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Waiving rights of objection and appeal: SCC declines to hear the taxpayer’s appeal in Taylor v. The Queen

On August 15, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the application for leave to appeal in Terry E.Taylor v. Her Majesty the Queen (2012 FCA 148).

In Taylor, the issue was whether a signed settlement agreement under which the taxpayer waived his right to appeal was binding. In that case, the taxpayer was assessed for income tax and GST, as well as gross negligence penalties and interest. He signed a settlement agreement under which the Minister of National Revenue would vacate the gross negligence penalties and, in exchange, he would waive his right to object or appeal in accordance with subsections 165(1.2) and 169(2.2) of the Income Tax Act and subsections 301(1.6) and 206.1(2) of the Excise Tax Act. The taxpayer, who did not have counsel advising him at the time, later claimed that he was under duress when he signed the agreement. Having already disposed of the penalties, he went to Tax Court to challenge the amount of tax assessed.

Justice Judith Woods held that the taxpayer’s testimony that he was “scared” and pressured into signing the agreement lacked credibility given his qualifications as a Certified Management Accountant and his extensive business and financial experience. He had ample time to consult with counsel prior to meeting with the CRA. The Tax Court held that the settlement agreement was “freely made” and signed without “undue pressure.”  The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal (2010 TCC 246) and the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed at 2012 FCA 148. As noted above, the Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear Mr. Taylor’s appeal.

Taylor adds to an existing body of case law on the question of whether, and under what circumstances, settlement agreements between taxpayers and the CRA can be set aside. The Tax Court has held that in certain limited circumstances a settlement agreement may not be binding. For example, in 1390758 Ontario Corporation v. The Queen (2010 TCC 572) and Huppe v. the Queen (2010 TCC 644), agreements were held to be binding so long as they were made on a “principled” basis (see, for example, Daniel Sandler and Colin Campbell, “Catch-22: A Principled Basis for the Settlement of Tax Appeals“, Canadian Tax Journal (2009), Vol. 57, No. 4, 762-86).

Given that a significant portion of tax disputes are settled and never reach the courtroom, professional advisors should ensure that taxpayers understand the implications of signing settlement agreements under which they relinquish rights of objection or appeal.

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Waiving rights of objection and appeal: SCC declines to hear the taxpayer’s appeal in Taylor v. The Queen

Supreme Court dismisses leave application in Johnson v. The Queen

On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed (with costs) the application for leave to appeal in the case of Donna M. Johnson v. Her Majesty The Queen.

The issue in Johnson was the tax treatment of receipts from a Ponzi scheme. The Tax Court (2011 TCC 540) allowed the taxpayer’s appeal and held that the receipts were not income from a source for the purpose of paragraph 3(a) of the Income Tax Act. The Federal Court of Appeal (2012 FCA 253) reversed the lower court’s decision, allowing the Crown’s appeal.

I commented on the decisions of the Tax Court and the Federal Court of Appeal in the March 2013 Ontario Bar Association Tax Section newsletter.

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Supreme Court dismisses leave application in Johnson v. The Queen

Another Tax Court hearing ordered for GlaxoSmithKline Inc. on the first transfer pricing case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada

This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the Crown’s appeal in The Queen v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc., the first transfer pricing case to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada under subsection 69(2) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”) and ordered the parties to return to the Tax Court of Canada for the determination of the appropriate transfer price.  The Supreme Court of Canada remitted the matter to the Tax Court of Canada:

[76]   . . . to be redetermined, having regard to the effect of the Licence Agreement on the prices paid by Glaxo Canada for the supply of ranitidine from Adechsa.  The Tax Court judge should consider any new evidence the parties seek to adduce and that he may choose to allow.

The Supreme Court endorsed and elaborated on the legal test set out by the Federal Court of Appeal and rejected the test applied by the Tax Court.  However, it is important to note that subsection 69(2) has been replaced by subection 247(2) of the Act which applies in respect of taxation years and fiscal periods beginning after 1997.  The taxation years at issue in this litigation were 1990-1993.

The reasons for judgment were delivered by Justice Rothstein for a panel of seven (the other members of the panel were the Chief Justice, Justice Deschamps, Justice Abella, Justice Cromwell, Justice Moldaver and Justice Karakatsanis).

By way of background, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. (“Glaxo Canada”) purchased ranitidine, the active ingredient in the anti-ulcer medication called Zantac, from a Swiss non-arm’s length source approved by Glaxo UK (“Adechsa S.A.”) which was part of the Glaxo Group in the U.K.  It did so at a price approximately five times higher than the price at which the same ranitidine was sold in the market to Canadian generic drug manufacturers who did not have the right to manufacture or sell Zantac.

Glaxo Canada could not have gone into the market to purchase ranitidine at the price paid by the generic drug manufacturers and use that ranitidine to manufacture and sell Zantac in Canada.  It had the right to manufacture and sell Zantac in Canada under an agreement with Glaxo Group pursuant to which it was required to purchase all of its ranitidine from Adechsa S.A. at a price determined by Glaxo Group.  Glaxo Canada entered into a Licence Agreement with Glaxo Group which allowed it to manufacture and sell Zantac in Canada in consideration of a royalty payment to Glaxo Group.  Glaxo Canada was also required to purchase the raw ingredient, ranitidine, from a source approved by Glaxo Group (i.e., Adechsa S.A.) under a Supply Agreement between it and Adechsa S.A.  During the years at issue, the price of ranitidine purchased by Glaxo Canada was $1500 per kilogram while identical ranitidine was available and was purchased by generic drug manufacturers at $300 per kilogram.

