and was for meritorious achievement in the arts. However, the Crown argued, the prize was paid as compensation for services. In the Crown’s view, the taxpayer had undertaken certain activities (coaching, training, career development, etc.) for, and provided services to, the Foundation in exchange for the money.

The Tax Court found that the taxpayer had provided no services to the Foundation, and that the activities undertaken by the taxpayer were consistently comprised of training, support and education to enhance her performance abilities:

The identification of the appellant as someone worthy of specialized study and training was the basis for awarding the prize from the Foundation’s perspective. This prize was not a relationship of, or in substitution for, employment, but a prize awarded on merit with reasonable conditions attached in order to ensure that the burgeoning talent identified was further refined by the benefactor.

The Tax Court allowed the taxpayer’s appeal.

The tax treatment of prizes is a nuanced area, dovetailing as it does with the taxation of scholarships, bursaries, fellowships and employment income. The issue seems to garner public attention every four years when the CRA responds to queries as to whether Olympic medal-winning athletes are subject to tax in Canada on their prizes (answer: Canadian athletes, yes (see CRA Document No. 2004-0098691E5 “Prizes paid to amateur athletes” (January 21, 2005), CRA Document No. 2008-0300071M4 “Olympic medals” (June 26, 2009) and CRA Document No. 2012-0458181M4 “Olympic performance awards” (September 18, 2012)); non-resident athletes, no (see subsection 115(2.3) of the Income Tax Act)).

The Tax Court’s decision in Knapik-Sztramko is a helpful case in a limited body of jurisprudence on what qualifies as a non-taxable prize under paragraph 56(1)(n) and Regulation 7700.

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The Tax Court of Canada and the World of Opera

Is a graduate student performing research an employee?

In Rizak v. M.N.R. (2013 TCC 273), the Tax Court of Canada considered this question and determined, on the facts, that a graduate student performing research at the University of British Columbia was an employee for the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act.

In Rizak, the taxpayer was a grad student in neuroscience at UBC. Before starting his studies, the taxpayer was hired as an employee by a professor who needed assistance with lab research. After his grad studies commenced, the taxpayer performed the same lab research but, instead, received an annual stipend rather than an hourly wage. After he withdrew from the grad program, the taxpayer was once again hired as an employee to perform the same lab research for several months.

Subsequently, the Minister of National Revenue determined the taxpayer’s work while he was a grad student was not insurable employment for the purposes of subsection 5(1) of the Employment Insurance Act. The taxpayer appealed to the Tax Court.

The Tax Court considered a collection of cases on the classification of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows (see Bekhor v. M.N.R., 2005 TCC 443; Chabaud v. The Queen, 2011 TCC 438; Caropreso v. The Queen, 2012 TCC 212; Hammell v. M.N.R., [1994] T.C.J. No. 921; Hospital for Sick Children v. M.N.R., [1993] T.C.J. No. 388; Nabet v. M.N.R., [1999] T.C.J. No. 79; and Charron v. M.N.R., [1994] T.C.J. No. 47). The parties had also referred to the traditional four-in-one test from Wiebe Door Services Ltd. ([1986] 3 F.C. 553 (C.A.)) and Sagaz Industries Canada Inc. (2001 SCC 59) regarding the classification of a worker. In this case, however, the Tax Court stated,

I am not required to determine whether Mr. Rizak was an employee or an independent contractor as neither party took the position that Mr. Rizak was an independent contractor. I simply have to determine whether the dominant characteristic of the payments that Mr. Rizak received was compensation for the work he did or student assistance. I do not find [the Wiebe Door factors] to be useful in reaching that determination.

The Tax Court concluded that the dominant characteristic of the stipend paid to the taxpayer was compensation for work and, thus, he was an employee. There was a clear correlation between the stipend and the work performed by the taxpayer and he received the money because he agreed to work in the professor’s lab. The taxpayer was required to do the specific work expected of him. Further, the taxpayer performed the same work as an employee both before and after his time as a grad student.

In obiter, the Tax Court also noted that, for the purposes of the Income Tax Act, the taxpayer had earned employment income rather that exempt (or partially exempt) scholarship income and the Court, therefore, suggested that the taxpayer had tried to “have his cake and eat it too” by claiming not to be an employee for income tax purposes while at the same time claiming to be an employee for employment insurance purposes.

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Is a graduate student performing research an employee?

Will the Tax Court of Canada entertain a determination of a question of law where the focus is on future assessments?

In Sentinel Hill Productions IV Corporation v. The Queen (2013 TCC 267), Justice Judith Woods of the Tax Court of Canada said no. In so doing, she shed light on the requirements for making an application for a determination of a question of law under Rule 58 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure).

Rule 58(1) states:

58. (1) A party may apply to the Court,

(a) for the determination, before hearing, of a question of law, a question of fact or a question of mixed law and fact raised by a pleading in a proceeding where the determination of the question may dispose of all or part of the proceeding, substantially shorten the hearing or result in a substantial saving of costs, or

(b) to strike out a pleading because it discloses no reasonable grounds for appeal or for opposing the appeal,

 and the Court may grant judgment accordingly.

