1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

Tax Court: CRA Employee May Not Testify as Expert

In HLP Solution Inc. v. The Queen (2015 TCC 41 ) the Tax Court held that a CRA employee lacked the necessary impartiality to testify as an expert witness because of her prior involvement in auditing the taxpayer.

Background

The taxpayer was a software company that claimed Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credits for the 2009 taxation year. The CRA reassessed to deny the SR&ED credit claims.

In the Tax Court, the taxpayer challenged the qualification of the CRA’s expert witness on the basis that she did not have the necessary impartiality to testify as an expert witness in the appeal. The Tax Court held a voir dire to determine whether the Crown’s proposed expert witness could testify in the appeal.

The proposed expert witness held a doctorate in computer science and was employed with the CRA as a Research and Technology Advisor (RTA). The taxpayer’s allegation of impartiality was not based on the fact that the proposed expert witness was employed with the CRA. Rather, the taxpayer argued that it was the proposed expert witness’s involvement in every stage of the file that impugned her impartiality.

The Crown submitted that it is rare for a court to refuse to hear the testimony of an expert witness, and that there must be clear evidence of bias, which, according to the Crown, was not present in this case. Moreover, the Crown submitted that it was in the capacity as an expert that the opinion was given, irrespective of whether this occurred at the audit stage, objection stage, or during appeal.

Analysis

In analyzing whether to admit the evidence by the Crown’s witness, the Tax Court reviewed the leading case on the admission of expert evidence, the Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Mohan ([1994] 2 SCR 9), in which the Court set out the criteria for determining whether expert evidence should be admitted, namely: relevance, necessity in assisting the trier of fact, the absence of an exclusionary rule, and a properly qualified expert.

In Mohan, the Supreme Court established that the question of relevancy is a threshold requirement for the admission of expert evidence and a matter to be decided by the judge as a question of law. There must first be logical relevance in order for the evidence to be admitted. The judge must then perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the value of the testimony is worth the costs, in the sense of its impact on the trial process.

The Tax Court also reviewed R. v. Abbey (2009 ONCA 624), in which the Ontario Court of Appeal applied Mohan but also distinguished between the preconditions to admissibility and the judge’s role as a gatekeeper. The Ontario Court of Appeal noted that while the inquiry into the preconditions to admissibility is a rules-based analysis that tends to yield “yes” or “no” answers, the gatekeeper function does not involve the application of bright line rules and frequently requires the exercise of judicial discretion. The gatekeeper function is more subtle and involves weighing the benefits of the probative value of the evidence against the prejudice associated with admitting the evidence.

In HLP, the Tax Court held that it was preferable to disqualify the expert at the qualification stage. The Court based its conclusions on many of the taxpayer’s allegations, including the following:

  • the proposed expert witness was involved with the audit and objection;
  • the proposed expert witness delivered the opinion (the technical review report) that served as the basis for the assessment;
  • following the taxpayer’s representations, the proposed expert witness also wrote an addendum to the technical review report in which she maintained the same position;
  • the proposed expert witness participated in every meeting with the taxpayer as the CRA’s representative;
  • the proposed expert witness confused her role as an RTA with that as an expert witness; and
  • the proposed expert witness reproduced word-for-word paragraphs from her technical review report.

The Tax Court was careful to note that it was not disqualifying the expert on the basis of her employment with the CRA but rather on the basis of her close involvement throughout the audit and objection stages of the file.

The Tax Court allowed the Crown to submit a new expert report.

The Tax Court’s decision in HLP will have a direct impact on future cases in which proposed expert witnesses were involved in the audit and objection processes as CRA employees. Such employees – though they may have the required professional qualifications to testify as an expert witness – cannot be qualified as expert witnesses because they lack the necessary impartiality to testify.

, ,

Tax Court: CRA Employee May Not Testify as Expert

SCC Clarifies Law on Admissibility of Expert Evidence

The Supreme Court has released its decision in White Burgess Langille Inman v. Abbott and Haliburton (2015 SCC 23) in which it considered whether the standards for admissibility of expert evidence should take into account the proposed expert’s (alleged) lack of independence or bias.