The 1985 version of subsection 69(2) applicable to the years 1990-1993 reads:

(2) Where a taxpayer has paid or agreed to pay to a non-resident person with whom the taxpayer was not dealing at arm’s length as price, rental, royalty or other payment for or for the use or reproduction of any property, or as consideration for the carriage of goods or passengers or for other services, an amount greater than the amount (in this subsection referred to as “the reasonable amount”) that would have been reasonable in the circumstances if the non-resident person and the taxpayer had been dealing at arm’s length, the reasonable amount shall, for the purpose of computing the taxpayer’s income under this Part, be deemed to have been the amount that was paid or is payable therefor.

The Decision of the Tax Court of Canada

The issue before the Tax Court was whether the amount paid by the taxpayer to the non-arm’s-length party was “reasonable in the circumstances.”  The Tax Court held that (a) the “comparable uncontrolled price” (or CUP) method was the most accurate way to determine the arm’s-length price for ranitidine and (b) the appropriate comparable transactions were the purchases of ranitidine by the generic manufacturers. Subject to a relatively minor adjustment, the Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

The Decision of the Federal Court of Appeal

The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the taxpayer’s appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the Tax Court had erred in its application of the “reasonable in the circumstances” test, and that it should have inquired into the circumstances that an arm’s-length purchaser in the taxpayer’s position would have considered relevant in deciding what reasonable price to pay for ranitidine. The Court of Appeal set aside the Tax Court judgment and sent the matter back to the Tax Court to be reconsidered.

The Hearing Before the Supreme Court of Canada

At the hearing, Crown counsel emphasized the fact that the only transaction under review was the purchase of ranitidine.  As counsel put it at the hearing, you don’t throw into the analysis “the whole deal.”  She argued that the only question is “what is an arm’s length price to pay for ranitidine?”  Counsel contended that one must strip away the non-arm’s length circumstance (i.e., the requirement to buy ranitidine at a price set by Glaxo Group).

(a) Questions for the Crown at the Supreme Court Hearing

Justice Abella was concerned about whether it was fair for the Crown to compare (under the CUP method) on the one hand the price paid by Glaxo Canada for ranitidine that was destined to become Zantac and, on the other hand, the price paid by generic drug manufacturers for ranitidine that was not destined to become Zantac.  Justice Abella asked counsel whether “in the circumstances” in subsection 69(2) meant that you look at the whole deal.  Counsel argued that you can’t look at the whole deal.

The Chief Justice focused on the words of 69(2) “that would have been reasonable in the circumstances” and asked Crown counsel what is to be included in “the circumstances”.  Crown counsel contended that the only relevant circumstance is the price of ranitidine paid by the generic drug manufacturers in Canada.  The Crown maintained that one cannot take into account any “non-arm’s length” circumstance (e.g., that Glaxo Canada must pay the price set by Glaxo Group) and that all non-arm’s length circumstances must be stripped out of the analysis under subsection 69(2).

During the Crown’s reply argument, Justice Cromwell described the Crown’s position as: “Whatever the deal is, we ignore it.”  Crown counsel agreed with that characterization.

Justice Moldaver asked counsel, in light of the decision of Parliament not to use the phrase “reasonable in the circumstances” in the successor provision to subsection 69(2) (subsection 247(2) of the Act), why would the Crown ignore that language and call the whole structure of the deal “background music” and not part of the “circumstances”.

Justice Rothstein remarked that Glaxo Canada was not simply purchasing ranitidine but was purchasing ranitidine for the purpose of resale as Zantac.  If Glaxo Canada went into the market like the generics and purchased ranitidine, they would not have been able to resell it as Zantac and Zantac is their business.  He asked Crown counsel why the words “reasonable in the circumstances” exclude the way that a business plans to use the product it is purchasing.  He noted that there is a “generic market” and a “brand product” market for most drugs.  He asked why those circumstances are not relevant in determining the price someone would pay for ranitidine to be used for “brand product” sales as opposed to ranitidine for “generic product” sale.

In answer to some of these concerns, counsel referred to paragraph 89 of the reasons for judgment of the Tax Court:

[89]     If the legislature intended that the phrase “reasonable in the circumstances” in subsection 69(2) should include all contractual terms there would be no purpose to subsection 69(2); any MNE would be able to claim that its parent company would not allow it to purchase from another supplier. No MNE would ever have its transfer prices measured against arm’s length prices, because all MNEs would allege that they could purchase only from sources approved by the parent company. The controlling corporation in a MNE would structure its relationships with its related companies, and as between its related companies, in this manner or in some similar manner. There is no question that the appellant was required to purchase Glaxo approved ranitidine. The issue is whether a person in Canada dealing at arm’s length with its supplier would have accepted the conditions and paid the price the appellant did.

Justice Deschamps observed that if the Crown is looking at a transaction with a generic company, it is not looking at the same transaction.  Crown counsel responsed by saying that the transaction at issue is a simple purchase of ranitidine and the Minister is only trying to value that one transaction.

Justice Abella asked counsel whether it is relevant to the pricing analysis that this was not just a purchase of ranitidine but a purchase of ranitidine for the purpose of being sold as Zantac.  Crown counsel maintained that this was just a purchase of ranitidine as subsection 69(2) strips out the non-arm’s length element.

