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It is not uncommon for the CRA to issue administrative policies or directives that provide CRA auditors and the public with direction on how the Excise Tax Act (ETA) or Income Tax Act (ITA) should be applied to certain industries/situations. While people may believe that following these directives means they are following the law, these directives are simply the CRA's view of how the law should be applied. Accordingly, they can sometimes be a source of false comfort, and not accurately reflect the law. Such was the case in the recent Tax Court of Canada (TCC) decision of Dr. Brian Hurd Dentistry Professional Corporation v. The Queen, 2017 TCC 142 (Brian Hurd) where the Court found the CRA GST policy statement was wrong and misleading.

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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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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.  

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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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After the recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) in Canada v. Callidus Capital Corporation, 2017 FCA 162 (“Callidus”), any secured creditors dealing with debtors that also have CRA issues, should immediately seek professional advice about the implications of this case before acting on their security interests to seize funds or property.

The reason for this gratuitous advice follows!

Subject to a few narrow exceptions, there are special income tax and GST/HST provisions giving the CRA super-priority to certain tax amounts in the possession of a tax debtor.  Specifically, unremitted GST/HST and unremitted income tax withholdings are both subject to a “deemed trust” in the hands of the taxpayer under special provisions in Excise Tax Act (ETA) and the Income Tax Act (ITA).   When funds or property of a tax debtor are paid over or seized by a tax debtor’s secured creditors that deemed trust remains intact, and the CRA holds a “super-priority” over those funds and that property.

In the past, secured creditors took the position that these rules and the “super-priority” disappeared on the subsequent bankruptcy of a debtor.

However, the Federal Court of Appeal in Callidus held that a tax debtor’s bankruptcy does not extinguish the Crown’s deemed trust over assets that were received or obtained by a secured creditor prior to the tax debtor’s bankruptcy.   More importantly, the FCA confirmed that secured creditors in these situations remained personally liable to the CRA for the tax debtor’s unremitted GST/HST and unremitted source withholdings, up to the value of the assets received or realized upon.

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