The Supreme Court’s decision brings some much-needed clarity to the issue of whether a trial judge can disqualify an expert based on impartiality and lack of independence at the qualification stage (i.e., Mohan).  Until now, there has been conflicting case law on this issue, with the majority of the cases supporting the conclusion that, at a certain point, expert evidence should be ruled inadmissible due to the expert’s lack of impartiality and/or independence.

The important questions that remained unanswered, and that trial courts struggled with, were (1) should the elements of an expert’s duty (i.e., independence and impartiality) go to admissibility of the evidence rather than simply to its weight? (2) If so, is there a threshold admissibility requirement in relation to independence and impartiality?

The Supreme Court unanimously answered both questions with “yes.”

(1)   The Expert’s Duty

The Supreme Court stated that expert witnesses have a duty to the court to give fair, objective and non-partisan opinion evidence.  They must be aware of this duty and be able and willing to carry it out.  Underlying the various formulations of the duty of an expert are three related concepts:

(i)        Impartiality: The expert’s opinion must be impartial in the sense that it reflects an objective assessment of the questions at hand.

(ii)        Independent: It must be independent it in the sense that it is the product of the expert’s independent judgment, uninfluenced by who has retained him or her or the outcome of the litigation.

(iii)        Absence of Bias: It must be unbiased in the sense that it does not unfairly favour one party’s position over another.  The “acid test” is whether the expert’s opinion would not change regardless of which party retained him or her.

However, the Supreme Court recognized that these concepts must be applied to the realities of adversary litigation.  Experts are generally retained, instructed and paid by one of the adversaries. According to the Court, “these facts alone do not undermine the expert’s independence, impartiality and freedom of bias.”

(2)   The Framework

The Court concluded that concerns related to the expert’s duty to the court and his or her willingness and capacity to comply with it are best addressed at the “qualification of expert” element of the Mohan framework (which is part 4 of that test).  A proposed expert witness who is unable and unwilling to fulfill his or her duty to the court is not properly qualified to perform the role of an expert.  If the expert witness does not meet this threshold admissibility requirement, his or her evidence should not be admitted.  Once this threshold is met, however, remaining concerns about an expert witness’s compliance with his or her duty should be considered as part of the overall cost-benefit analysis which the judge conducts to carry out his or her gatekeeping function.

The Supreme Court essentially adopted the 2-part test set out by the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Abbey (2009 ONCA 624) and added its own gloss with respect part 4 of that test:

Step 1

The proponent of the expert evidence must establish the threshold requirements of admissibility.  These are the four Mohan factors (relevance, necessity, absence of an exclusionary rule, and properly qualified expert).

In addition, in the case of an opinion based on novel or contested science or science used for a novel purpose, the reliability of the underlying science for that purpose (see R. v. J.-L.J. (2000 SCC 51) per Binnie J.).

After reviewing Canadian, British, Australian, and U.S. authorities, the Supreme Court concluded that an expert’s lack of independence and impartiality goes to the admissibility of the evidence in addition to being considered in relation to the weight to be given to the evidence if admitted.  In reaching this conclusion, it relied upon Justice Binnie’s oft cited quote in R. v. J-L.J.: “The admissibility of the expert evidence should be scrutinized at the time it is proffered, and not allowed too easy an entry on the basis that all of the frailties could go at the end of the day to weight rather than admissibility”.

The Court concluded that concerns related to the expert’s duty to the court and his or her willingness and capacity to comply with it are best addressed initially in the “properly qualified expert” element of the Mohan framework.  In another recent decision, the Supreme Court held that for expert testimony to be inadmissible, more than a simple appearance of bias is necessary.  The question is not whether a reasonable person would consider that the expert is not independent.  Rather, what must be determined is whether the expert’s lack of independence renders him or her incapable of giving an impartial opinion in the specific circumstances of the case (Mouvement Laïque Québécois v. Saguenay (City) (2015 SCC 160) at para. 106).

Evidence that does not meet these threshold requirements should be excluded.