Justice Rothstein asked counsel what there would be to argue if the matter were remitted back to the Tax Court.  Counsel responded that the Minister’s position would be exactly the same (the price paid by Glaxo Canada was not “the reasonable amount”) based on the evidence of what the generic drug manufacturers paid.  The Crown concluded by arguing that you simply cannot find a comparator selling Zantac without the concomitant non-arm’s length circumstances.

(b) Questions for Glaxo Canada at the Supreme Court Hearing

Justice Abella asked counsel whether there was any way of determining whether $1,500 per kilogram was the “fair market value” of the ranitidine to someone in Glaxo Canada’s position.  How do you test the “reasonableness” of the $1,500 per kilo price?  Counsel responded by saying that that wasn’t the Minister’s case.  The Minister simply assessed on the basis that Glaxo Canada paid more than the generics did and that was the only relevant comparator.  Once that theory was set aside by Federal Court of Appeal, that was the end of it.

The Chief Justice asked counsel whether it would be possible for taxpayers to avoid Part XIII tax on royalties for the use of intellectual property if no actual royalty was paid but was, instead, effectively embedded in the cost of the goods.  Counsel replied that such “unbundling” is unnecessary as other provisions deal with abusive tax avoidance such as that.  In any event, there are no such allegations in this case by the Minister (i.e., that “unbundling” is required or that inappropriate tax avoidance has taken place).

The Chief Justice wondered whether the Minister’s allegation that Glaxo Canada paid too much shifted the onus to Glaxo Canada to fully engage in the “unbundling” debate.  Counsel responded that Glaxo Canada paid $1,500 per kilogram to Adechsa S.A. for the ranitidine and paid a separate royalty to Glaxo Group for the use of intellectual property.  The Minister never argued that Glaxo Canada was obliged to do any sort of unbundling in this case.

Justice Rothstein asked counsel whether once the Federal Court of Appeal determined that the wrong test had been applied, it should have remitted the matter back to the Tax Court to determine the non-arm’s length price based on the proper legal test (i.e. taking into account the particular business circumstances around the transaction).  Counsel argued that sending the matter back to the Tax Court would turn the rules of civil litigation in general, and tax litigation in particular, on their heads.  He contended that the Tax Court cannot try a case that was never pleaded by the Crown.  The Chief Justice wondered whether the taxpayer had not discharged its burden of showing that $1,500 per kilogram was “the reasonable amount”.  Counsel responded by observing that Glaxo Canada, at trial, had demolished the basis for the Minister’s assessment and, in light of the judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal, the burden shifts to the Minister – the burden does not remain on the taxpayer to demonstrate why the price charged for the ranitidine was “the reasonable amount”.  Glaxo Canada met the case pleaded against it and the Minister has no right to start all over again in respect of the taxation years at issue.  On the pleadings as they currently stand, there is no case to go back to the Tax Court.

The Decision of the Supreme Court of Canada

In a nutshell, the Court held that the legal test applied by the Tax Court was incorrect as it ignored the Licence Agreement and the Supply Agreement which formed part of the relevant circumstances surrounding the transaction at issue.  As there had been no factual determination of the appropriate transfer price in light of the correct legal test, the Court referred the matter back to the Tax Court to determine the appropriate transfer price.

More detailed commentary will follow in the days to come but, in the meantime, here are some of the more important passages in the decision:

The role of OECD Guidelines

[20]   In the courts below and in this Court, there has been reference to the1979 Guidelines and the 1995 Guidelines (“the Guidelines”).  The Guidelines contain commentary and methodology pertaining to the issue of transfer pricing.  However, the Guidelines are not controlling as if they were a Canadian statute and the test of any set of transactions or prices ultimately must be determined according to s. 69(2) rather than any particular methodology or commentary set out in the Guidelines.

The relevant circumstances

[38]   . . . The requirement of s. 69(2) is that the price established in a non-arm’s length transfer pricing transaction is to be redetermined as if it were between parties dealing at arm’s length.  If the circumstances require, transactions other than the purchasing transactions must be taken into account to determine whether the actual price was or was not greater than the amount that would have been reasonable had the parties been dealing at arm’s length.

                                                                        *  *  *

[42]   Thus, according to the 1995 Guidelines, a proper application of the arm’s length principle requires that regard be had for the “economically relevant characteristics” of the arm’s length and non-arm’s length circumstances to ensure they are “sufficiently comparable”.  Where there are no related transactions or where related transactions are not relevant to the determination of the reasonableness of the price in issue, a transaction-by-transaction approach may be appropriate.  However, “economically relevant characteristics of the situations being compared” may make it necessary to consider other transactions that impact the transfer price under consideration.  In each case it is necessary to address this question by considering the relevant circumstances.

                                                                       *  *  *

[44]   Because s. 69(2) requires an inquiry into the price that would be reasonable in the circumstances had the non-resident supplier and the Canadian taxpayer been dealing at arm’s length, it necessarily involves consideration of all circumstances of the Canadian taxpayer relevant to the price paid to the non-resident supplier.  Such circumstances will include agreements that may confer rights and benefits in addition to the purchase of property where those agreements are linked to the purchasing agreement. The objective is to determine what an arm’s length purchaser would pay for the property and the rights and benefits together where the rights and benefits are linked to the price paid for the property.

