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Given the tight tax timelines under the Income Tax Act (“ITA”) and the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”), it is not uncommon for tax appeal deadlines to be inadvertently missed. While it is possible to obtain an extension under certain circumstances, there are strict deadlines that must be adhered to in order to do so.

In the recent decision in Canada (National Revenue) v. ConocoPhillips Canada Resources Corp., 2017 FCA 243 (“ConocoPhillips”), the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) confirmed that the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”) has no authority to grant an extension to the deadline for filing a Notice of Objection if an extension is not sought within one year of the expiration of the general deadline for doing so.

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In Masa Sushi Japanese Restaurant Inc. v. The Queen, 2017 TCC 239 (“Masa Sushi”), the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) confirmed that lawyers are the only representatives that are authorized to represent tax appellants in court under General Procedure tax appeals.

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If the CRA believes that taxpayers have knowingly failed to report income or remit GST and other taxes owing they will often bring concurrent criminal tax evasion charges in addition to simply re-assessing a taxpayer. In this scenario, the protections afforded to taxpayers in the criminal tax evasion matter – the burden of proof being on the Crown to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt – are not present in the tax appeals.  Similarly, unlike in the criminal context, the burden of proof in tax appeals is on the taxpayer, who must demolish the CRA’s assessment and any relevant assumptions of fact. 

Given the differing standards in criminal versus civil proceedings, criminal acquittals typically have little, if any, impact on a subsequent civil proceeding. The CRA is therefore often successful in tax appeals before the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) even after a taxpayer has been acquitted in a criminal prosecution based on the same fact pattern.

Samaroo v. The Queen, 2016 TCC 290 (“Samaroo”) is an exception to the general rule.

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In Canada, legal costs are generally awarded to the successful litigant in a tax appeal (or in most civil cases for that matter) based on actual costs incurred, but are often a mere fraction of the actual costs that a litigant has incurred. As such, the first thing that many taxpayers contemplate when deciding whether to appeal a CRA assessment is whether or not it is worth it, particularly where it appears likely that the costs of a tax appeal will probably exceed the amount of tax in dispute.

While the decision on whether or not to appeal a tax assessment should be made on a case by case basis, the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) in Ike Enterprises Inc. v. The Queen, 2017 TCC 160(“Ike Enterprises”) recently confirmed that in appropriate circumstances, a taxpayer can be awarded legal costs that exceed the amount of tax in dispute. In fact, the CRA was ordered to pay costs equal to approximately 140% of the amount in dispute!

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During a tax appeal it is quite common for a tax appellant and the CRA to disclose information and to formally agree on certain facts. For example, at the outset of most tax appeal trials the parties often prepare a document commonly referred to as a “Statement of Agreed Facts” or “Partial Statement of Agreed Facts” that outlines the facts that the parties agree on. 

The Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) decision in Athabasca University v. The Queen, 2016 TCC 252 (“Athabasca”) is a perfect example of why it is imperative that no concessions or agreement of facts be made without a careful analysis of the potential implications that this could have on the ultimate issues in dispute in the tax appeal.

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A common step in the Tax Court of Canada litigation process is the Examination for Discovery (“Discovery”).  A Discovery is where each side (the taxpayer and the Canada Revenue Agency or “CRA”) will have the opportunity to examine witnesses from the other side, under oath.  This is typically done with the assistance of a tax lawyer, and affords each side the opportunity to ask questions and request documents relevant to the issues in the tax appeal.  The Witnesses are under oath and must answer questions truthfully, with the Discovery recorded, and transcripts produced after-ward.

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The recent FCA decision, Canada v Chriss (2016 FCA 236), underscores the resignation obligations of directors.  If directors do not execute their resignations properly and completely, they will remain liable for the actions of the corporation, including director’s liability assessments issued by taxing authorities like the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”).

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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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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.

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The discovery process allows litigating parties to collect and consider all pertinent facts, to use those facts to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their case and to otherwise prepare for trial.  A general exception to the requirement to disclose relevant documentation and information during the discovery process relates to documents or information that are “privileged”. 