Step 2

Finding that expert evidence meets the basic threshold does not end the inquiry. At the second discretionary gatekeeping step, the judge balances the potential risks and benefits of admitting the evidence in order to decide whether the potential benefits justify the risks (put another way, whether otherwise admissible expert evidence should be excluded because its probative value was overborne by its prejudicial effect).  This is a residual discretion to exclude evidence based on a cost-benefit analysis. The Court adopted Doherty J.A.’s summary of this balancing exercise in Abbey – that the “trial judge must decide whether expert evidence that meets the preconditions to admissibility is sufficiently beneficial to the trial process to warrant its admission despite the potential harm to the trial process that may flow from the admission of the expert evidence.”

(3)   The Threshold

The Court also discussed the appropriate threshold for admissibility.  If a witness is unable or unwilling to fulfill his or her duty, they do not qualify to perform the role of an expert and should be excluded.  The expert witness must, therefore, be aware of this primary duty to the court and be able and willing to carry it out.  While the Court wouldn’t go so far as to hold that the expert’s independence and impartiality should be presumed absent challenge, the Court did state that absent such challenge, the expert’s attestation or testimony recognizing and accepting the duty will generally be sufficient to establish that this threshold is met.

Once the expert testifies on oath to this effect, the burden is on the party opposing the admission of the evidence to show that there is a realistic concern that the expert’s evidence should not be received because the expert is unable and/or unwilling to comply with that duty. If the opponent does so, the burden to establish on a balance of probabilities this aspect of the admissibility threshold remains on the party proposing to call the evidence.  If this is not done, the evidence, or those parts of it that are tainted by a lack of independence or by impartiality, should be excluded.

The Court held that this threshold requirement is not particularly onerous and it will likely be quite rare that a proposed expert’s evidence would be ruled in admissible for failing to meet it. The trial judge must determine, having regard to both the particular circumstances of the proposed expert and the substance of the proposed evidence, whether the expert is able and willing to carry out his or her primary duty to the court.  It is the nature and extent of the interest or connection with the litigation or a party thereto which matters, not the mere fact of the interest or connection.  The Court further stated that the existence of some interest or a relationship does not automatically render the evidence of the proposed expert inadmissible.  For example, a mere employment relationship with the party calling the evidence will be insufficient to do so.

The Court went on to provide some examples of types of interests/relationships that may warrant exclusion of the expert’s evidence:

  • A direct financial interest in the outcome of the litigation will be of some concern;
  • A very close familial relationship with one of the parties;
  • Situations in which the proposed expert will probably incur professional liability if his or her opinion is not accepted by the court; or
  • An expert who, in his or her proposed evidence or otherwise, assumes the role of an advocate for a party.

The decision as to whether an expert should be permitted to give evidence despite having an interest or connection with the litigation is a matter of fact and degree.  The concept of apparent bias is not relevant to the question of whether or not an expert witness will be unable or unwilling to fulfill its primary duty to the court.  When looking at an expert’s interest or relationship with a party, the question is whether the relationship or interest results in the expert being unable or unwilling to carry out his or her primary duty to the court to provide fair, non-partisan and objective assistance.

The Court emphasized that exclusion at the threshold stage of the analysis should occur only in very clear cases in which the proposed expert is unable or unwilling to provide the court with fair, objective and non-partisan evidence.  Anything less than clear unwillingness or inability to do so should not lead to exclusion, but be taken into account in the overall weighing of costs and benefits of receiving the evidence.

,

SCC Clarifies Law on Admissibility of Expert Evidence

Westerhoff and McCallum: More from the OCA on Expert Evidence

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Principles set out by the Court of Appeal

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

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

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

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

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

,

Westerhoff and McCallum: More from the OCA on Expert Evidence

Mother Bruno knows best – Weighing the evidence in tax appeals

In my recent blog post on the Newmont Canada Corporation decision I examined the importance that the Federal Court of Appeal attached to credible evidence put forward by taxpayers in tax appeals. The recent decision of Justice Woods in the Tax Court in Bruno v. The Queen is a good illustration of a fair and balanced approach to weighing that evidence.

The taxpayer, Mrs. Bruno, had a business that specialized in supplying custom window coverings. During the 2007 and 2008 taxation years she employed two of her children in the business on a part-time basis and paid them (in the aggregate) $18,000 and $7,000, in each respective year, for their services.

