Last March 18th, the CRA announced the suspension of the vast majority of audit activities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How quickly things change!
Tax & Trade Blog
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tax Court of Canada (the "TCC") has been closed with all hearings cancelled since March 16, 2020.
A recent Notice to the Public and Profession (the "Notice") issued by the TCC has indicated this cancellation of hearings will extend to July 17, 2020 (which would have been the last day of hearings before the TCC's previously scheduled 4-week summer recess).
The Notice also reveals that the TCC has been preparing to re-open.
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 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.
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”).
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.
The TCC in Andrews (2017 TCC 23) distinguished between transportation services that transport vehicles by towing them and those that transport vehicles by driving them, subjecting only the latter to GST/HST. The TCC thus narrowed freight transportation services to mean only services that involve a mode of transportation that is separate from what is transported.
Section 141.1(3) of the of Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) broadens the scope of what is considered to be in the course of commercial activities to activity done “in connection with” extraordinary transactions such as starting and winding-up commercial activities. The Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”), in Onenergy Inc. v. The Queen (2016 TCC 230), discussed how the section should be interpreted.
Both the Income Tax Act (“ITA”) and the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) include an increased burden on entities considered “large corporations” or “specified persons”, respectively, when it comes to the level of detail required in a notice of objection. Specifically, the “large corporation rule” in section 165(1.11) of the ITA requires that a large corporation, inter alia, “reasonably describe each issue to be decided” and “provide facts and reasons relied on by the corporation in respect of each issue” in its notice of objection. The “specified person rule” in section 301(1.2) of the ETA includes the same requirements. In each instance, the taxpayer is only allowed to appeal to the tax court in respect of the issues described in its notice of objection that meet the requirements of the large corporation/specified person rule.
Prior to the enactment of these rules, a number of large corporations had their tax years left open through outstanding notices of objection or appeals such that they had been able to raise new issues based on emerging interpretations and court decisions challenged by other taxpayers. The rules were intended to identify disputed issues sooner so that a taxation year's ultimate tax liability can be timely determined, and avoid appeals from dragging on.
Recently, in Ford Motor Company of Canada v. The Queen, 2015 TCC 39, Justice Boyle of the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) considered a Crown motion to strike portions of a Notice of Appeal under the ETA on the basis that the issues identified in the Notice of Appeal were not “reasonably described” in the Notice of Objection. The decision includes a thorough analysis of the existing case law on the rule and a serves as an example of its sound, practical application.
The first class in Tax law 101 features a discussion on the Duke of Westminster ( 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.
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.