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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Onus of Proof

Registrants are required to keep adequate books and records that provide the information necessary to ensure taxes payable under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) can be determined. What may happen if a taxpayer has failed to file tax returns, filed patently deficient ones and/or a taxpayer’s books and records are not reliable or do not exist?  Subsection 299(1) of the ETA states that the Minister is not bound by the contents of the return, but may assess by alternative means including the use of estimates or net worth approach. (Parallel provisions can be found under subsection 152(7) of the Income Tax Act.)

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The recent Federal Court case Saad v CBSA (2016 FC 1382) is a cautionary tale in two respects.


In the first place, it is a reminder that travellers who are found not to have properly declared imported goods, risk having their vehicle seized by the Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”), which has a broad range of powers under the Customs Act.

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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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