Justice Woods summarized the evidence as follows:

[6] In the 2007 taxation year, Ms. Bruno reported income from the business in the amount of $11,944. In the 2008 taxation year, she reported a loss from the business in the amount of $16,963.

[7] Ms. Bruno’s two children were 15-16 and 13-14 in the years at issue and helped out in the business on weekends and holidays.

[8] According to Ms. Bruno’s evidence, the younger child did less skilled tasks such as cleaning and answering phones, and the older child did mainly clerical work. Both children also spent time learning sales.

[9] Ms. Bruno entered into evidence a summary of the hours worked and wages earned by the children. Wages were payable at the rate of between $10 and $12 per hour. The summary showed that the children generally worked store hours on both weekend days during 2007 and on one weekend day during 2008, as well as on holidays in both years. The reduction in the hours worked in 2008 was explained by Ms. Bruno on the basis that the business was not doing as well in that year.

[10] The wages were not paid by cheque. Instead, Ms. Bruno paid for some of the children’s personal expenditures which in aggregate are approximately equal to the wages shown on the summary. According to Ms. Bruno’s testimony, the expenditures were luxury items that the children chose to purchase out of the money that they had earned. A list of the expenditures with a brief description was kept by Ms. Bruno.

[11] Ms. Bruno stated that her accountant advised her that she could not take a deduction for expenditures on the children’s basic needs, but that she could take a deduction for luxury items. She said that she followed this advice and kept track of the expenses that would qualify.

[12] Ms. Bruno testified that she could veto any of the children’s purchases that were inappropriate but that she usually approved them.

The Crown’s position was short and to the point:

[15] At the outset, I would comment that the Crown did not argue that the wages were unreasonable based on the services performed and there was virtually no cross-examination of Ms. Bruno on this point. I will therefore accept that the amounts are reasonable.

[16] The Crown argued that the expenditures are not deductible because they are personal or living expenditures of Ms. Bruno and the children did not have sufficient discretion over the funds.

Justice Woods dismissed the Crown’s arguments that the children did not have sufficient discretion over the application of the funds:

[22] As for the Crown’s argument that the children did not have sufficient discretion over the funds, this argument is based on the decision of Beaubier J. in Bradley v The Queen, 2006 TCC 500, 2006 DTC 3535. Paragraph 9 of that decision reads:

[9] But in a related family, parent-child situation, payment must be made and deposited as it would be to a stranger. The payee must receive and control the alleged payment in his or her name and be able to use it for his or her benefit without any further control by the payer. That did not happen in this case.

[23] This comment suggests that the children must have complete discretion over the expenditures made. I would respectfully disagree with this and note that Bradley is not a binding precedent since it was an informal procedure case. I see nothing wrong with parents having a veto over expenditures made by their children.

Her conclusion on this point seems unimpeachable. There is little merit in the suggestion that a minor child must have entirely unfettered discretion as to what to do with his or her earnings in order for those amounts to constitute the child’s income. Would it be any less the child’s income if the parents could veto a decision by the minor to purchase a pit bull or pay for hang-glider lessons?

On the broader issue whether wages paid to children were deductible, Justice Woods relied upon the Symes decision of the Supreme Court of Canada:

[19] In considering the interplay between s. 18(1)(a) and (h), the majority decision in Symes concluded that the prohibition for personal expenditures in s. 18(1)(h) does not apply to an expenditure that was laid out for the purpose of earning income. Justice Iacobucci stated, at page 6014:

Upon reflection, therefore, no test has been proposed which improves upon or which substantially modifies a test derived directly from the language of s. 18(1)(a). The analytical trail leads back to its source, and I simply ask the following: did the appellant incur child care expenses for the purpose of gaining or producing income from a business?

[20] Accordingly, if a taxpayer incurs an expense for the purpose of gaining or producing income from a business, the deduction will not be prohibited pursuant to s. 18(1)(h) on the basis that it also has a personal benefit to the taxpayer.

[21] Applying this principle to the facts in this case, if the children are owed wages in reasonable amount, a deduction may be claimed if the wages are paid in the form of purchasing luxury personal items chosen by the children.