The question proposed by the appellants involved the issue of whether notices of determination under subsection 152(1.4) of the Income Tax Act issued in respect of certain partnerships for 2000 and 2001 should be vacated and the appeals allowed on the basis that the Minister subsequently concluded that the partnerships did not exist for these years. Importantly, the Court found that “the focus of the Proposed Question is on whether the Minister of National Revenue is now statute barred from issuing reassessments to partners by virtue of subsection 152(1.8) of the Income Tax Act.” (para. 7)

The Court decided not to allow the Rule 58 application to proceed as it did not meet the two conditions in Rule 58(1)(a). First, the statute-barred issue had not been raised as an issue ”by a pleading”. Second, the proposed question would not have disposed of or shortened the proceeding or saved costs.  Although the validity and correctness of an assessment can be determined by the Tax Court of Canada, the proposed question would have challenged the validity of assessments not yet issued and, therefore, the determination of the question of law (whether the Minister is statute-barred from issuing future assessments) would not have disposed of or shortened the proceeding or saved costs.

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Will the Tax Court of Canada entertain a determination of a question of law where the focus is on future assessments?

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 Gwartz Decision: The GAAR Is Not a Filler

In Brianne Gwartz v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 86, the Crown attempted to utilize the GAAR to recharacterize as dividends certain capital gains which had been realized by a family trust and allocated to the minor-aged taxpayers in 2003, 2004 and 2005.  The Crown argued that the transactions giving rise to the GAAR circumvented section 120.4 (the “kiddie tax”) which was amended in 2011 to apply to certain capital gains paid to minors.

The taxpayers conceded the existence of a “tax benefit” and an “avoidance transaction”, leaving the only issue being whether there existed “abusive tax avoidance”.  The Tax Court of Canada made some interesting comments about the application of the GAAR generally and specifically as it related to this case, the main points of which can be summed up as follows:

1      Tax planning is not inherently abusive for the purposes of ss. 245(4):  Taxpayers are entitled to plan their affairs in such a way that will minimize tax liability.  Choosing a course of action that minimizes the tax liability is not necessarily abusive [paras. 45 and 46].

2      GAAR cannot be used to fill in the gaps:  Abusive tax avoidance cannot be found to exist if a taxpayer can only be said to have abused some broad policy that is not in itself grounded in the provisions of the Act.  “[I]t is inappropriate, where the transactions do not otherwise conflict with the object, spirit and purpose of the provisions of the [Act] to apply the GAAR to deny a tax benefit resulting from a taxpayer’s reliance on a previously unnoticed legislative gap” [para 47].

3      There is no broad policy in the Act against surplus stripping:  In this case, the Crown contended that the taxpayers contravened the general policy against surplus stripping, but dropped this position at trial.  The Court noted that courts have held that surplus stripping does not inherently constitute abusive tax avoidance [para 50].

4      There is no broad policy in the Act against income splitting:  The Court noted that the increasing marginal tax rates and the choice to tax the individual as the basic taxable unit create incentives under the Act for taxpayers to split their income with their family members [para. 52].

5      The significance of subsequent amendments as an indicator of the policy underlying previous versions of a provision:  The Court noted subsequent amendments do not necessarily in themselves provide an indicator of some policy underlying the prior versions of a legislative provision.  Subsequent amendments must be considered along with all other relevant material to ascertain the object, spirit and purpose of the provision.  In certain circumstances, a subsequent amendment might suggest that the provision’s object or spirit were frustrated by the tax avoidance strategy. In other circumstances, it might suggest that Parliament simply changed its mind and now intends to prevent something that initially was not intended to be captured by the provision [para 57].

The Court ultimately allowed taxpayers’ appeals, finding that the object, spirit and purpose of section 120.4 of the Act were not indicative of a general policy against surplus stripping.  The Court held that the fact that specific anti-avoidance provisions were enacted at the time that 120.4 was enacted provided an indicator that Parliament was fully aware of the manner in which taxpayer’s could distribute corporate surplus.  Parliament’s exclusion of capital gains from section 120.4 was thus deliberately not intended to capture the transactions at issue.  In furtherance of this conclusion, the Court, by reviewing external evidence such as the 1999 Budget Plan and Notices of Way and Means Motions, found that the subsequent amendments to 120.4, which added only certain capital gains transactions, was evidence that “…Parliament decided not to cover capital gains when the measure was first enacted, and chose to do so on a prospective basis only in respect to a narrow subset of capital gains transaction.” [para. 74]

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The Gwartz Decision: The GAAR Is Not a Filler

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

We’ve gone global!

We’ve gone global . . . just like our clients. Today was our first day online at dentons.com giving you a “first look” at the impressive combination of SNR Denton, Salans and FMC to form Dentons. We now have more than 2,500 lawyers and professionals in 79 locations in 52 countries. What does this mean for our tax clients? We can help you access the right value-added tax expertise around the world, particularly when tax authorities in more than one jurisdiction are reviewing your affairs (e.g. simultaneous cross-border audits), when contentious issues arise with the Canada Revenue Agency or when you need to appeal to the Tax Court of Canada.

Questions? Just let us know.

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We’ve gone global!

