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McIntyre: Not What You Bargained For?

When are the parties to a civil tax dispute bound by agreed facts from a criminal proceeding?

This was the question considered by the Tax Court of Canada on a Rule 58 motion made by the taxpayers in McIntrye et al v. The Queen (2014 TCC 111). Specifically, the taxpayers argued the principles of issue estoppel, res judicata, and abuse of process applied to prevent the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) from assuming facts inconsistent with agreed facts from a prior criminal guilty plea.

In McIntyre, two individuals and their corporation were audited for the 2002 to 2007 tax years. The individuals and the corporation were charged with criminal income tax evasion. As part of a plea bargain, one individual and the corporation plead guilty based on certain agreed facts, and the court imposed sentences accordingly. The other individual was not convicted.

Subsequently, the Minister issued GST reassessments of the corporation, and further reassessments of the individuals for income tax. In issuing the reassessments, the Minister refused to be bound by the agreed facts from the criminal proceeding. In the Notices of Appeal in the Tax Court, the taxpayers argued the reassessments must be consistent with the agreed facts.

The taxpayers brought a motion under section 58 of the Tax Court Rules (General Procedure) for a determination of a question of law or mixed fact and law before the hearing of the appeals. Specifically, the taxpayers asked (i) whether the doctrines of issue estoppel, res judicata and abuse of process prevented the Minister from making assumptions inconsistent with the agreed facts, and (ii) whether the parties were bound by the agreed facts in respect of the calculation of certain capital gains, shareholder debts, losses and shareholder benefits.

The taxpayers argued that it was appropriate to deal with these issues before the hearing, whereas the Crown argued that these issues could not be determined on a Rule 58 motion because, in this case, the facts arose from a plea bargain rather than a determination by a court, the agreed facts did not address the GST liability of the corporation or the other individual’s income tax liability, and the facts (and tax liability) of a criminal proceeding would only prohibit the parties from alleging a lower tax liability in a civil proceeding.

The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s motion. The Court considered the applicable test on a Rule 58 motion, namely that there must be a question of law or mixed fact and law, the question must be raised by a pleading, and the determination of the question must dispose of all or part of the proceeding (see HSBC Bank Canada v. The Queen, 2011 TCC 37).

The Court stated that, in this case, only the first two requirements were met:

[35] I agree with the Respondent’s analysis of the caselaw. It confirms that prior convictions in criminal proceedings resulting from plea bargains, although a factor that may go to weight in a civil tax proceeding, are not determinative of the relevant facts and issues in a subsequent tax appeal.

[38] In MacIver v The Queen, 2005 TCC 250, 2005 DTC 654, Justice Hershfield also concluded that a question is best left to the trial Judge where the motion is merely to estop a party from contesting certain facts that will not dismiss an entire appeal. As noted in his reasons, unless such a question can fully dispose of an appeal by finding that issue estoppel applies, a Rule 58 determination could do little more than split an appeal and tie the hands of the trial Judge.

The Court noted that the agreed facts did not address the corporate GST liability or the second individual’s income tax liability, dealt only with the 2004 to 2007 tax years, and did not address the imposition of gross negligence penalties. The Court concluded that issue estoppel would not apply because there was not a sufficient identity of issues between the criminal and civil proceedings. It would be unfair, the Tax Court stated, to prohibit the parties from adducing evidence in the civil tax appeals where there had been no introduction and weighing of evidence in the criminal proceeding.

McIntyre: Not What You Bargained For?

IRS: Bitcoin Not a Currency for Tax Purposes

As expected, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has provided some guidance on the U.S. tax treatment of Bitcoin.

In Notice 2014-21 (March 25, 2014), the IRS stated that Bitcoin is property and not currency for tax purposes.  According to the Notice, “general tax principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency.”  Some of the U.S. tax implications of Bitcoin include the following: (1) taxpayers receiving Bitcoins as payment for goods or services must include in their gross income the fair market value of the Bitcoins; (2) taxpayers will have a gain or loss upon the exchange of Bitcoins for other property; and (3) taxpayers who “mine” Bitcoins must include the fair market value of the Bitcoins in their gross incomes.  The IRS also confirmed in its statement that employment wages paid in Bitcoins are taxable.

