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When an aircraft that is owned by a corporation primarily for business purposes is used by an employee or shareholder for personal purposes, the resulting benefit is taxable and must be included in computing the income of the employee or shareholder.

Over the past few years the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) has been increasingly auditing not only the owners of corporate aircraft, but also their employees and shareholders for the GST/HST and income tax treatment of the personal use of corporate aircraft. Many of these audits have resulted in reassessments under which the CRA has assessed or increased the taxable benefits attributable to the employees and shareholders while also deducting a corresponding portion of operating expenses and denying input tax credits to the corporation.

The CRA’s policy on the taxation of corporate aircraft used for personal purposes used to be clearly outlined in interpretive bulletin IT160R3. Under IT160R3, the applicable taxable benefit was generally assessed at the cost of a first class airline ticket for a regularly scheduled flight to the same destination.

That said, since IT160R3 was cancelled on September 30, 2012, the CRA has not yet finalized a clearly articulated policy on the personal use of corporate aircraft. A draft CRA interpretation has however been released which if adopted would dramatically change the way that these taxable benefits have historically been calculated.

Under the new proposed CRA interpretation, where an employee or shareholder of a corporation can control access and use of the corporate aircraft for personal use, the applicable taxable benefit to the employee or shareholder would be calculated as the sum of an attributable “Operating Benefit” and an “Available For Use Benefit” as follows:

  • Operating Benefit: Proportionate share of the calendar year operating costs (i.e. variable & fixed costs) of an aircraft (excluding depreciation, capital cost allowance & interest); plus
  • Available For Use Benefit: Pro-rated share of the original capital cost of the aircraft based on a prescribed rate of interest and the number of flying hours for personal use versus the number of flying hours for business use during the calendar year.

Since this new draft interpretation was released the Canadian Business Aviation Association (“CBAA”) has been in talks with the CRA to address its concerns over the new proposed CRA interpretation. To illustrate the potential impact of the new interpretation, the CBAA has used theexample of an aircraft with an original capital cost of $30 million, annual operating costs of $1 million, and a 6% prescribed rate of interest, that is flown for 80 hours of business use and 20 hours of personal use by a single employee or shareholder. 

Under the CRA’s new proposed interpretation a total of $560,000 would need to be included in the income of the employee or shareholder as a taxable benefit: 20% of $1,000,000 ($200,000) plus 20% of 6% of $30,000,000 ($360,000).

Under this hypothetical scenario, no corporate deduction would be available for the available for the “Available For Use Benefit” portion which is meant to approximate the opportunity cost to the corporation of the capital used to purchase the aircraft, which the CRA believes is a personal benefit to the employee or shareholder. The “Operating Benefit” portion on the other hand should be deductible in the hands of the corporation to the extent that an employee receives the benefit as part of their employment agreement with the corporation. However, this “Operating Benefit” portion would likely not be deductible where it is received by an individual in his/her capacity as a shareholder.

While the CRA’s proposed interpretation has not yet been finalized, this proposal appears to have already spooked the corporate aircraft industry. In fact, the CBAA has estimated that uncertainty surrounding the taxation of the personal use of corporate aircraft has led to between $300-500 million in new corporate aircraft purchases being put on hold.

On the substantive application of income taxes and the GST to these situation, the CRA’s aggressive auditing in this area has yet to be fully tested in the courts, and there is substantial reason to believe that it is far too aggressive in the circumstances.


Have you been audited by the CRA for corporate aircraft use
? If so contact us here. 

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In Thangarajah v. Her Majesty the Queen (2017 TCC 72), the applicant and her corporation (collectively, the “applicants”) were issued Notices of Assessment in November 2014 for unreported income under the Income Tax Act.  When the corporate applicant was audited by the CRA in early 2014, the applicant retained the services of an agent who held himself out to be a lawyer (the “agent”).  It was the applicant’s understanding that the agent would do whatever was required to deal with the Notices of Assessment.  In the months that followed, the applicant received calls from CRA Collections and the agent was informed and asked to take action.  It was unclear what the agent had actually accomplished for the applicants except that he sent a letter to a CRA Collection Officer dated September 10, 2015 advising, among others, that he would initiate the “appeal process” soon (the “Letter”).  The Collection Officer responded the following day indicating that the collection files had been updated with a further notation that an appeal had to be done as soon as possible.  CRA Collections eventually seized the applicant’s bank accounts, leading to the firing of the agent.  The applicants then found out that the agent was, in fact, a paralegal and that they suffered as a result of the agent’s failure to file the notices of objection.

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In Re Pallen Trust (2015 BCCA 22), the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld an order for rescission, which effectively nullified a CRA reassessment.

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In order to be successful in tax appeals, the rules of evidence can sometimes play a key role.

In Boroumand, the Appellant appealed assessments for unreported income under the Income Tax Act to the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) (2015 TCC 239).  The Appellant’s position was that the funds came from non-taxable sources, including primarily an inheritance from family in Iran. The Appellant sought to introduce documents from money exchange enterprises purporting to show that he received nearly $2 million from Iran. The Minister objected to admitting the documents as they were hearsay and under normal circumstances were inadmissible. 

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In Mazo v The Queen (2016 TCC 232), the Tax Court of Canada considered the tax consequences applicable to income earned through an illegal pyramid scheme.  

 

Facts - Roberta Mazo participated in a pyramid scheme run by the company Business In Motion International Corporation (“BIMIC”). She profited from the scheme and was subsequently reassessed by the Minister of National Revenue as having unreported income for the 2007, 2008, and 2009 tax years.

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Gail Baker v The Queen (2016 TCC 120), illustrates the extent to which s. 160 of the Income Tax Act can apply. The decision shows that a taxpayer’s debts may be imposed on his or her inheritors to the extent of any unpaid tax debts at the time of the transferor’s death, even though tax avoidance was not a motivating factor for a transfer of property and the inheritors were unaware of the potential tax liability involved.

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Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has been making the headlines for the past year as a result of significant interest in potential sales to energy-hungry Asian markets from the coast of British Columbia. There are at least 19 LNG proposals for British Columbia, but so far none of the proponents have commenced construction.

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