Stripping out non-arm’s length elements

[47]   There were only two approved sources, one of which was Adechsa.  Thus, in order to avail itself of the benefits of the Licence Agreement, Glaxo Canada was required to purchase the active ingredient from one of these sources.  This requirement was not the product of the non-arm’s length relationship between Glaxo Canada and Glaxo Group or Adechsa.  Rather, it arose because Glaxo Group controlled the trademark and patent of the brand-name pharmaceutical product Glaxo Canada wished to market. An arm’s length distributor wishing to market Zantac might well be faced with the same requirement.

[48]   The effect of the link between the Licence and Supply agreements was that an entity that wished to market Zantac was subject to contractual terms affecting the price of ranitidine that generic marketers of ranitidine products were not.

[49]   As such, the rights and benefits of the Licence Agreement were contingent on Glaxo Canada entering into a Supply Agreement with suppliers to be designated by Glaxo Group.  The result of the price paid was to allocate to Glaxo Canada what Glaxo Group considered to be appropriate compensation for its secondary manufacturing and marketing function in respect of ranitidine and Zantac.

The use of generic comparators

[53]   . . . the generic comparators do not reflect the economic and business reality of Glaxo Canada and, at least without adjustment, do not indicate the price that would be reasonable in the circumstances, had Glaxo Canada and Adechsa been dealing at arm’s length.

Glaxo Canada was paying for more than just ranitidine

[51]   Thus, it appears that Glaxo Canada was paying for at least some of the rights and benefits under the Licence Agreement as part of the purchase prices for ranitidine from Adechsa.  Because the prices paid to Adechsa were set, in part, as compensation to Glaxo Group for the rights and benefits conferred on Glaxo Canada under the Licence Agreement, the Licence Agreement could not be ignored in determining the reasonable amount paid to Adechsa under s. 69(2), which applies not only to payment for goods but also to payment for services.

[52]   Considering the Licence and Supply agreements together offers a realistic picture of the profits of Glaxo Canada.  It cannot be irrelevant that Glaxo Canada’s function was primarily as a secondary manufacturer and marketer.  It did not originate new products and the intellectual property rights associated with them.  Nor did it undertake the investment and risk involved with originating new products.  Nor did it have the other risks and investment costs which Glaxo Group undertook under the Licence Agreement.  The prices paid by Glaxo Canada to Adechsa were a payment for a bundle of at least some rights and benefits under the Licence Agreement and product under the Supply Agreement.

                                                                    *  *  *

[59]   In addition, while, as Rip A.C.J. found, Glaxo Canada’s ranitidine and generic ranitidine are chemically equivalent and bio-equivalent, he also found that there was value in the fact that Adechsa’s ranitidine manufactured under Glaxo Group’s “good manufacturing practices” “may confer a certain degree of comfort that the good has minimal impurities and is manufactured in a responsible manner” (para. 118).  Zantac is priced higher than the generic products, presumably, at least in part, because of that “degree of comfort” that Rip A.C.J. acknowledged.

[60]   These are all features of the Licence Agreement and the requirement to purchase from a Glaxo-approved source that add value to the ranitidine that Glaxo Canada purchased from Adechsa over and above the value of generic ranitidine without these rights and benefits.  They should justify some recognition in determining what an arm’s length purchaser would be prepared to pay for the same rights and benefits conveyed with ranitidine purchased from a Glaxo Group source.  It is only after identifying the circumstances arising from the Licence Agreement that are linked to the Supply Agreement that arm’s length comparisons under any of the OECD methods or other methods may be determined.

Part XIII (withholding) tax

[57]   Although I said above that the purchase price appeared to be linked to some of the rights and benefits conferred under the Licence Agreement, I make no determination in these reasons as to whether the rights under the ranitidine patent granted to Glaxo Canada to manufacture and sell Zantac and the exclusive right to use the Zantac trademark are linked to the purchase price paid by Glaxo Canada to Adechsa.  However, arguably, if the purchase price includes compensation for intellectual property rights granted to Glaxo Canada, there would have to be consistency between that and Glaxo Canada’s position with respect to Part XIII withholding tax.  This issue was not specifically argued in this Court and may be addressed by the parties in the Tax Court and considered by the Tax Court judge when considering whether any specific rights and benefits conferred on Glaxo Canada under the Licence Agreement are linked to the price for ranitidine paid to Adechsa.

Guidelines for the Tax Court of Canada in making its redetermination

[54]   I agree with Justice Nadon that “the amount that would have been reasonable in the circumstances” if Glaxo Canada and Adechsa had been dealing at arm’s length has yet to be determined.  This will require a close examination of the terms of the Licence Agreement and the rights and benefits granted to Glaxo Canada under that Agreement.

                                                                  *  *  *

[61]   I would offer the following additional guidance with respect to the redetermination.  First, s. 69(2) uses the term “reasonable amount”.  This reflects the fact that, to use the words of the 1995 Guidelines, “transfer pricing is not an exact science” (para. 1.45).  It is doubtful that comparators will be identical in all material respects in almost any case.  Therefore, some leeway must be allowed in the determination of the reasonable amount.  As long as a transfer price is within what the court determines is a reasonable range, the requirements of the section should be satisfied.  If it is not, the court might select a point within a range it considers reasonable in the circumstances based on an average, median, mode, or other appropriate statistical measure, having regard to the evidence that the court found to be relevant.  I repeat for emphasis that it is highly unlikely that any comparisons will yield identical circumstances and the Tax Court judge will be required to exercise his best informed judgment in establishing a satisfactory arm’s length price.