This guidance from the IRS accords with the positions taken by tax authorities in other jurisdictions.

Commentators have considered the tax implications of Bitcoin in Canada both before and after the CRA released its most recent guidance in CRA Document No. 2013-0514701I7 “Bitcoins” (December 23, 2013).

The Canadian government has taken the position that Bitcoin is not legal tender. The Canada Revenue Agency has stated that, when addressing the Canadian tax treatment of Bitcoin, taxpayers must look to the rules surrounding barter transactions and must consider whether income or capital treatment arises on Bitcoin trading (i.e., speculating on the changes in the value of Bitcoins).

While Bitcoin currency exchanges encounter uncertainty (or fail entirely), and Bitcoin prices continue to fluctuate, the global tax implications of Bitcoin are becoming clearer.

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IRS: Bitcoin Not a Currency for Tax Purposes

SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

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

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

The Federal Court of Appeal reversed the Tax Court’s ruling, first on the basis that Ms. Guindon had not followed the proper process in challenging section 163.2 by failing to provide notice of a constitutional question, and so the Tax Court lacked the jurisdiction to make the order it did. However, the Federal Court of Appeal considered the merits of the issue in any event, and held that advisor penalty proceedings are not criminal in nature and do not impose “true penal consequences.”

Our previous comments on the decisions are here and here.

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SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

Tax Court Upholds Penalties Imposed for False Statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tax Court Upholds Penalties Imposed for False Statements

Upcoming Event: Ontario Bar Association Taxation Law Luncheon

Join Dentons’ David Spiro as he and two other speakers, including General Counsel from the Department of Justice, discuss the best practices for managing the flow of information to and from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Ensure you know how to best manage the flow of documents and information to the CRA in the context of a corporate tax audit. Attend this lunch program to learn about the CRA’s statutory powers to obtain taxpayer information, setting up an effective audit process, challenging requirements for information, recent legislative changes to third party requirements, the compellability of tax accrual workpapers, and best practices for dealing with issues frequently faced by taxpayers and their advisors during the course of an audit. You will also get practical tips for obtaining taxpayer records from the CRA pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Event Details
November 7, 2013
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT
20 Toronto Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5C 2B8

Click here for more information and to register.

Upcoming Event: Ontario Bar Association Taxation Law Luncheon

Mark Your Calendars: Tax Litigation Forum – December 11, 2013

As the Canada Revenue Agency becomes increasingly aggressive in pursuit of perceived domestic and offshore tax avoidance, it is more important than ever to be familiar with recent developments in legislation, policy and procedure. David W. Chodikoff (Miller Thompson LLP) and David E. Spiro (Dentons Canada LLP) are, therefore, delighted to chair this tax litigation conference – the first organized by Insight Information.

Leading litigators and clients have been gathered to participate in lively panel discussions covering a wide range of challenging issues – from how to deal with CRA requirements and misconduct to making successful voluntary disclosure applications and fairness requests. You’ll learn about the latest developments in transfer pricing and the GAAR and will find out how project management can help you win your case. Finally, for those cases that can be resolved before trial, his conference will explore when and how to take advantage of the opportunities for settlement. In short, you will leave with the tools to resolve tax controversies more confidently than ever!

Event Details
December 11, 2013
07:45 AM – 05:00 PM EDT
St. Andrew’s Club and Conference Centre
150 King Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5H 4B6

For more information, including a list of Distinguished Faculty members and Event Schedule, click here.

To register, click here.

Mark Your Calendars: Tax Litigation Forum – December 11, 2013

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

In the recent decision in Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (2013 FCA 180), the Federal Court of Appeal considered the scope and purpose of Rule 29(1) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) (the “Rules”).  When a trust ceases to exist during the course of a tax appeal, with tax liability shifting to a new person, may the new person continue the appeal?  The Court answered that question in the affirmative and unanimously held that this scenario falls within the language and intended purpose of Rule 29(1).