Nuances of a tax appeal make it unlike a typical civil trial

A tax dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency may be an unwelcome and unpleasant experience for a taxpayer. In addition to the potentially complex tax issues, the dispute resolution process itself can be a nuanced and challenging process. However, an appeal to the Tax Court of Canada offers taxpayers a chance to have their disputes considered by “fresh eyes,” which could result in a victory, settlement or other efficient resolution.

In the March 15, 2013 issue of The Lawyers Weekly, I discuss some of the ways a tax appeal differs from a typical civil trial.

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Nuances of a tax appeal make it unlike a typical civil trial

Imposition of GST on Criminal Defence Legal Fees Does Not Infringe Section 10(b) of the Charter: Stanley J. Tessmer Law Corporation v The Queen

In Stanley J. Tessmer Law Corporation v The Queen, 2013 TCC 27, Justice Paris of the Tax Court of Canada confirmed that the general GST charging provision in section 165 of the Excise Tax Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-15 (the “ETA”) does not infringe section 10(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”).  Section 10(b) of the Charter provides:

Everyone has the right on arrest or detention

to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right;

The Appellant (“Tessmer”) provides criminal defence legal services.  During the period July 1, 1999 to December 31, 2006, Tessmer did not collect GST (totaling $228,440.97) in respect of legal services for criminal defence work charged to clients who had been arrested or detained and who were either charged with a criminal offence or who had been arrested with criminal charges pending.

Tessmer did not conduct an independent review of the financial circumstances of its clients to determine the ability of its individual clients to afford its fees and any GST exigible on those fees.  In addition, no financial records of any of Tessmer’s individual clients were produced at the hearing.

The Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) assessed Tessmer for such GST plus interest and penalty, and Tessmer appealed those assessments to the Tax Court.  In the context of those appeals, the parties decided to bring a reference to the Tax Court, pursuant to section 310 of the ETA, to determine the following question raised by Tessmer in its appeals:

Whether, based on the facts set out in the Agreed Statement of Facts filed herewith, the goods and services tax (GST) imposed by s. 165 of the Excise Tax Act infringes or is inconsistent with the rights of the Appellant’s clients guaranteed by ss. 7 and ss. 10(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms such that s. 165 of the Excise Tax Act is, to the extent of any such inconsistency and, subject to s.1 of the Charter, of no force and effect by reason of s. 52(1) of the Constitution Act.

Although the question put to the Tax Court referred to both sections 7 and 10(b) of the Charter, Tessmer’s counsel advised the Tax Court at the hearing that he was only relying on section 10(b) of the Charter, and the above question was amended accordingly.

Subsection 165(1) of the ETA, the general GST charging provision, read as follows during the periods at issue:

Subject to this Part, every recipient of a taxable supply made in Canada shall pay to Her Majesty in right of Canada tax in respect of the supply calculated at the rate of 7% [note: 6% for the period between July 1, 2006 through December 31, 2006 – Ed.] on the value of the consideration for the supply.

Tessmer argued that a tax on criminal defence legal services provided to a person who has been arrested or detained is inconsistent with that person’s right under section 10(b) of the Charter to retain or instruct counsel of choice, on the basis that the tax is an impediment to the exercise of that right and is therefore unconstitutional with respect to both purpose and effect.  Relying on a U.S. case (United States v. Stein, SI 05 Crim. 0888 LAK United States District Court, Southern District of New York June 26, 2006), Tessmer argued that a tax on criminal defence legal fees will interfere with the right to counsel since the additional cost of the tax to an accused will interfere with the financial resources available to mount a defence to the charges brought against him or her.

Tessmer also argued that it was not required to provide evidence that any of its clients were denied counsel of their choice as a result of the tax imposed on the services of counsel.  Instead, and relying on a series of past Charter cases, Tessmer argued that it only needed to show that the general effect of the tax is unconstitutional under reasonably hypothetical circumstances.

The Tax Court, therefore, was required to determine whether either of the purpose or the effect of subsection 165(1) of the ETA was contrary to section 10(b) of the Charter.

With respect to the purpose of subsection 165(1) of the ETA, the Tax Court readily found that the purpose of that provision was not unconstitutional:

[31]        The appellant contends that the general purpose of the GST legislation imposing the tax is to raise revenue but that it also has a specific purpose to tax an accused with respect to the provision of legal services in defence of a State-sponsored prosecution. Its only submission regarding the unconstitutionality of the purpose of the tax was that it is patently inconsistent to prosecute a person and at the same time tax the legal services that the person requires in order to defend against the prosecution.

[32]        I am unable to ascribe the specific purpose suggested by the appellant to subsection 165(1) of the ETA, ….

[33]        Subsection 165(1) is a provision of general application and covers an infinite variety of transactions. I do not believe that it can be said that a specific purpose of subsection 165(1) is to tax legal services in defence of a State-sponsored prosecution since Parliament has not singled out those particular services for different treatment under that provision. Therefore I find that the appellant has not shown that subsection 165(1) of the ETA has an invalid purpose.

With respect to the effect of subsection 165(1) of the ETA, the Tax Court rejected Tessmer’s arguments that no evidence of an impediment to section 10(b) Charter rights was required.  The Tax Court stated, in relevant part, as follows:

[54]        From my review of the Supreme Court decisions on point, it appears that a party may only rely on hypotheticals to establish a factual foundation for a Charter challenge where actual facts are not available to that party. In such cases, the Court has been willing to consider imaginable circumstances which could easily arise in day-to-day life. ….