Justice Woods then turned to what was undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of this case: weighing and assessing the taxpayer’s evidence.

[24] Turning to the facts of this case, the difficulty that I have with Ms. Bruno’s argument is that the evidence about the expenditures was not sufficiently detailed for me to be satisfied, even on a prima facie basis, that all the expenditures were made for the children’s benefit, let alone that they were for luxury items.

[25] The evidence concerning the nature of the expenditures consisted mainly of Ms. Bruno’s oral testimony and the list that she prepared. As for the oral testimony, it is self‑serving and not sufficiently detailed for me to be satisfied on most of the expenditures. As for the accounting records, a great many of the descriptions of the expenditures were simply too general to be of great assistance.

[26] Based on the evidence as a whole, I am satisfied that some of the expenditures are luxury items for the children’s benefit. However, the evidence is not detailed enough for me to determine which items qualify. It is appropriate in these circumstances, where the appeal is governed by the informal procedure, for the Court to make a rough estimate. On that basis, I propose to allow a deduction for 50 percent of the amounts claimed.

On the one hand she accepted that the services were provided; that the children’s labour actually constituted a tangible benefit to the business. On the other hand the taxpayer had not put forward a sufficiently strong case to persuade Justice Woods that there was not an element of personal benefit to the parents. As a result she split the difference and allowed 50% of the salary expenses claimed.

While the Bruno decision is an informal procedure case and involved relatively small amounts, in my view it clearly illustrates the difficulty a trial judge has in assessing the evidence of a credible witness dealing with difficult or imprecise facts. It further demonstrates the importance of careful preparation of witnesses and the documentary evidence that must be introduced. Finally, it shows once more that counsel must have a finely-tuned ear to anticipate and deal with the types of issues that will likely concern the trial judge.

, , ,

Mother Bruno knows best – Weighing the evidence in tax appeals

FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

The decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Newmont Canada Corporation v. Canada delivered July 27, 2012 was primarily concerned with an unsuccessful attempt by the taxpayer to write off the principal amount of a large loan.  What makes the case quite interesting, however, is a side issue concerning the taxpayer’s claim to write off accrued interest on the loan.  That is where the Federal Court of Appeal parted company with the Tax Court of Canada and provided a useful reminder about the importance of evidence in tax appeals.

The interest in question arose in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 taxation years.  The CRA auditor allowed a portion of the interest expense:

[173]  During the course of the CRA audit, [the taxpayer] provided the CRA auditor, Mr. MacGibbon, with the details of the entries recorded in its general ledger account 2101 between August 1, 1989 and the end of May 1990. [The taxpayer] used this general ledger account to record amounts due from Windarra, including accrued interest on the Windarra Loan.

[174]  Mr. MacGibbon testified that [the taxpayer] did not provide him with any books or records for periods prior to August 1, 1989.

[175]  Based upon his review of the general ledger for account 2101, Mr. MacGibbon was able to identify entries totalling $183,336 that recorded interest income in respect of the interest accrued on the Windarra Loan. As a result, he allowed a deduction under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) in respect of the accrued interest.

While it is not clear why the earlier records were not produced, it is a reasonable inference that they were simply misplaced; they related to periods 20 or more years prior to the trial, which was held in 2009.

The taxpayer’s evidence was simple and direct:

[176]  The Appellant argued that the Minister understated the subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) deduction by $156,888. It arrived at this number by performing the following calculation:

First, it determined the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989 as follows:

a. The amount shown on the balance sheet at December 31, 1989 in respect of the Windarra Loan: $8.513 million

b. Less: the principal amount of the loan at December 31, 1989: $8.25 million

c. Equals the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989: $263,000.

The Appellant then compared the $263,000 with the amount of interest income Mr. MacGibbon had calculated for the periods prior to 1989, namely $106,112.

[177]  It is the Appellant’s position that the difference between $263,000 and $106,112, which is $156,888, represents additional accrued interest income that was included in the income reported in [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 income tax returns.

[178]  During his testimony, Mr. Proctor summarized the Appellant’s argument as follows: “Because we have it on the balance sheet and, since debits must equal credits, it must have been on the Income Statement and we did not adjust it in arriving at net income for income tax purposes. For financial statement purposes it must be in the net income for income tax purposes.”