[62]   Second, while assessment of the evidence is a matter for the trial judge, I would observe that the respective roles and functions of Glaxo Canada and the Glaxo Group should be kept in mind.  Glaxo Canada engaged in the secondary manufacturing and marketing of Zantac.  Glaxo Group is the owner of the intellectual property and provided other rights and benefits to Glaxo Canada.  Transfer pricing should not result in a misallocation of earnings that fails to take account of these different functions and the resources and risks inherent in each.  As discussed above, whether or not compensation for intellectual property rights is justified in this particular case, is a matter for determination by the Tax Court judge.

[63]   Third, prices between parties dealing at arm’s length will be established having regard to the independent interests of each party to the transaction.  That means that the interests of Glaxo Group and Glaxo Canada must both be considered.  An appropriate determination under the arm’s length test of s. 69(2) should reflect these realities.

[64]   Fourth, in this case there is some evidence that indicates that arm’s length distributors have found it in their interest to acquire ranitidine from a Glaxo Group supplier, rather than from generic sources.  This suggests that higher-than-generic transfer prices are justified and are not necessarily greater than a reasonable amount under s. 69(2).

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Another Tax Court hearing ordered for GlaxoSmithKline Inc. on the first transfer pricing case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada

The Queen v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc. to be released tomorrow morning: First transfer pricing case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision in The Queen v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc. (F.C.) (33874) on Thursday, October 18, at 9:45 a.m.

In earlier proceedings, the Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal, and the Federal Court of Appeal allowed the taxpayer’s appeal (see our posts on those decisions here and here).

The Crown’s factum may be found here, and GSK Canada’s factum here. Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2012 (see our post on the arguments here). The decision will be the first for the Supreme Court on the issue of transfer pricing.

The two main questions placed before the Supreme Court were:

  1. Did the Federal Court of Appeal err by applying the reasonable business person test to the interpretation of s. 69(2) of the Act?
  2. Did the Federal Court of Appeal err in interpreting s. 69(2) by failing to apply the arm’s-length principle on a transaction-by-transaction basis and on the basis that members of the multinational group are operating as separate entities?

In a cross-appeal by GSK Canada, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether the Federal Court of Appeal erred in ordering that the matter be returned to the trial judge for further determination.

We will blog the decision shortly after its release tomorrow.

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The Queen v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc. to be released tomorrow morning: First transfer pricing case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada

Section 31 of the Income Tax Act – Moldowan Overruled!

It’s been just over four months since the Supreme Court of Canada (the “SCC”) heard oral argument in The Queen v. John H. Craig (see our prior blog post for coverage of the hearing and background on section 31), the only section 31 restricted farm loss case to reach the SCC since the oft-criticized Moldowan v. R., 1977 DTC 5213.

Result: Moldowan has been overruled. It took an uncharacteristically short period of time for the SCC to render its judgment – the unanimous decision emphatically stated that “Moldowan cannot stand.”

Justice Rothstein delivered the reasons, which prescribe a new analysis to be undertaken when a taxpayer needs to determine if his or her income from farming activities (such as a horse racing or breeding business), when combined with some other source of income (such as employment or business income) constitutes a “chief source of income.” If this test is satisfied, then the taxpayer may deduct the full amount of any losses from the farming operation against the other source of income, without restriction. If the test is not satisfied, then section 31 restricts the amount of the deductible loss in any given taxation year to $8,750.

The New Test: The new test outlined by the SCC is still a fact-based analysis to be applied to the particular circumstances of the taxpayer, and has two steps:

Step 1: At the outset, a determination needs to be made that the farming business is in fact a business (a source of income from which losses may be deducted), as opposed to a personal endeavour. This test is enunciated in Stewart v. Canada (2002 SCC 46) as the “commercial manner” test, stating that the farming operation is a business if there is no personal or hobby element; or if there is a personal or hobby element, then the venture must be undertaken in a sufficiently commercial manner “in accordance with objective standards of businesslike behaviour” in order to be considered a business.

Step 2: Once it is determined that the farming operation is a business, the taxpayer is entitled to full deduction of farming losses against another source of income if it is determined that farming and the other source of income is his or her chief source of income, based on the following factors, taken together: the amount of capital invested in farming and the other source of income; the income from each of the two sources of income; the time spent on the two sources of income; and the taxpayer’s ordinary mode of living, farming history and future intentions and expectations. To be successful, it must be shown that the taxpayer has invested significant funds and has spent considerable time attending to the farming business and that the taxpayer places significant emphasis on both the farming and non-farming sources of income. Further, it is not necessary that income from the farming business exceed income from the other source of income – this fact is irrelevant to the analysis.

The new test could be described as the “significant endeavors” test – which is much more palatable than the defunct ‘reasonable expectation of profit’ test or ‘three classes of farmer’ test that has now been buried along with Moldowan. RIP.

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Section 31 of the Income Tax Act – Moldowan Overruled!