In 2011, Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (the “Trust”) appealed an income tax assessment to the Tax Court of Canada.  In 2012, the Trust transferred all of its assets to Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund, which subsequently transferred the assets to Clearwater Seafoods Incorporated (the “Corporation”).  This transfer occurred in the context of the Trust “converting” to avoid application of the SIFT rules under the Income Tax Act.

At the Tax Court (2012 TCC 186), both parties accepted that the Trust had been terminated as a result of the disposition of all its property; however, this did not automatically bring the income tax appeal to an end.  The issue in Clearwater was whether the tax appeal could be continued with the Corporation as appellant in place of the Trust.  To obtain an order permitting the Corporation to assume the position of appellant going forward, a motion was brought by the Trust pursuant to section 29 of the Rules, which states,

29 (1) Where at any stage of a proceeding the interest or liability of a person who is a party to a proceeding in the Court is transferred or transmitted to another person by assignment, bankruptcy, death or other means, no other proceedings shall be instituted until the Registrar is notified of the transfer or transmission and the particulars of it. [emphasis added]

Once notice has been given to the Registrar, Rule 29 provides that the Chief Justice or a judge designated by him may direct the continuation of the proceeding.  At the Tax Court, the taxpayer brought a motion arguing that the Corporation is the appropriate party to continue the tax appeal as it now owned the property and would be liable if the appeal is unsuccessful.  The Crown argued that the tax appeal should be dismissed for want of an appellant.  The Tax Court held that the matter were not within the scope of Rule 29(1) and the motion was dismissed.  The order was appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal held that the lower court had construed Rule 29(1) too narrowly.  In arriving at this conclusion, the Court of Appeal addressed the rule’s underlying rationale.  The Court found that the purpose of Rule 29(1) is to deal with instances in which the circumstances of a litigant have changed and special accommodations are required in order to continue the proceeding.  Such changes may include bankruptcy, incapacity due to illness or injury, death of a litigant or the dissolution of a litigant that is a corporation.  The Court also considered such changes to include circumstances where a litigant that is a trust is terminated as a result of the disposition of all of its property.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that the transfer of the property to the Corporation, in effect, placed tax liability on the Corporation and the trustees in the event of an unsuccessful tax appeal.  The termination of the existence of the Trust was found to be within the meaning of “other means” in Rule 29(1).  Consequently, it was held that there was a transmission of liability from the Trust to “another person” by “other means”. The Court held that this scenario falls within the language and purpose of Rule 29(1).  As a result, the appeal was allowed and the matter was sent back to the Tax Court to be reconsidered with a view to directing the continuation of the proceedings.

The decision in Clearwater highlights the Court’s willingness to interpret Rule 29(1) in a broad manner.  It also raises the question of what constitutes “other means” for the purposes of Rule 29.  As a result, it is important for any taxpayer, or party which may acquire tax liability, to consider the implications of Clearwater prior to an income tax appeal.

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) has gone through a number of organizational changes over the past few years. For many years, disclosures were made to the local Tax Services Office. More recently, the CRA has moved the handling of disclosures to Regional Centres; Shawinigan – Sud Tax Centre for the Atlantic, Quebec, and Ontario Regions, Winnipeg Tax Centre for the Prairie Region and Surrey Tax Centre for the Pacific Region.

With the move of the VDP to Regional Centres, the CRA has implemented a new screening process. Screeners are now reviewing disclosure packages soon after receipt and are comparing the package to a CRA developed checklist. If any item on the checklist is missing or incomplete, then the CRA returns the package to the sender, along with a covering letter and a checklist that identifies the missing or incomplete information. There are, however, certain issues that have arisen with respect to the CRA’s screening process and use of the checklist.

First, it prevents a disclosure from being made by a taxpayer who does not have a social insurance number, business number, etc. If an identification number is not available, the disclosure may need to be made on a no-names basis while the taxpayer applies for an identification number.

Second, the CRA will not accept a disclosure if the amount in issue is not identified. This is problematic as, often, disclosures are made before the work needed to calculate the omitted or under-reported amount has been completed. In the past, this information was forwarded within 90 days of filing the disclosure and was an approach acceptable to the CRA.