The Tax Court Judge rejected the taxpayer’s evidence:

[181]  I cannot accept the Appellant’s argument. [The taxpayer] could have recorded the offsetting amount as interest income. Alternatively, it could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account. The only way to determine how the offsetting amounts were recorded in 1988 and the first half of 1989 would be to review the relevant books and records. Unfortunately, the relevant books were not provided to either the Minister or the Court.

[182]  The only evidence before the Court of accrued interest being included in [the taxpayer’s] income was in the working papers of Mr. MacGibbon. I agree with counsel for the Respondent that in order for the Appellant to obtain a deduction in excess of the amount allowed by the Minister “the Court should be presented with something more reliable than a conclusion based on unsubstantiated assumptions.”

Fortunately for the taxpayer, the Federal Court of Appeal held that there was no basis for the Tax Court Judge to reject the taxpayer’s evidence on the point:

[65]  Notwithstanding the auditor’s admission that it was likely that interest accrued in 1988 and the first part of 1989 in the Windarra Loan, the Judge rejected Mr. Proctor’s evidence that additional interest was included in [the taxpayer’s] income on the basis that [the taxpayer] “could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account.” However, for the reasons that follow, there was, in my view, no evidence before the Court to support such a conclusion.

[66]  The Judge found Mr. Proctor to be a credible witness. Mr. Proctor testified that [the taxpayer] would have included the sum of $263,000 in its retained earnings. He reviewed the Reconciliation of Net Income for Tax Purposes form (i.e. the T2S(1) form) provided by [the taxpayer] for each of the 1988 and 1989 taxation years as part of its income tax returns (Appeal Book volume 2, pages 81 and 109) and identified no adjustments “in moving from financial statement income to net income for tax purposes relating to Windarra” (Appeal Book volume 7, page 1699).

[67]  With respect to the Judge’s reference to deferred revenue and reserve accounts, while [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did show a deferred revenue liability (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1176 and 1181), the notes to its financial statements specified that the deferred revenue liability related solely to [the taxpayer’s] gold loan owed to a consortium of Canadian banks (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1178 and 1188). The 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did not record any reserve accounts.

[68]  In this circumstance there was, in my respectful view, no evidence on which to impugn Mr. Proctor’s evidence, so that the Judge committed a reviewable error in rejecting the evidence for the reasons that he gave. Mr. Proctor’s evidence, together with the auditor’s concession established that [the taxpayer] had included the additional sum of $156,888 in interest income in its income tax returns.

[69]  It remained for [the taxpayer] to establish that the interest income was or became a bad debt. This required consideration of whether any monies paid to it pursuant to the Settlement Agreement were allocated to monies owing on account of interest. If so, that portion of the interest income would not be a bad debt.

[70]  Article 1(3) of the Settlement Agreement evidenced the parties’ agreement that the settlement proceeds were to be “applied on account of the principal amount of the [Windarra] Loan.” This established on a prima facie basis that all of the interest owing to [the taxpayer] pursuant to the Windarra Loans was a bad debt.

[71]  To conclude on this point, in my view, this Settlement Agreement combined with the evidence of Mr. Proctor and the auditor’s concession was sufficient to demolish the Minister’s assumption. Further, counsel for the Minister did not point to any evidence which rebutted [the taxpayer’s] prima facie case.

[72]  It follows that [the taxpayer] established its entitlement to deduct $156,888 under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) of the Act in 1992.

The case serves as a useful reminder about two important points.  First, the rules of onus are alive and well (as also discussed in my recent blog post on McMillan v. Canada).  Once a taxpayer has raised a prima facie case rebutting the Minister’s assumptions, the Minister cannot succeed unless Crown counsel can adduce additional evidence or otherwise undermine that prima facie case.

Second, and perhaps more important, the case demonstrates that solid evidentiary preparation and strong witnesses are critical if a taxpayer hopes succeed in the courts.  As it is exceedingly rare for the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn findings of fact made by a Tax Court Judge, every effort must be made to adduce evidence, both documentary and viva voce, in the Tax Court of Canada in order to maximize the likelihood of success both at trial and on appeal.