The recent decision of the Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada in CIBC v. The Queen (2015 TCC 280) is an excellent review of the strict rules surrounding privilege in this context, and a cautionary tale for litigants taking an overly obstructionist approach to the principles of full and proper disclosure.

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Rules regarding cost awards and settlement offers are important tools to promote settlement in the context of general civil litigation and are generally seen as an important tool to minimize use of scarce court resources. 

In tax cases, settlement offers have historically tended not to play as important a role, which is perhaps attributable to the fact that tax appeal outcomes tend to be mostly binary in nature (i.e. a complete success or complete failure).  This differs markedly from most other civil litigation where the quantum of damages is often the central contested issue.  Furthermore, Canada’s Tax Court Rules have historically only considered settlement offers as one of many factors to be considered when making a costs award, without setting out more definite implications of settlement offers for awarding costs.

This may be changing under new Tax Court Rules 147(3.1) and (3.2) which grant a party “substantial indemnity” costs after the date of its offer to settle (defined to be 80% of solicitor and client costs in Rule 147(3.5)), if judgment is as or more favourable than the offer. 

Although these rules have recently operated in favour of successful appellant taxpayers (see for example: Sunlife (2015 TCC 171) and Repsol Canada Ltd. (2015 TCC 154))  the TCC’s cost award in Standard Life (2015 TCC 138) serves as a warning to taxpayers that they may be liable for significant costs, where a settlement offer from the Crown has been rejected.

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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.

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As a general rule in tax litigation, the initial onus is on the appellant-taxpayer to “demolish” the Minister’s assumptions that form the basis of the disputed assessment. This initial onus is met where the appellant makes out at least a prima facie case. If this is done, the burden then shifts to the Minister to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the assumptions were correct.  The primary reason for this rule is that the taxpayer generally has the best knowledge of his/her own affairs in a self-reporting tax system.

However, the TCC has held that the initial onus may not be on the taxpayer in the context of so-called “derivative assessments” such as assessments against directors pursuant to director’s liability provisions for underlying corporate assessments (ss. 323 ETA and 227.1 ITA) and against transferees pursuant to non-arm’s length transfer rules for underlying assessments against the transferor (ss. 325 ETA and 160(1) ITA).  

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The first class in Tax law 101 features a discussion on the Duke of Westminster ([1936] A.C. 1), wherein the Appeals Court of England ruled that:   “Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be.”

Even in Canada today, home of what some would say much over-regulation, it remains generally permissible for taxpayers to structure their affairs in a more tax effective manner.  (Lest we over-generalize, an exception does exist for abusive tax planning, which the CRA refers to as "tax avoidance").

As is often the case with tax planning, however, implementation is the key.

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What is really required for GST ITC Claims?

For more years that we can remember, “ITC Documentation” has been a “Top 10” Audit Issue with Canada Revenue Agency GST Audits. This is a reference to the evidentiary requirements imposed by ss. 169(4) of the Excise Tax Act (ETA) and the Input Tax Credit Information (GST/HST) Regulations (the “ITC Regulations”) which the CRA has been prone to interpret as a “documentation requirement”, reviewing and disallowing ITCs claimed for “lack of required documentation”.

The law in this area is fortunately changing, with a recent decision of the Tax Court of Canada (TCC) Forestech Industries v. The Queen. (2009 TCC 591) providing a helpful review on the actual requirements of subsection 169(4) -- which pointedly are not exactly what many CRA auditors would have taxpayers believe.

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Both the “Large Corporation rules” in the Income Tax Act (the “ITA”) and the “Specified Person rules” under the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”) are probably unfamiliar to most people other than experience tax practitioners.  However, they can impact the ability of large corporations to properly appeal income tax and GST issues, since if they are not complied with - to the letter - the government will take steps towards barring the taxapyer from further appealing the matter beyond the Canada Revenue Agency's Appeals Process. 

Generally, the overall effect of these provisions is to attempt to prevent a Specified Person (or a Large Corporation) from appealing to the Tax Court of Canada where the Notice of Objection does not contain certain required pieces of information.

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