Reuters: Corporations Face Long Odds in Tax Cases Heard by the United States Supreme Court – Situation Brighter in Canada

Reuters recently reported a study showing that corporations face very long odds in tax appeals heard by the United States Supreme Court. There were 919 income tax cases in the Supreme Court of the United States from 1909 to 2011. 364 of those cases involved corporations. In “abuse” cases, the government won 61% of the time. In other cases, the government won 68% of the time. The real story is likely much grimmer since the statistics show that the US Supreme Court only grants review in about 2% of leave applications.

The Canadian Supreme Court heard 356 income tax cases between 1920 and 2003. Of these, the statistics show that the government won 223, or roughly 2/3. The record of Supreme Court tax cases between 2004 and 2012 is essentially similar. While an exact breakdown of corporate cases is not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rate of corporations is roughly 1/3 (a more detailed analysis will be available in the future).

While the Canadian experience appears superficially to mirror the American statistics, a very different story is disclosed by Canadian leave to appeal statistics.

Year      Denied Granted
2001

579

79

2002

433

53

2003

523

75

2004

466

83

2005

492

65

2006

406

55

2007

550

69

2008

448

51

2009

444

59

2010

388

54

2011

398

62

Total

5127

705

     
Grand Total

5832

 
     
Average

0.120885

 

As the chart demonstrates, roughly 12% of leave applications are granted in Canada. Thus, corporations and other taxpayers may have as high as 6 times more likelihood of success in a tax appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada than in cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Reuters: Corporations Face Long Odds in Tax Cases Heard by the United States Supreme Court – Situation Brighter in Canada

Further thoughts on the Fundy Settlement decision: Supreme Court offers a nuanced view of trust residence

In Garron Family Trust v. The Queen (2009 TCC 450), Justice Judith Woods of the Tax Court of Canada came down with a very broad new rule for determining the residence of trusts.

[162]  I conclude, then, that the judge-made test of residence that has been established for corporations should also apply to trusts, with such modifications as are appropriate. That test is “where the central management and control actually abides.”

This was viewed widely as a repudiation of the historic test based on the residence of the trustee. Many tax professionals thought that the test for residence of a trust required a determination of the residence of the majority of the trustees and where their functions were performed, and that it was not necessary to go beyond this test.

The Federal Court of Appeal in St. Michael Trust Corp. v. Canada (2010 FCA 309) appeared to endorse Justice Woods’ new legal test but in a somewhat guarded fashion:

[63]    St. Michael Trust Corp. argues that a test of central management and control cannot be applied to a trust because a trust is a “legal relationship” without a separate legal personality. I do not accept this argument. It is true that as a matter of law a trust is not a person, but it is also true that for income tax purposes, a trust is treated as though it were a person. In my view, it is consistent with that implicit statutory fiction to recognize that the residence of a trust may not always be determined by the residence of its trustee.

[64]    St. Michael Trust Corp. also argues that the residence of the trust must be determined as the residence of the trustee because section 104 of the Income Tax Act embodies the trust, as taxpayer, in the person of the trustee. In my view, that gives section 104 a meaning beyond its words and purpose. Section 104 was enacted to solve the practical problems of tax administration that would necessarily arise when it was determined that trusts were to be taxed despite the absence of legal personality. I do not read section 104 as a signal that Parliament intended that in all cases, the residence of the trust must be the residence of the trustee.

When the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal, some tax professionals were puzzled.  These tax professionals believed that it was unlikely the decision would be reversed since the Crown had a very strong factual case that the trusts in question were managed in Canada by the trust beneficiaries.  The decision released on April 12 by the Supreme Court (Fundy Settlement v. Canada, 2012 SCC 14) in fact dismissed the appeal in somewhat cursory fashion.

[15]    As with corporations, residence of a trust should be determined by the principle that a trust resides for the purposes of the Act where “its real business is carried on” (De Beers, at p. 458), which is where the central management and control of the trust actually takes place.  As indicated, the Tax Court judge found as a fact that the main beneficiaries exercised the central management and control of the trusts in Canada.  She found that St. Michael had only a limited role ― to provide administrative services ― and little or no responsibility beyond that (paras. 189-90).  Therefore, on this test, the trusts must be found to be resident in Canada.  This is not to say that the residence of a trust can never be the residence of the trustee.  The residence of the trustee will also be the residence of the trust where the trustee carries out the central management and control of the trust, and these duties are performed where the trustee is resident.  These, however, were not the facts in this case.

[16]    We agree with Woods J. that adopting a similar test for trusts and corporations promotes “the important principles of consistency, predictability and fairness in the application of tax law” (para. 160).  As she noted, if there were to be a totally different test for trusts than for corporations, there should be good reasons for it.  No such reasons were offered here.  [Emphasis added]

On a close reading it is arguable that the Supreme Court has gently tempered the new rule set out by Justice Woods and, to some extent, by the Federal Court of Appeal.  Where the trustee does what it is supposed to do, including managing the trust and its properties, the operative test remains the residence of the trustee.  It would seem that only where the trustee carries on those “management and control” activities in a place other than where the trustee is resident, or where the trustee abdicates many of its powers to a third party, that Justice Woods’ new test becomes relevant.

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Further thoughts on the Fundy Settlement decision: Supreme Court offers a nuanced view of trust residence

Panel of Tax Experts Debates Impact of Copthorne Decision at Canadian Tax Foundation Seminar

On Thursday, January 26, 2012, in the ballroom of the historic Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, the Canadian Tax Foundation hosted a lively panel discussion on the recent Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decision in Copthorne Holdings Ltd. v. The Queen. The event was also webcast, with an audience from coast to coast in Canada, and internationally as far away as France and New Zealand.

