Many tax rectification cases address situations in which certain transaction documents contain errors that do not accord with the parties’ intent to minimize or avoid taxes. However, there are several cases in which the courts are asked to correct errors in a company’s constating documents – errors that lead to unintended and adverse tax results for the company or its shareholders.
In Lau v. A.G. (Canada) (2014 BCSC 2384), the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether a mistake in the drafting of a company’s Articles of Incorporation could be corrected under BC corporate law and/or the doctrine of rectification.
0777020 B.C. Ltd. was incorporated in 2006. The Articles of the company stated, among other things, that the Class E preferred shares could be issued (i) as a stock dividend, or (ii) in exchange for property. The directors of the company could establish the redemption amount of the Class E shares, but the Articles stated that this power of the directors existed only in respect of the issuance of the shares for property (i.e., no redemption amount could be determined where such Class E shares were issued as a stock dividend).
In 2008, the company issued 100 Class E shares as a stock dividend. The directors determined the redemption value to be $17,635,000. There were several subsequent transfers of these Class E shares among the individual shareholders and companies in the corporate group, and certain pre-existing liabilities were cancelled as a result of the Class E share transfers.
Subsequently, the CRA alleged the Class E shares had never been validly issued because no power to determine a redemption value existed in the company’s Articles. The CRA reassessed an individual shareholder to include $17.3 million in his income for 2008.
The individual shareholder objected and eventually appealed to the Tax Court. In the meantime, the company brought proceedings in the British Columbia provincial court to correct certain errors in the corporate documents, including the provision in the Articles addressing the directors’ power to determine the redemption value of the Class E shares. There were several proceedings that addressed the various errors:
- May 21, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate first proceeding to correct various corporate documents
- September 17, 2013 – Court grants requested relief in first proceeding
- December 4, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate second proceeding to correct various corporate documents and Articles
- April 10, 2014 – Taxpayer amends second proceeding to remove requested relief in respect of Articles
- April 30, 2014 – Court grants requested relief in second proceeding
- May 2, 2014 – Taxpayers initiate third proceeding to correct provision in Articles addressing Class E share redemption value
In the third proceeding, the taxpayers had revived the relief originally requested in the second proceeding in respect of the Articles. However, they adduced and relied on more extensive evidence concerning the drafting error. In response, the CRA argued that (i) the issue was barred by cause of action estoppel, (ii) the BC Court should decline jurisdiction, and (iii) rectification should not be granted.
On the first two issues, the BC Court held that (i) cause of action estoppel did not apply to prevent the taxpayers from seeking rectification of the Articles, and (ii) the BC provincial courts have exclusive jurisdiction to consider the requested relief (i.e., under the British Columbia Business Corporation Act or the doctrine of rectification) and it was not appropriate to decline jurisdiction in favour of the Tax Court of Canada.
On the third issue, the BC Court noted that the taxpayers had sought relief based on ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA and the court’s equitable jurisdiction. The BC Court held that the evidence of the individual shareholders and their counsel clearly established that the parties intended for the company’s directors to have the power to determine the redemption price of the Class E shares when issued as a stock dividend and in exchange for property. The absence of language in the Articles in respect of this power was a result of an error by the company’s solicitor.
The BC Court stated that ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA provide a court with the ability to correct any corporate mistake. Further, the BC Court was satisfied that the taxpayers had proven they had a common intention to empower the directors to determine the redemption amount and that the company’s Articles did not reflect this true intention.
The BC Court ordered that the Articles were corrected nunc pro tunc from 2006 to include language that established the proper powers of the directors.
On a sub-issue, the BC Court considered whether the CRA should have been named as a party in the third proceeding (the taxpayers had named the CRA as a party in the first two proceedings, but had refused to name the CRA as a party in the third).
The BC Court noted that there did not appear to be any consensus or consistent approach on this issue. The BC Court stated that the CRA need not be named as a party in every BC BCA or rectification proceeding. In the appropriate circumstances, the CRA may apply to be named as a party, and a court may exercise its discretion to join the CRA as a party. In this case, it was appropriate that the CRA be named as a party.
In light of the mixed success on the application, the BC Court did not award costs to either party.