[55]        A party will also be relieved from presenting any factual foundation at all in cases where the unconstitutionality of the impugned legislation is apparent on the face of the legislation.

[56]        Apart from these limited exceptions, a party challenging legislation will be required to bring evidence of the effects of the legislation. Therefore, I reject the appellant’s contention that in any Charter challenge the Court may rely on imaginable circumstances to establish the effects of impugned legislation.

[57]        Furthermore, since the appellant does not take the position that evidence of the effect of the GST on the ability of its clients who were detained or arrested to afford its services is unavailable, I find that this case does not fall within the exception set out in Mills and implicitly recognized in Seaboyer/Gayme.

[58]        It is also obvious that the section 12 Charter standard of review which was applied in Goltz and Ferguson is not relevant to this case.

[64]        In response to the appellant’s submission that prejudice to a person’s section 10(b) rights must be presumed in this case, I can only say that I am unable to easily imagine that a person who has been arrested or detained would be prevented or even deterred from retaining and instructing counsel in that situation by the additional GST payable on counsel fees.

[65]        Finally, I do not accept the appellant’s contention that the constitutionality of the GST on criminal legal defence services is a question of law alone and therefore that it is not required to produce any evidence because it is apparent on its face that the tax will impede access to counsel.

Therefore, in the absence of evidence that any of Tessmer’s clients were unable to retain counsel as a result of the GST payable on legal services, the Tax Court found that the GST imposed under section 165 of the ETA does not infringe section 10(b) of the Charter.

Interestingly, the Tax Court hearing took place on December 15, 2011, and the decision was released on January 28, 2013.  Tessmer is still within the time limit to file an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal, so it remains to be determined whether the Tax Court’s judgment remains the final word on this issue.

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Imposition of GST on Criminal Defence Legal Fees Does Not Infringe Section 10(b) of the Charter: Stanley J. Tessmer Law Corporation v The Queen

Taxpayer entitled to disclosure of the “policy” underlying statutory provisions allegedly abused in GAAR cases

On December 20, 2012, the Tax Court ruled on a motion under Rule 52 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) (the “Rules”) to require the Minister to comply with a demand for particulars specifying how the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) was abused in a General Anti-Avoidance rule (“GAAR”) case.

In Birchcliff Energy Ltd. v The Queen (2012-10887(IT)G), the Minister alleged that the GAAR should apply because the series of transactions (the “Transactions”) undertaken by the taxpayer resulted in a misuse of 10 sections of the Act and an abuse of the Act as a whole. In response, the taxpayer sought an order requiring the Minister to disclose the policy behind each section of the Act that was allegedly abused and how the Transactions abused that policy.

The Tax Court held that the Minister must disclose the object, spirit, and purpose of the provisions of the Act (the “Policy”) that the assessor relied upon in making the assessment. The Minister does not need to disclose the actual Policy that will be argued at trial, or the way that the Policy was abused.

Arguments

The taxpayer argued that in making a GAAR assessment, the Minister must assume as a fact the Policy and an abuse of that Policy. Relying on Johnston v M.N.R. (1948 S.C.R. 486), the taxpayer argued that the Crown had a duty to disclose “precise findings of fact and rulings of law which have given rise to the controversy”. The taxpayer also argued that there was a heightened obligation on the Minister to be specific in cases of misconduct, negligence, or misrepresentation, relying on Chief Justice Bowman’s decision in Ver v Canada ([1995] T.C.J. No. 593). Misuse or abuse, it was argued, belonged in the category of offenses requiring more precise disclosure.

The Minister, on the other hand, argued that the Policy was a conclusion of law, not fact and that only allegations of fact must be disclosed in particulars. The Minister raised a “slippery slope” argument, suggesting that this ruling could require the Crown to explain its legal interpretation of all provisions of the Act in the future. Although the Minister acknowledged that Trustco v Canada (2005 SCC 54) placed the burden of identifying the Policy on the Crown, that burden did not apply to pleadings. The Minister also argued that disclosing the Policy would not help the Appellant because the Minister could still argue a different policy at trial.

Decision

The Tax Court highlighted the unique nature of GAAR, and stated that any disclosure requirements from this case would only apply to GAAR assessments. Justice Campbell Miller specifically pointed to the Crown’s burden to prove the Policy in GAAR cases as evidence of its unique requirements.

Justice Miller separated the elements of the Policy into two distinct categories:

1)      The actual Policy that would be argued and decided at trial (the “True Policy”), and

2)      The fact that the Crown relied on a particular Policy when determining that GAAR should be applied (the “Historical Policy”).

The Court held that the True Policy was a question of law that should ultimately be decided by the court. This policy was open to change throughout the course of litigation and did not need to be disclosed to the Appellant at this stage.

The Historical Policy, however, was held to be “a material fact, not an assumption, but the fact the Minister relied upon x or y policy underlying the legislative provisions at play in the case.” Taxpayers are entitled in pleadings to know the basis of the assessment. Disclosing the Historical Policy would be similar to disclosing the legislation upon which non-GAAR assessments are made. The Court distinguished the Historical Policy from the type of materials to which the taxpayer was denied access in Mastronardi v The Queen (2010 TCC 57), a recent Tax Court decision holding that the Minister did not need to disclose the extrinsic materials on which the Minister relied in determining the Policy. In Mastronardi, the materials sought to be disclosed were evidence that could be used to prove the policy, rather than the material fact of which policy was relied on (evidence itself is not a material fact).