Third, where the disclosure package is large, screeners do not appear to be reviewing all of the documents before issuing the letter and checklist. Therefore, it is advisable to use a covering letter for each disclosure package which identifies compliance with each item on the CRA’s checklist and a detailed explanation as to why any checklist item is outstanding. It is not yet clear whether, even upon explanation, the CRA will accept a disclosure if a checklist item is outstanding.

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The Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program: Current Processing Issues

The Latest Word from the Supreme Court of Canada on Conflicts of Interest: Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada shed a bit more light on the “bright line rule” for determining when a conflict exists when a law firm represents clients whose interests are adverse in the recent decision of Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP, 2013 SCC 39. The Court also provided further clarification regarding a law firm’s duty of loyalty to its clients and guidance for determining the appropriate remedy where this duty is breached.

In McKercher, Gordon Wallace hired McKercher LLP to act for him as the representative plaintiff in a proposed $1.75 billion class action against Canadian National Railway (CN) and others for allegedly overcharging western farmers to transport grain. At the time McKercher was retained by Mr. Wallace, the firm was acting for CN on several unrelated matters. McKercher did not tell CN in advance that it was entering into a retainer with Mr. Wallace, and after entering into this new retainer, the firm withdrew as counsel on some of CN’s matters. CN learned that McKercher was acting for Mr. Wallace in the proposed class action when it received a copy of the Statement of Claim, at which point CN terminated its relationship with McKercher and applied to disqualify the firm from representing Mr. Wallace. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan ruled in CN’s favour and disqualified McKercher from acting in the class action. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the disqualification and allowed McKercher to continue acting for Mr. Wallace, and CN appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court allowed CN’s appeal, finding that McKercher breached its duty of loyalty owed to CN by breaching its duties (1) to avoid conflicts of interest, (2) of candour, and (3) of commitment to its client’s cause, which the Court described as the three salient aspects of the duty of loyalty.

In considering whether a conflict of interest existed, the Supreme Court applied the bright-line rule and found that McKercher clearly crossed the bright line by accepting the retainer with Mr. Wallace without CN’s consent. The Court upheld a strict interpretation of the rule, which stipulates that a law firm cannot concurrently represent clients whose interests are adverse without first obtaining their consent, even if the matters are unrelated.

Despite expressly rejecting arguments for a less strict interpretation of the rule, the Supreme Court pointed out that the scope of the rule is not unlimited. The Court clarified that the bright-line rule:

  1. only applies where the clients’ immediate interests are directly adverse in the legal matters the firm is representing them on;
  2. only applies to legal interests, not to commercial or strategic interests;
  3. cannot be used tactically; and
  4. does not apply where it would be unreasonable for a client to expect that the firm would not act against it in an unrelated matter (for example, with professional litigants, whose consent can be inferred when the conflicting matters are unrelated and there is no risk of improper use of confidential information).

When the bright-line rule does not apply, the Court endorsed a more contextual approach and stated that the test for determining whether a conflict of interest exists is whether there is a substantial risk that the lawyer’s representation of the client would be materially or adversely affected.

The Supreme Court observed that disqualification is normally the appropriate remedy for a breach of the bright-line rule in order to:

  1. avoid misuse of confidential information;
  2. avoid impaired representation; and
  3. maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

However, the Supreme Court noted that disqualification may not always be warranted where there is no risk of misuse of confidential information or prejudice to the complaining party. In cases where disqualification is sought only to maintain confidence in the justice system, courts must consider factors that may weigh against disqualification, including:

  • conduct that could disentitle the complaining party from seeking disqualification (such as delay in applying for disqualification);
  • significant prejudice to the non-complaining client in retaining its choice of, or any, counsel;
  • a law firm’s having accepted the conflicting matter in good faith and with the belief that the concurrent representation would not breach the bright-line rule.

The Court found that McKercher did not have confidential information that could prejudice CN in the class action. Therefore, the only relevant ground for disqualification in this case is to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice, which requires consideration of the above factors. As a result, the McKercher case has been returned to the Court of Queen’s Bench to determine the appropriate remedy for CN in light of the Supreme Court’s reasons.

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The Latest Word from the Supreme Court of Canada on Conflicts of Interest: Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP