The recent decision of the Federal Court of Canada (the “FC”) in Canada v. Toronto Dominion Bank, 2018 FC 538, (“TD Bank”) could make it much more difficult for business owners to get personal loans and mortgages.
Tax & Trade Blog
In Canada, most financial services are exempt from tax under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”). This means that financial institutions cannot charge GST/HST and cannot claim input tax credits (“ITCs”) to recover the GST/HST that they have paid to provide these exempt financial services.
The inability to claim ITCs could incentivize financial institutions to purchase goods and services in non-harmonized provinces (where only the 5% GST would normally apply) to the detriment of harmonized provinces. To prevent this from happening the ETA and the Selected Listed Financial Institutions Attribution Method (GST/HST) Regulations(“SLFI Regulations”) outline special attribution method rules (the “SAM rules”) under which Selected Listed Financial Institutions (“SLFIs”) must determine their provincial HST component based on where they supply the exempt financial services rather than where they purchase their inputs. In this context, net tax is calculated using “attribution percentages” that are based on the type of financial institution.
The Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) recently dealt with these complex SAM Rules in Farm Credit Canada v. Canada, 2017 FCA 244. In this case, the Appellant was a federal Crown corporation that provided specialized financial services to the farming industry. Unlike most of its private financial institution competitors, the Appellant did not accept or fund its loans from public deposits.
Given the tight timelines under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) it is not uncommon for tax appeal deadlines to seemingly come and go. Fortunately, sometimes even when it appears that a deadline has been missed an extension may be granted or it may not have actually expired due to procedural missteps by the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”).
Under section 323 of the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”), directors of a corporation are personally liable for a corporation’s unremitted GST/HST. There is no definition of “director” in the ETA, but section 323 has been found to apply to individuals who are formally registered as directors (i.e. de jure directors) and individuals who are not formally registered as directors but in effect carry out the same duties and make the very same decisions as directors (i.e. de facto directors).
The Canada Revenue Agency’s (“CRA”) formal policy on Directors’ Liability, including its position on de jure vs. de facto directors, is outlined in IC89-2R3. However, the ETA itself does not provide any guidance on when an individual who has formally resigned from de jure directorship ceases to be a de facto director for the purposes of section 323 liability. As such, whether or not a director who has resigned but continues to be involved in corporate activities can be deemed a de facto director of a corporation is a factually complicated issue that the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) has frequently been asked to answer.
The relatively recent decision in Koskocan c. La Reine, 2016 CCI 277 (“Koskocan”) stands for the proposition that it is possible for a former director to remain involved in a business (and even perform some tasks that one may associate with a de jure director) without rising to the level of a de facto director.
Disgruntled taxpayers have often attempted to seek remedies against tax authorities through civil actions – albeit with very limited success. A 2014 BC Supreme Court’s decision in Leroux v. CRA (2014 BCSC 720) did confirm that CRA owes a duty of care to the taxpayer, and has likely lead to an increase in these types of proceedings.
A recent motions decision in the BCSC case in Samaroo v. CRA et al. (2016 BCSC 531), deals with the extent to which a taxpayer in one of these types of suits against the Crown is able to rely on information produced by the Crown in that action during the Tax Court of Canada appeal – and the news was good for the taxpayer! But the case remains an interesting example of the “implied undertaking rule” – perhaps a little known rule to anyone other than a litigator – and the balance of this article explains the in’s and the out’s of that rule, with reference to the Samaroo decision.
Litigating parties must consider cost implications at every stage in litigation, which generally requires a cost-benefit analysis of starting litigation in the first place, proceeding with litigation at any given stage, and negotiating towards settlement. In tax litigation, the cost-benefit analysis is often the same, and can be a comparatively simple exercise, requiring an analysis of anticipated costs of litigation, chance of success at trial or on appeal, consideration of the assessed amount in dispute, and the effect of a judicial decision on the taxpayer’s position going forward. Court costs have generally not factored into this analysis, since they have historically been negligible.
Things are changing.
In light of the inherent risks of serving as director of a corporation, business owner-operators may be tempted to appoint their spouse or family member as the sole director of their corporation, despite the fact that that person may be completely uninvolved with or unknowledgeable about the corporation’s operations. This is primarily done with a view to “creditor-proofing”. However, as the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) decision of Constantin v. The Queen (2013 FCA 233) illustrates, this strategy is far from invincible when it comes to GST/HST remittances.
Whether a notice of assessment was mailed or not has important legal consequences for taxpayers. There is an irrebuttable presumption of receipt of the notice of assessment by a taxpayer once it is mailed by the Minister (S,248(7)(a) of the Income Tax Act (“ITA”)); a notice of objection must be served on the Minister within 90 days of the date on which the notice of assessment was mailed (s.165(1)); upon receipt of a notice objection, the Minister is obliged to reconsider the assessment and vacate, confirm or vary the assessment or reassess and to notify the taxpayer of its decision (s. 165(3)); and the taxpayer may appeal the assessment to the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) if the Minister has not vacated or confirmed the assessment or reassessed within 90 days of receiving the notice of objection (s. 169(1)). Parallel provisions are found in the Excise Tax Act.
GST/HST rules provide that a notice of objection has to be filed with the Minister within 90 days of the mailing of an assessment (section 301(1.1) of the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”); the parallel provision in the ITA is section 165(1)). However, as established in Le sage au piano v. The Queen (2014 TCC 319), the clock may not start ticking on the 90 day period if the CRA has left out important details of the taxpayer’s address on the notice of assessment—extending the previous doctrine from income tax cases that it is insufficient for the CRA to mail a notice of assessment to an incorrect address (The Queen v. 236130 British Columbia Ltd., 2006 FCA 352). The fact that litigation continues in this area also highlights the fact that there is no electronic means of determining whether a notice of assessment has been issued.
The CRA's treatment of "bare trusts" has been problematic from the first days of the GST.
When the GST was first implemented in January 1991, the CRA was initially advising bare trustees of bare trusts (trusts that operating at the behest of their beneficiaries, and where the trustee has no independent authority other than following express directions of the beneficiaries) that it was the bare trustee that was viewed as the supplier for GST purposes, and the person required to register for GST purposes. This position was changed in mid-1992, when the CRA flipping its position, and now advising that bare trustees were not allowed to register, and that the beneficiaries of these bare trusts were the one's required to register.
The Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") recently reversed its long standing administrative policy regarding the exempt nature of nursing staffing agencies, taking the position that these services are taxable and not exempt: see Excise and GST/HST News No. 89 (issued without much fanfare in late Summer 2013).
This effectively decision has effectively reversed the CRA's twenty year old position in GST Memorandum 300-4-2 (Health Care Services, September, 17, 1993) which had previously concluded that these services were all exempt, under section 6 of Part II of Schedule V of the Excise Tax Act.