The Historical Policy that must be disclosed is not the Policy of each identified section in isolation. The Minister must identify the collective policy of all of the identified provisions together that the Crown relied on in making the assessment. The Historical Policy should be disclosed under paragraph 49(1)(e) of the Rules as “any other material fact”.

With regards to the Appellant’s request for information on how the Policy was abused, the Court held that it was not required to be disclosed. Abuse is a conclusion of law to be determined by the court based on the Policy and the facts of the case. The Minister did not assume how the Policy was abused as a fact. The Minister concluded, based on the Policy and the facts assumed, that there was an abuse.

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The Tax Court has reiterated that the taxpayer is entitled to know the basis of the assessment made against him.  Such an approach is consistent with principles of fundamental fairness and is entirely in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Rules.

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Taxpayer entitled to disclosure of the “policy” underlying statutory provisions allegedly abused in GAAR cases

Tax Court of Canada upholds general policy that settlement agreements should be respected – taxpayer’s waiver of right to appeal was effective

In Noran West Developments Ltd. v. The Queen, the Tax Court of Canada (Justice Brent Paris) upheld the validity of a taxpayer’s waiver of its right to appeal executed following the conclusion of a settlement with the Appeals Division of the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”).  This conclusion was reached, and the Crown’s motion to quash granted, notwithstanding the taxpayer’s valiant attempts to set aside the agreement.

The relevant statutory provision in subsection 169(2.2) of the Income Tax Act:

Waived issues

(2.2) Notwithstanding subsections 169(1) and 169(2), for greater certainty a taxpayer may not appeal to the Tax Court of Canada to have an assessment under this Part vacated or varied in respect of an issue for which the right of objection or appeal has been waived in writing by the taxpayer.

By way of background, the CRA audited a corporate taxpayer (the Appellant) in respect of unreported income from a condominium joint venture which engaged in certain non-arm’s length dispositions.  The auditor reassessed to (a) include $640,000 in the taxpayer’s income for its 2005 taxation year (on the basis of a valuation of the relevant condominium units), (b) recognize a shareholder benefit to the taxpayer’s sole shareholder and (c) apply gross negligence penalties under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act in respect of both reassessments.

The taxpayer filed a notice of objection objecting to the inclusion of the $640,000 in its income (on the basis that the CRA’s valuation was wrong) and the assessment of a subsection 163(2) penalty.  The taxpayer’s sole shareholder filed no objection against his own reassessment.

Following discussions with the taxpayer’s representative, the Appeals Officer offered to settle the matter by (a) reducing the income inclusion by $50,000 (on the basis of a reduced valuation of the relevant condominium units) and (b) reducing the amount of the subsection 163(2) penalty accordingly.  The Appeals Officer sent a standard waiver letter which was signed by the taxpayer’s sole shareholder on behalf of the taxpayer.  It included the usual language in which the signatory attests that he or she is ”familiar with subsection 165(1.2) and 169(2.2) of the Income Tax Act and understand that I will be precluded from filing an objection or an appeal with respect to those issues.”

The CRA reassessed to implement the settlement, but the taxpayer filed an appeal in Tax Court in response.  The Crown moved to quash the appeal on the basis that the taxpayer had waived its right to appeal under subsection 169(2.2) of the Income Tax Act.  In answer to the motion counsel for the taxpayer advanced six arguments, none of which were successful:

1. The waiver agreement was not “in writing” as required by subsection 169(2.2) as the Appeals Officer omitted the taxpayer’s name.

The Tax Court judge concluded that “waived in writing” simply “requires that a waiver be reduced to writing as opposed to one given orally” and proceeded to find that the waiver agreement could not reasonably be read as applying to anyone other than the taxpayer.

2. The waiver agreement is unenforceable as the reassessment contemplated by that agreement would not have been consistent with the facts and the law.

The Tax Court judge found that there were errors in the first reassessment (the one that was settled).  However, the reassessment before the Court was the second reassessment (the one issued as a result of the waiver agreement).  As the second reassessment simply reduced the taxpayer’s income by $50,000 and reduced the subsection 163(2) penalty accordingly, there was no question that such a reassessment is within the CRA’s power.

3. The waiver agreement is invalid because the parties were not ad idem as to the terms of the agreement.  

First, it was said that the taxpayer’s sole shareholder believed that the waiver agreement applied to three taxpayers, not just one.  Therefore, there was no “meeting of the minds”.  Unfortunately for the taxpayer, the judge found that that belief, on the evidence, was “highly unlikely”.  In addition, an adverse inference was drawn from the failure of the taxpayer’s representative to give any evidence at all about what happened at the appeals stage.  The judge also rejected the contention that the sole shareholder believed that issue of beneficial ownership of the condominium units wasn’t covered by the waiver agreement and, therefore, there was no consensus ad idem.  There was no ”beneficial ownership” issue raised in the Notice of Objection, so there could be no reasonable expectation that it would have been reflected in the agreement.  The taxpayer’s final contention was that the sole shareholder did not believe that the waiver agreement dealt with the subsection 163(2) penalty.  As the text of the agreement dealt with the penalty, Justice Paris concluded that:

[61] . . . [i]f a party chooses not to read an agreement with care before signing it, or chooses to skip reading parts of it, I fail to see how he can turn around and allege that his intention did not accord with the written agreement. It must be presumed that, in those circumstances, the party intended to accept the agreement as written.

