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Most businesses will, at some point, have to deal with a situation where they have made advance payments for goods and services that never end up being provided.  The cause for this non-supply is often due to the fact that the supplier has become impecunious.  This results in obvious commercial headaches for the recipient, which can be exacerbated by corresponding GST implications. 

Typically in such situations, the recipient will pay GST to the supplier in respect of the advance payment and take a corresponding Input Tax Credit (“ITC”) in its next GST Return.  The supplier is required to remit that GST collected to the fisc.  Pursuant to subsections 232(1) and (3) of the ETA, where the supplier will not be making the supply (or, for other reasons, reduces the consideration owed for the supply), it can adjust, refund or credit the amount collected (including the GST collected), and issue a “credit note” to the recipient.  In turn, pursuant to paragraph 232(3)(b), the supplier can apply an adjustment in its next GST return to reduce its net tax by the GST amount in the credit note.  Correspondingly, pursuant to paragraph 232(3)(c) the recipient is required to apply an adjustment to increase its net tax by the same amount (to account for the portion of the ITC previously taken, but now credited). 

To the extent that the supplier is impecunious, the recipient will be left with a situation where it has had to increase its net tax, pursuant to a credit note received that will never actually be honoured.  This was exactly the situation in the TCC decision in North Shore Power Group Inc. (2017 TCC 1).

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CRA assessments can have devastating financial consequences that commonly push taxpayers into bankruptcy.  In considering bankruptcy, the taxpayer should take into account the extent to which the bankruptcy will impose limitations on the taxpayer’s ability to contest the assessment itself.  Section 71 of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) specifies that a bankrupt ceases to have any capacity to deal with its “property”, which is a broadly defined term and has the effect of virtually eliminating the bankrupt’s ability to maintain legal actions.  The extent to which the BIA has a limiting effect on a bankrupt taxpayer’s ability to contest an assessment in the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) was at issue in the decision in Schnier (2015 TCC 160).

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When things go awry in one’s business or personal affairs, taxes often get neglected. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does not forget about these tax obligations, however, and has extensive collections powers available to it, including “directors liability” assessments which can transform corporate tax debts into personal tax debts of the affected directors.

The question that many directors and affected personal taxpayers often ask is whether these personal tax debts can be avoided on personal bankruptcy.

The answer is that “it depends”. Recent case law has been swinging toward forcing substantial payments by bankrupts where there are taxes owing to the CRA, as was seen in a recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision in Re Van Eeuwen [2012] GSTC 142.

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