, , ,

FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

Tax Court of Canada Authorizes Commission Evidence to be Taken in the U.S. on an Art Valuation Case: Sackman v. The Queen

On October 21, 2011, the Tax Court of Canada (Justice Valerie Miller) released her decision on a motion brought by the Crown for commission evidence to be taken in California from an art dealer (see our earlier post). The Court held that the art dealer’s testimony is material to the appeal, which deals with the valuation of artwork in the context of a charitable donation program, and ordered that a Commission and a Letter of Request be issued to allow the examination of Mr. Sloan in California under section 112 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure).

The Court took into account the following factors in exercising its discretion to make the order:

(a) the convenience of the person whom the party seeks to examine,

(b) the possibility that the person will be unavailable to testify at the hearing by reason of death, infirmity or sickness,

(c) the possibility that the person will be beyond the jurisdiction of the Court at the time of the hearing,

(d) the expense of bringing the person to the hearing,

(e) whether the witness ought to give evidence in person at the hearing, and

(f) any other relevant consideration.

The Court was satisfied that the Crown had fulfilled the traditional tests for commission evidence, namely:

1. the application is made bona fide;

2. the issue is one which the court ought to try;

3. the witnesses to be examined can give evidence material to the issue;

4. there is some good reason why he or she cannot be examined here.

The only real issue was materiality of the dealer’s evidence.  The Crown submitted that its:

. . . theory of the case is that there was no identifiable market for the prints before Coleman, Silver and Artistic [the promoters] created a market through the donation program. Mr. Sloan is able to give evidence concerning the origins of the donation program and the absence of any discernible market for the artwork before it was packaged as part of the Artistic program. His testimony is also necessary to authenticate documents necessary to challenge the appellant’s anticipated expert evidence.

The Court also noted that the Crown is entitled “to put its best foot forward in this litigation” and should be allowed to obtain the evidence necessary to accomplish that objective.

, , , , , ,

Tax Court of Canada Authorizes Commission Evidence to be Taken in the U.S. on an Art Valuation Case: Sackman v. The Queen

Request for Commission Evidence in the Tax Court of Canada – Sackman v. The Queen

On October 14, 2011, the Tax Court of Canada heard a Crown motion requesting an order for commission evidence in the case of Sackman v. The Queen (Court file 2002-4824(IT)G). The issue in the appeal is whether the amount Mr. Sackman is entitled to claim as a charitable deduction for artwork obtained from Artistic Ideas Inc. and donated to various charities is (a) the appraised value of the artwork or (b) the purchase price of the artwork.

The motion was brought by the Crown so that the Tax Court may receive the evidence of Mr. Paul Sloan (who lives in California) prior to the hearing pursuant to Section 119 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure). Mr. Sloan had provided works of art to Artistic Ideas Inc., which he obtained through past ownership of various art galleries in the United States.

The Crown argued that Mr. Sloan’s evidence is material. In light of the fact that Mr. Sackman obtained the artwork from Mr. Sloan, Mr. Sloan could provide evidence as to the true value of the artwork. The Crown described the test in GlaxoSmithKline Inc. v. The Queen, which sets out the factors the Tax Court will consider in determining whether to grant a request for commission evidence. The Crown submitted that the request satisfied those criteria.

Counsel for Mr. Sackman submitted that the crux of the GlaxoSmithKline test is to determine whether the evidence is relevant to the case. Counsel argued that the Crown had not provided any evidence or support, either in its written or oral submissions, to demonstrate why Mr. Sloan’s evidence will be material. Counsel also submitted that should the Court grant the request for commission evidence, Mr. Sackman would be prejudiced through yet another delay (the Notice of Appeal was filed on December 16, 2002). Finally, counsel argued that the value of the artwork was supported by reputable appraisers and the manner in which the artwork was acquired or the individual from whom it was acquired should have no bearing on the decision of the Court.

Justice Valerie Miller reserved judgment on the motion.

, , , , ,

Request for Commission Evidence in the Tax Court of Canada – Sackman v. The Queen