The decision in Copthorne centred on whether a “doubling-up” of paid-up capital (“PUC”) amounted to abusive tax avoidance that should be subject to the application of the general anti-avoidance rule (“GAAR”). For more on the Copthorne decision, see our previous post here.

The esteemed panel included a diverse group of tax experts. Madame Justice Karen Sharlow of the Federal Court of Appeal and Mr. Justice Wyman W. Webb of the Tax Court of Canada provided judicial insights into the potential ramifications of the SCC’s decision in Copthorne. Noted tax litigators Al Meghji of the private bar and Elizabeth Chasson of the Department of Justice considered the impact that the decision may have on the tax dispute resolution process, particularly in instances where the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) is seeking to impose the GAAR. Tim Wach, a tax planner in private practice who was previously seconded to the Department of Finance, and Wayne Adams, former Director General, Income Tax Rulings at CRA rounded out the panel.

The discussion, moderated by Justin Kutyan, Pooja Samtani and Timothy Fitzsimmons of the CTF’s Young Practitioner’s group in Toronto, began with several panel members expressing their opinions on whether the decision in Copthorne changed their understanding of the application of the GAAR. Mr. Adams indicated that the SCC seems to have affirmed the CRA’s application of the GAAR where taxpayers have “created” tax attributes or have otherwise engaged in “sleight of hand”. Madame Justice Sharlow noted that the impact of Copthorne cannot be fairly assessed separate and apart from particular fact situations which will be presented to the courts in due course. Mr. Meghji said that, in his opinion, the approach taken by the Supreme Court is notably distinct from the approach taken in other international GAAR cases, particularly those coming from Australia and New Zealand.

The panel was also asked for their views on the impact of the Copthorne decision on the meaning of “series of transactions” as it is used in Canadian tax law generally. Mr. Wach expressed the view that he did not think that the decision required the Department of Finance to revise the extended meaning of “series of transactions” in subsection 248(10) of the Income Tax Act (Canada). Mr. Adams noted that, in his view, the Court validated the CRA’s approach to the concept of a “series of transactions” as it has been applied for the last 15 years (in contrast, he noted, to earlier cases in the which the SCC emphatically rejected CRA’s approach in other areas). The panel session also included a rather animated debate among the panel members on the role of the GAAR Committee in light of Copthorne and whether the positions taken by individual members of the GAAR Committee would be relevant to a Court in deciding a GAAR case.

The panel engaged in a lively discussion touching on many aspects of the Copthorne decision, the meaning of “series of transactions” and the GAAR more generally. While there was agreement among certain panel members on some issues, there was also respectful disagreement on many others with each member of the panel expressing his or her views with considerable passion and conviction.

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Panel of Tax Experts Debates Impact of Copthorne Decision at Canadian Tax Foundation Seminar

Arguments conclude in first transfer pricing case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada: GlaxoSmithKline Inc. v. The Queen

On Friday morning January 13, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in GlaxoSmithKline Inc. v. The Queen. See our earlier posts on the case here and here.

By way of background, Glaxo Canada purchased ranitidine, the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Zantac, a branded ulcer medication, from a non-arm’s-length non-resident. In 1990-1993, Glaxo Canada paid approximately $1,500 per kg of ranitidine, while generic purchasers of ranitidine were paying approximately $300 per kg. The Minister of National Revenue reassessed Glaxo Canada under former section 69 of the Income Tax Act on the basis that the taxpayer had overpaid for the ranitidine in light of the fact that generic manufacturers were paying considerably less for the same ingredient.

The issue before the Tax Court was whether the amount paid by the taxpayer to the non-arm’s-length party was “reasonable in the circumstances.” The Tax Court held that (a) the “comparable uncontrolled price” (or CUP) method was the most accurate way to determine the arm’s-length price for ranitidine and (b) the appropriate comparable transactions were the purchases of ranitidine by the generic manufacturers. Subject to a relatively minor adjustment, the Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal.

The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the taxpayer’s appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the lower court had erred in its application of the “reasonable in the circumstances” test, and that it should have inquired into the circumstances that an arm’s-length purchaser in the taxpayer’s position would have considered relevant in deciding what reasonable price to pay for ranitidine. The Court of Appeal set aside the lower court judgment and sent the matter back to the Tax Court to be reconsidered.

The Crown appealed and Glaxo Canada cross-appealed the portion of the order sending the matter back to the Tax Court. The appeal was heard by a seven-member panel of the Court (Chief Justice McLachlin, Justice Dechamps, Justice Abella, Justice Rothstein, Justice Cromwell, Justice Moldaver and Justice Karakatsanis).

The Crown argued that the analysis under subsection 69(2) required a “stripping away” of the surrounding circumstances of the transaction in question and, in particular, the license agreement pursuant to which Glaxo Canada was entitled to market and sell the drug ranitidine under the brand name Zantac.  Having done that, the only relevant comparator was the price of ranitidine on the “open market”, namely, the price paid for ranitidine by generic drug manufacturers.

The Court asked a number of questions about whether subsection 69(2) (with its reference to “in the circumstances”) makes the ultimate use of the ranitidine relevant to the analysis. Several judges asked whether it made a difference that the ranitidine purchased by Glaxo Canada was to be marketed and sold as Zantac, a branded product that would yield a higher retail price than the equivalent generic product.  Justices Abella and Rothstein were particular active during this discussion.