4. The agreement was vitiated by the CRA as it did not satisfy the terms of the waiver agreement because the subsection 163(2) penalty was incorrectly calculated on the second reassessment. 

Here is the error:

[24]  The respondent’s counsel concedes that an error was made in calculating the amount of the gross negligence penalty in the [second] reassessment and that the penalty was based on unreported income in the amount of $599,760 rather than on $589,760, as agreed. The respondent concedes that the penalty was too high by as much as $1,106. Because this error was only raised by Noran’s counsel shortly before the hearing of the motion, counsel for the respondent advised the Court that she was unable to obtain the exact amount of the error.

The Tax Court judge found himself unable to agree with the proposition that:

[65] . . . any inconsistency between the reassessment and the waiver agreement allows a taxpayer to appeal any aspect of the reassessment as if no waiver had been given.  It does not make sense that any error in reassessing, however minor, could permit a taxpayer to repudiate the waiver entirely.

5. The Tax Court should decline to enforce the waiver agreement on the basis that it is unconscionable. 

This argument was not pressed strongly.  In any event, the judge could find no evidence to support it.

6. The taxpayer is appealing issues other than those dealt with in the waiver agreement. 

This argument was based on the sole shareholder’s belief about what was covered by the agreement (which was rather narrow) rather than the text of the agreement itself.  Justice Paris rejected reliance on subjective belief and concluded that a “reasonable person” standard must be applied:

[74]  When searching for the intentions of the parties, I believe that the search for intention in the case of a waiver is to be conducted in the same manner as for any contract on the basis of the parties’ manifested intention. That intention is determined from the perspective of the objective reasonable bystander. Fridman in the Law of Contract in Canada, refers to the classical formulation of this notion in Smith v. Hughes:

If whatever a man’s real intention may be, he so conducts himself that a reasonable man would believe that he was assenting to the terms proposed by the other party and that other party upon that belief enters into a contract with him, the man thus conducting himself would be equally bound as if he had intended to agree to the other party’s terms.

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Underlying this decision is a clear public policy that negotiated settlements, as a general matter, ought to be upheld:

[45] . . . The desirability of upholding negotiated settlements was discussed by Bowie J. in 1390758 Ontario Corp v. The Queen:

[35] I agree with Bowman C.J. and the authors Hogg, Magee and Li that there are sound policy reasons to uphold negotiated settlements of tax disputes freely arrived at between taxpayers and the Minister’s representatives. The addition of subsection 169(3) to the Act in 1994 is recognition by Parliament of that. It is not for the Courts to purport to review the propriety of such settlements. That task properly belongs to the Auditor General.

[36] The reality is that tax disputes are settled every day in this country. If they were not, and every difference had to be litigated to judgment, unmanageable backlogs would quickly accumulate and the system would break down.

[37] The Crown settles tort and contract claims brought by and against it on a regular basis. There is no reason why it should not settle tax disputes as well. Both sides of a dispute are entitled to know that if they invest the time and effort required to negotiate a settlement, then their agreement will bind both parties.

Although the taxpayer was unsuccessful, this decision is ultimately reassuring as the same principle applies to the government - if the CRA attempts to resile from a settlement agreement it too will be confronted by the same underlying public policy, namely, that negotiated settlements of tax disputes should be respected.

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Tax Court of Canada upholds general policy that settlement agreements should be respected – taxpayer’s waiver of right to appeal was effective

Extensive Amendments to Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) Published in Part I of the Canada Gazette

General Objectives of the Proposed Amendments

The general objectives of the proposed amendments are:

(1) to streamline the process of hearings and to codify the practice relating to litigation process conferences;

(2) to implement new rules and amend existing rules governing expert witnesses and the admissibility of their evidence in the Tax Court of Canada;

(3) to allow the Court to proceed with a hearing of one or more appeals, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead cases heard by the Court;

(4) to encourage parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process; and

(5) to make technical amendments.

Detailed Description of Proposed Amendments

(1) Streamlining the process of hearings and codifying the practice relating to litigation process conferences

A proposed definition of “litigation process conference” is added to section 2. That definition lists the hearings referred to in section 125 and the conferences referred to in subsection 126(2) and sections 126.1 and 126.2.

Amendments are proposed to subsection 123(4) to indicate that the Registrar or a designated person may fix the time and place for the hearing subject to any direction by the Court.

Proposed subsection 123(4.1) indicates that the Court may, on its own initiative, fix the time and place for the hearing.

Proposed subsection 123(6) indicates that, if the time and place for a hearing have been fixed after a joint application of the parties, the hearing should not be adjourned unless special circumstances justify the adjournment and it is in the interest of justice to adjourn it.

Amendments are required to be made to section 125 (Status Hearing) to provide that initial status hearings are ordered to take place approximately two months after the filing of the reply, and further status hearings can take place later in the appeal to ensure the appeal is ready for trial and to fix a trial date. Finally, proposed subsection 125(8) provides that where a party fails to comply with an order or direction made at a status hearing, or if a party fails to appear at a status hearing, the Court may allow or dismiss the appeal or make any other order that is appropriate.

Existing section 126 is replaced by proposed section 126, which is designed to allow the Chief Justice to assign a judge to manage an appeal that is complex, or slow moving, or for some other reason requires ongoing management by a judge. The judge takes responsibility for the progress of the appeal to ensure that the appeal proceeds to trial in a timely way while conserving judicial resources.

Proposed section 126.1 provides that a trial management conference can be held after the appeal hearing date has been set and is presided over by the judge assigned to preside at the hearing. The conference is to ensure that the hearing proceeds in an orderly and organized fashion.

Proposed section 126.2 permits the Court to direct that a conference be held for the purpose of exploring the possibility of settlement of any or all of the issues.

Amendments are required to section 127 to add references to sections 125 and 126, and to proposed section 126.1.

Amendments are required to section 128 to add references to matters related to a settlement or settlement discussions during a litigation process conference.

(2) Implementing new rules and amending existing rules governing expert witnesses and the admissibility of their evidence in the Tax Court of Canada

Subsection 145(1) is amended to replace the reference to “affidavit” by “expert report.”

Proposed subsection 145(2) provides that the expert’s report must set out the proposed evidence of the expert, the expert’s qualifications and be accompanied by a certificate signed by the expert acknowledging that the expert agrees to be bound by the Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses that is added as a schedule to the Rules to ensure that expert witnesses understand their independent advisory role to the Court. Proposed subsection 145(3) indicates that if an expert fails to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Court may exclude some or all of the expert’s report.

Proposed subsection 145(4) requires a party to seek leave to the Court if they intend to call more than five expert witnesses at a hearing and proposed subsection 145(5) indicates what the Court has to consider in deciding to grant leave.

Proposed subsection 145(6) allows parties to name a joint expert witness.

Existing subsection 145(2) is renumbered subsection 145(7) and specifies the conditions that need to be met in order for evidence of an expert witness to be received at the hearing.

Existing subsection 145(4) is renumbered subsection 145(8) and indicates how evidence in chief of an expert witness is to be given at a hearing.

Proposed subsection 145(9) indicates what may be addressed during a litigation process conference, other than a settlement conference, in respect of expert witnesses.

Proposed subsections 145(10), (11), (12), (13) and (14) introduce new rules that deal with expert conferences.

Existing subsection 145(3) is renumbered subsection 145(15) and is amended to change the number of days, from 15 to 60, for a copy of rebuttal evidence to be served on all parties.

Proposed subsection 145(16) indicates when evidence of an expert witness can be led in surrebuttal of any evidence tendered under subsection (15).

Proposed subsections 145(17), (18), (19) and (20) allow the Court to require that some or all of the experts testify as a panel. Experts are only allowed to pose questions to each other with leave of the Court to ensure the orderly presentation of evidence. The rules governing cross-examination and re-examination will continue to apply to experts testifying concurrently.

(3) Allowing the Court to proceed with a hearing of one or more appeals, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead cases heard by the Court

Proposed section 146.1 is intended to apply where there is more than one appeal which has common or related issues of fact or law. It allows the Court to proceed with the hearing of one of the appeals, the lead case, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead case. The parties in a related appeal have to agree to be bound, in whole or in part, by the final decision on the lead case.

(4) Encouraging parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process

The provisions of the Rules addressing offers to settle are designed to encourage parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process. An early settlement has the added advantage of reducing the costs borne by the parties and conserving judicial resources.

Parties are entitled to make and accept offers of settlement at any time before there is a judgment and any written offer to settle will be considered by the Court in assessing costs under section 147. In addition to this general rule, there is a need to encourage parties to reach an early settlement, ideally before the beginning of the trial or hearing. This is the specific objective of adding subsections 147(3.1) to (3.8).

(5) Making technical amendments

To amend section 6 to provide that the Court may direct that any step in a proceeding may be conducted by teleconference, by videoconference or by a combination of teleconference and videoconference.

To amend section 52 by adding a new subsection to provide that a demand for particulars shall be in Form 52 and shall be filed and served in accordance with the Rules, and to add Form 52 to Schedule I.

To amend sections 53 and 58 to regroup all matters where the Court may strike out or expunge all or part of a pleading or other document under section 53, and all matters relating to the determination of questions of law, fact or mixed law and fact under section 58. As a consequence of these changes, sections 59, 60, 61 and 62 are repealed.

To add subsection 67(7) to provide for when proof of service of a motion must be filed.

To repeal subsection 95(3) as a result of the changes made to the expert witness rules.

To amend subsection 119(3) as a result of the changes made to the expert witness rules.

To amend paragraph 146(1)(d) to change the number of days for service from 10 to 5.

To add subsection 153(3) to provide that the taxing officer may direct that the taxation of a bill of costs be conducted by teleconference, videoconference or by combination of both.

To amend the reference to “issuing a judgment” by “rendering a judgment” in subsection 167(1).