In stark contrast to the Crown’s position, Glaxo Canada contended that the only question to be answered under subsection 69(2) was whether two arm’s-length parties, sitting across a boardroom table, would arrive at the same deal that was concluded by Glaxo Canada and its non-resident parent company. Justice Abella wondered if, even in those circumstances, an arm’s-length party would pay $1,500 for a kilogram of ranitidine.

Chief Justice McLachlin asked about bundling and its relationship to transfer pricing – if the $1,500/kg price included an amount paid for something other than ranitidine why was it not identified by Glaxo Canada as such and why was withholding tax not remitted thereon under section 212 of the Act? Counsel for Glaxo Canada responded by making two points: First, if a portion of the price paid by Glaxo Canada for ranitidine were more properly characterized as royalties, for example, such amounts would be expenses to Glaxo Canada and thus there was no mischief from a transfer pricing perspective in bundling them into the cost of the goods. Second, it is not the policy or practice of the CRA to require taxpayers to unbundle intellectual property or other intangibles from tangible property as, presumably, the practical burden imposed by such a requirement would be difficult to overstate. It was unclear whether the tension between the issues of bundling and arm’s-length pricing was resolved at the hearing.

In a nutshell, the choice before the Court is this: Is the fact that the ranitidine purchased by Glaxo Canada was destined to become Zantac relevant to the analysis under subsection 69(2)? Glaxo contends that it is, while the Crown contends that it is not.

On the cross-appeal, Glaxo Canada argued that it had met the case against it on the pleadings and the matter should, therefore, have concluded at the Federal Court of Appeal and should not have been sent back to the Tax Court. There were a number of questions from the bench on that point.

The panel reserved judgment on both the appeal and cross-appeal.

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Arguments conclude in first transfer pricing case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada: GlaxoSmithKline Inc. v. The Queen

“Copthorne and the Future of GAAR”: Report from the Conference at the U of T Faculty of Law

On Friday January 6, 2012, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia National Centre for Business Law presented a panel discussion on the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Copthorne Holdings Ltd. v. The Queen.

The discussion, held at Flavelle House at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, was hosted by U of T’s Professor Ben Alarie. The panelists included Professor David Duff (UBC Faculty of Law), Deen Olsen (Department of Justice), Mark Brender (Osler Hoskin and Harcourt LLP), Robert Couzin (Couzin Taylor LLP), Phil Jolie (Canada Revenue Agency), and Professor Tim Edgar (Osgoode Hall Law School).

The general view of the panelists was that the decision was well-written and comprehensive, but does not add much that is new or insightful to the existing GAAR jurisprudence.

Deen Olsen noted that there are six points the Department of Justice believes are important in interpreting the Supreme Court’s reasoning about “series of transactions”:

    1. “Series of transactions” in subsection 248(10) is to be interpreted expansively.
    2. The taxpayer bears the onus of rebutting the Minister’s assumption that particular transactions form part of a series.
    3. Which transactions are included in a series will depend of the facts of each case.
    4. A “strong nexus” is not required for a transaction to be included in a series.
    5. Transactions will not be included in a series where subsequent transactions are only a mere possibility or connected with an extreme degree of remoteness.
    6. The analysis of whether certain transactions form part of a series may be undertaken prospectively or retrospectively.

Phil Jolie stated that it will be “business as usual” for the CRA with respect to its approach to the application of the GAAR. Mr. Jolie noted a few specific points regarding the CRA’s interpretation of the decision:

    1. The decision does not say that a comparison of the difference in tax result between dividend treatment and capital gains treatment is irrelevant to the GAAR analysis.
    2. Though the decision does not say that there is a general anti-surplus stripping policy in the Income Tax Act, the CRA may still be able to argue in “bits and pieces” based on the jurisprudence that such a policy does exist.
    3. Despite the Court’s comment that the GAAR does not include a “smell test”, such a test does likely exist and the CRA’s analysis of a transaction will look at any anomalous result (i.e., the bad smell) but the CRA will ask why the result is anomalous and whether an argument exists that the outcome was the result of an abuse of the Act (in other words, the smell test is part of the process but not the end of the process).
    4. The Court’s statement that it must be “clear” that the taxpayer abused the Act must mean that the Minister must prove the abuse on a “balance of probabilities”.
    5. Paid up capital, as a tax attribute, is likely becoming less valuable because of the reduction of the withholding rate on dividends to 5% in the tax treaties between Canada and its major trading partners.
    6. There is likely no anti-PUC trading scheme in the Act because the Act is not concerned with PUC trading in the same way that it is concerned with, and precludes, loss trading (i.e., the prohibition on loss trading is intended “to keep factories open” whereas an anti-PUC trading regime would not accomplish that goal).

The afternoon concluded with remarks by the former Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada, Donald G.H. Bowman, who noted that the unanimous 9-0 decision was a credit to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as the Court produced a well-written and sensible decision, which many in the tax community had wished for in Lipson v. The Queen.

The Copthorne decision will continue to provoke analysis and discussion.  The conversation will continue with a second conference in Toronto sponsored by the Canadian Tax Foundation on January 26.

 

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“Copthorne and the Future of GAAR”: Report from the Conference at the U of T Faculty of Law