To remove the reference to “and it shall be entered and filed there whereupon section 17.4 of the Act shall be complied with” in subsection 167(3).

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The full text of the proposed amendments is here. Interested persons may make representations concerning the proposed Rules within 60 days after December 8, 2012. All such representations must cite the Canada Gazette, Part Ⅰ, and the December 8th date of publication of the notice, and be addressed to the Rules Committee, Tax Court of Canada, 200 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M1.

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Extensive Amendments to Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) Published in Part I of the Canada Gazette

Tax Court of Canada Allows Charitable Gift Treatment for Taxpayer’s Cash Contribution: Berg v. The Queen

On November 19, 2012, the Tax Court released its decision in Berg v. The Queen (2012 TCC 406), which dealt with donative intent in the context of a donation scheme involving inflated charitable donation receipts. The Tax Court held that, although the taxpayer received documentation reflecting a valuation about nine times greater than the fair market value of the donations, the cash contributed by the taxpayer could effectively be segregated from the rest of the scheme and, thereby, constitute a “gift” for purposes of subparagraph 118.1 of the Income Tax Act.

Facts

In 2002 and 2003, Mr. Berg purchased 68 timeshare units, for which he paid $375,950 in cash and the remainder via low-interest financing. The taxpayer subsequently donated the units, and the recipient charity issued donation receipts for amounts approximately nine times higher than the fair market value of the units. The taxpayer claimed the inflated charitable donation tax credits. The CRA reassessed and disallowed the claimed charitable gifts of $2,420,000 for 2002, $1,786,000 for 2003 and $718,380 for 2004, including the portions paid by the taxpayer in cash for the units.

The only issue before the Tax Court was whether the cash paid was a “gift” and therefore eligible for the charitable donation tax credit.

Analysis

The taxpayer argued that since he provided value for the units, and received no benefit from the charity (other than the credits themselves), the cash payments had to constitute a gift. The Crown argued that the inflated receipts conferred an additional benefit to the donor, thereby negating the donative intent of the taxpayer entirely. The Tax Court distinguished Marechaux v. The Queen in the Tax Court and Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that the Crown had conceded in this case:

[35] . . . that the Transaction Documents were pretenses and thereby not legally effective documents. Legally, no tangible or potential benefit to the Appellant, beyond the camouflage afforded by the Inflated Gift Receipts which were needed to enhance the purported gift value beyond the Cash Donation Amounts, can be ascribed to the Transaction Documents which, on admission by the Respondent, gave rise to no legal rights, obligations or benefits.

The Tax Court concluded as follows:

[48] . . . to the extent the Cash Donation Amount related to the Transferred Units, the Appellant was impoverished by, paid valuable consideration for, intended to give, and conveyed the Transferred Units which were, in turn, received by the Charity. Whatever opprobrium may be ascribed to the Donation Program, legally the Cash Donation Amount has met the legal test of a charitable gift. In the absence of some other benefit received beyond the Inflated Tax Receipts, no legal authority suggests donative intent as defined by the case law relevant to section 118.1 of the Act has been vitiated or nullified to the extent of the value of the Cash Donation Amount.

Conclusion

The Tax Court concluded that the taxpayer intended to donate to the charity, even if he was motivated by the possiblility of receiving an inflated tax receipt. This decision takes seriously the words of the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Friedberg in which it was held that a “gift is a voluntary transfer of property owned by the donor to a donee, in return for which no benefit or consideration flows to the donor.” In certain circumstances, including those found in this case, one may be able to effectively segregate the “gift” amount from the “non-gift” amount provided that the requisite degree of intent is found in connection with the former.

It is not known whether the Crown will appeal the Tax Court’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal.

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Tax Court of Canada Allows Charitable Gift Treatment for Taxpayer’s Cash Contribution: Berg v. The Queen

Crown Appeals Tax Court Decision in Guindon – Are Advisor Penalties “Criminal”?

On October 31, 2012, the Crown filed a Notice of Appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal against the judgment of the Tax Court of Canada in Julie Guindon v. The Queen (2012 TCC 287). In that decision, the Tax Court held that the advisor penalties imposed under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act were criminal in nature, and therefore attract constitutional protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court also held that the standard of “culpable conduct” in section 163.2 was a higher standard than “gross negligence” as the latter has been interpreted in the context of subsection 163(2) penalties. For a more detailed review of the Tax Court decision, see our previous post here.

In particular, the Crown has appealed the Tax Court’s finding that the Charter applies to section 163.2 penalties, and the determination of the Court that “culpable conduct” is a different standard than “gross negligence”.

The advisor, who was found to have engaged in culpable conduct (and therefore would have been subject to the assessed penalty had the court not found the penalty to be criminal in nature) has yet to file a cross-appeal on that point.

Stay tuned to www.canadiantaxlitigation.com for further updates on this important appeal.

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Crown Appeals Tax Court Decision in Guindon – Are Advisor Penalties “Criminal”?

Crime And (No) Punishment: Guindon v. The Queen

The Tax Court of Canada recently released its decision in Guindon, a case concerning the application of third-party penalties under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act (the
“Act”). The 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.

Click here to read more.

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Crime And (No) Punishment: Guindon v. The Queen